Bluegrass legend Bill Monroe wanted his buddies to keep on playing that "high lonesome" sound he made famous. So in 1965, he founded a festival called, aptly, the Bill Monroe Memorial Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival in Bean Blossom, Ind. Today, the event attracts pickers and plain old bluegrass lovers from all over the country.
Whether you want to sit under a shady tree at a bluegrass revival or dance barefoot in the grass at a rock `n' roll bash, you can do it all this summer at the numerous festivals held across the country. Besides the top-drawer music, dance, and drama festivals--Tanglewood in Massachusetts, Lincoln Center in New York, and Spoleto in Charleston, S.C.--thousands of smaller, lesser-known fests abound, celebrating everything from rutabagas and beer to folk songs and Native American dances.
GRIMM STORIES. Opera buffs can sip champagne to the strains of Puccini, Mozart, and Verdi. Sopranos have been belting out arias at the Santa Fe Opera festival for 41 years (505 986-5900; June 27-Aug. 23; $5-$82)--and its open-air theater boasts a breathtaking view of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. "Most American festivals have these wonderful settings," says Nigel Redden, general director of the Spoleto Festival usa (803 722-2764). "They were designed for artists as a retreat, a bucolic rejuvenation."
Indeed, Glimmerglass Opera (607 547-2255; July 3-Aug. 25; $19-$70) in Cooperstown, N.Y., sits on the shores of Otsego Lake, which was dubbed "glimmerglass" by James Fenimore Cooper in his Leatherstocking series. Opera glasses may not be required, since no seat is more than 70 feet from the stage. Carlisle Floyd's American opera Of Mice and Men and Puccini's Madame Butterfly are two of this season's productions.
Madame Butterfly turns up again at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (314 961-0644; through June 28; $10-$65), which also is producing Conrad Susa's Transformations, based on Anne Sexton poems that retell Grimms' fairy tales. Spectators are invited after most performances to mingle with the conductor and singers. "It doesn't matter whether you've paid $10 for your ticket or $100," says Charles Mac-Kay, general director of the company.
Music aficionados can revel in everything from a harpsichord and string quartet to African drums and Indian slide guitars, performed by world-renowned virtuosos. For example, Yo-Yo Ma, James Galway, Itzhak Perlman, and Wynton Marsalis will appear with the Boston Symphony at its summer home, Tanglewood, a 210-acre estate in Lenox, Mass. (617 266-1492; June 20-Aug. 31; $13-$76). It's the country's oldest music festival--and one of the world's most esteemed.
LUSH LAKEFRONT. Although it's remote--a 4 1/2 hour drive north from Motown--the Interlochen Arts Festival in Interlochen, Mich., draws top talent in classical, jazz, country, and other types of music (616 276-6230; June 14-Aug. 30; $3-$49.50). And despite its name, the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival also offers jazz. Open rehearsals at midday are free (505 983-2075; July 11-Aug. 18; $24-$36).
George Gershwin rhapsodized about the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, Ill.: "A more beautiful place for a concert I cannot imagine." Summer home to the Chicago Symphony, its turn-of-the-century Mission architecture, set in a lush 32-acre suburban site, seems a million miles away from the Windy City (847 266-5100; June 15-Sept. 1; $8-$60). Next to listening to classical music--this year, Schubert and Brahms are in the spotlight--picnicking is the pastime of choice at Ravinia; elaborate spreads include champagne, caviar, and the family china.
Unlike Tanglewood or Ravinia, the Aspen Music Festival has no permanent resident symphony orchestra, relying instead on the distinguished students and teachers who attend their music school during the summer, as well as guest artists such as pianist Yefim Bronfman and cellist Lynn Harrell (970 925-9042; June 19-Aug. 17; $8-$16). Fans of Kathleen Battle can hear the soprano sing a medley from her album So Many Stars at the Hollywood Bowl (213 850-2000; June 25-Sept. 19; $1-$95) in Los Angeles. Also, David Helfgott, whose story was immortalized in the movie Shine, will perform Rachmaninoff's Concerto No.3.
You will find more than 100 performances of music, dance, and theater at the second Lincoln Center Festival in New York (212 875-5030; July 8-27; $12-$120). "Doing a festival in a city like New York is a challenge," says Nathan Leventhal, president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, "because there are so many cultural events already." Leventhal is importing top talent from around the world. This year, the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera, Covent Garden will appear together for the first time outside London.
PILLOW TALK. To find the latest details on more than 1,300 music festivals, check out www.festivalfinder.com, a Web site that lets you search by music genre. Click on "miscellaneous," for instance, and you will find information about Polka Spree by the Sea and the Judy Garland Festival.
Theater fans can catch some class acts for free at the New York Shakespeare Festival (212 539-8750), which is producing Henry VIII (June 13-July 9) and On the Town (July 31-Aug. 31) in Central Park. At the National Black Theater Festival (910 723-7907; Aug. 4-9) in Winston-Salem, N.C., tickets cost around $25. This summer's lineup of 26 different productions includes Do Lord Remember Me and Jitney by playwright August Wilson of Fences fame.
Devotees of dance will find plenty of venues. The country's oldest dance festival, Jacob's Pillow, offers performances of modern dance, contemporary ballet, hip-hop, and butoh--an expressionistic Japanese dance form--at its historic farm site in Lee, Mass. (413 243-0745; June 21-Aug. 24; $15-$44). The American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C., features 14 world premieres
by the likes of Paul Taylor, Trisha Brown, and Pilobolus Dance Theatre (919 684-4444; June 12-July 26; $7.50-$29). And at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Va.--the nation's only national park for performing arts--you can catch Riverdance's Irish step dancing or Twyla Tharpe's new company (703 255-1868; through Sept. 7; $7-$45).
The performing arts aren't the only stars of the summer festivals. Both the Cherry Creek Arts Festival in Denver (303 355-2787; July 4-6) and the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts at Penn State (814 237-3682; July 9-13) honor the visual arts with exhibitions and sidewalk sales of everything from paintings, photographs, and sculpture to pottery, jewelry, and woodcrafts. In Ann Arbor, Mich., three different art fairs--featuring some 1,000 artists--run concurrently along 24 downtown blocks (313 995-7281; July 16-19).
SPIT-OFF. What would a festival be without food? While you snack or brown-bag it at most events, some festivals center around grub. Food fests can last from one day to two weeks. Craft booths, local music, and eating and cooking contests tend to be standard features. There's almost always something special for kids, and, fortunately, many host foot races, so you can burn off those extra calories. Generally, you sample different dishes featuring the vegetable or fruit that the area is noted for.
You may want to bring some parsley with you to the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, Calif., where visitors feast on garlic bread, garlic-laced shrimp scampi, and even garlic ice cream (408 842-1625; July 25-27, $10). Besides cherry pies, cherry pudding, and cherry soup, the National Cherry Festival (616 947-4230; July 5-12) in Traverse City, Mich., crowns a Cherry Queen and runs a cherry-pit-spitting contest. Sound hokey? Half a million cherry lovers
attend each year, proving that there's a festival for everyone.