For most of our lives music was in the background, but as my kids turned into tweens and teens, and it became harder to find common ground, I learned that a shared love of music could bring us together like nothing else. Now, my family and I love making the most out of summer festival season—traveling to new locations, or ferreting out live shows near home—we build vacations and weekends out of song and sweat, all the while building more memories with the music we love. Out of all our “research” in the past few years, here are our favorite family-friendly summer music festivals:
Summerfest – Milwaukee, WI (June 26–30 and July 2–7, 2019)
On the shore of Lake Michigan, the world’s largest music festival comes alive every summer, with performances by solo artists and bands that draw music lovers of all kinds to celebrate summer and sound. Summerfest has perfected the art of the summer music festival, having put on the multi-genre event for more than a half-century. This year’s lineup includes Billie Eilish, Jason Aldean, Skillet, Jennifer Lopez, Switchfoot, Walk the Moon, Hanson, The Roots, and so, so many more—maybe your next new favorite. In addition to music catering to all styles, there are activities for all ages including a parade, hands-on activities like art and playing with remote control cars built by local teens, and performances from more than 80 bands made up of School of Rock students from around the globe. Who better to inspire the kids to practice their instrument?
Waterfront Blues Festival – Portland, OR (July 4–7, 2019)
Part outdoor-concert, part all-day picnic, the Waterfront Blues Festival begins early on Independence Day. There’s plenty to do: a percussion workshop just for kids, artist interviews and other presentations, Zydeco or Swing & Blues dance lessons, yoga, and more. All of this is secondary to letting the Blues pull you into its rhythm until you can’t sit without tapping your feet. The beats come from performers on the two alternating main stages, with a view of the Willamette River and Mount Hood in the background. At the end of the first day, you won’t want to miss the fireworks. It’s more than 20 minutes of pyrotechnic aerial action set to a soundtrack that goes hand in hand with the explosive display.
The RIDE Festival – Telluride, CO (July 12–14, 2019)
Camping, picturesque peaks, breathtaking gondola rides—The RIDE is a perfect retreat, and in the mountains of Colorado, a refreshing break from hot summer temps at home. The location alone would draw me to Telluride in mid-July, but add to that a variety of acts and the fun-loving atmosphere, and this is a can’t-miss summer festival for families. Among other things, the Kid’s Tent will keep the little ones entertained with arts and crafts projects, games, and shows geared toward them, but cool for any age (like glass blowing demos).
Summer Meltdown – Darrington, WA (August 1–4, 2019)
Summer Meltdown is a family camping and music festival that happens every summer at the foot of Whitehorse Mountain in Washington State. The Kids Zone is like a festival within the festival, featuring workshops, jewelry making, crafts, and, of course, music! To satisfy the bigger kid crowd, adventures abound. Think: kayaking and float trips, rock climbing, and mountain biking. Even with its distinguished list of headliner, local, and indie artists, Summer Meltdown proves to be far more than just a music festival.
Lollapalooza – Chicago, IL (August 1–4, 2019)
The iconic music festival that I dreamed about attending since I was a teen in the nineties still brings in some of the best bands, including both up-and-coming acts and established headliners (like Ariana Grande, Twenty One Pilots, and The Chainsmokers to name a few). Beyond the extensive menu of musical performances at Lollapalooza, local restaurateurs serve up mouthwatering fine food and drinks to provide festivalgoers with uniquely Chicago fare. We waited until the kids were teens to come here, but wished we hadn’t when we saw the Kidzapalooza activity area. Kidzapalooza is a fully enclosed space adjacent to the main festival featuring a family-friendly lineup. Last year’s event included skateboarding demos, drumming and dance workshops, and magic shows. Perk for parents: free entry for kids 10 and under.
Arise Music Festival – Loveland, CO (August 2–4, 2019)
Held the first weekend in August in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, it doesn’t get more family-friendly than the Arise Music Festival, which bills itself as “An independent, family-run, leave-no-trace event.” Along with a huge lineup of music— 2019 features headliner Tipper, Beats Antique, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, Rising Appalachia, Voodoo Dead, and many more—the event also has a huge Children’s Village, with dozens of kid-focused workshops. Build a fairy house, sculpt a clay talisman, learn circus skills, tricks with a yo-yo, walk a tightrope, attend an interactive storytelling circle, or Alice-in-Wonderland themed tea party where kids can make tiny hats with the Mad Hatter. There’s even a workshop on how to potty train your infant.
Held on a 350-acre organic farm, an hour from Denver, the festival even has a farmers market with food grown right there at Sunrise Ranch farm. Bonus: Kids 12 and under are free and there is even a designated family campground, where folks are encouraged to keep the late-night noise down. In addition to being family-friendly, the festival is also eco-friendly, planting a tree for every ticket sold.
MusikFest – Bethlehem, PA (August 2–11, 2019)
The nation’s largest free music festival lasts for 10 fun-filled days of music, food, and art activities. In addition to chart-topping artists performing on the Sands Steel Stage, there are also family-friendly comedy shows, and kids can get crafty in the Crayola Creativity Tent in Familienplatz, the spot for family fun at the festival. Ride carnival rides, go zip lining or bungee rock climbing, test their skills in a racing simulator in the Bridgestone Performance Institute gaming area. Located in historic Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, MusikFest attracts artists and fans from enough different genres to appeal to the most eclectic music enthusiast. You can wander from platz to platz, listening to any of the 500 free music acts, taking in a festival spectacle, or sipping from a beer mug that keeps your brew cold while it helps save the planet.
Bumbershoot – Seattle, WA (August 30–September 1, 2019)
Labor Day Weekend is a perfect time to get away, to spend some time in beautiful Seattle, Washington, and most of all to celebrate different art forms at Bumbershoot. Held every year since 1971 on the gorgeous Seattle Center grounds, Bumbershoot brings comedy, dance, film, theater, and most of all, music, to an end-of-summer extravaganza. Families should check out the “Youngershoot Kids Zone,” with plenty of kid-focused entertainment, from hands-on activities and interactive performances featuring music, theater and dance groups, often with young performers, like themselves. Plus, kids seven and under get free festival admission.
Kaaboo Music Festival – Del Mar, CA (September 13–15, 2019)
Not far from San Diego, Del Mar, California, enjoys a final exhalation of summer with Kaaboo Music Festival. Music, comedy, art, food, and indulgences such as massages, hair and makeup, and other spa experiences, make this one special event. Kids ages 3–10 can get a discounted Hang Loose children’s pass with proof of age, and little ones two and under get in free. Check out the ‘soak zones,’ with pop-up pools, shaded cabanas, and stretches of sand to lounge on, or take the family on a hot air balloon ride.
Getting an extension on summer
For my family and me, summer has become the perfect time to visit different cities, commune with nature, and spend time with each other. Do I sometimes wish I’d started when my kids were younger? Sure, if only because I would have loved to see them boogie down when they were unself-conscious and a little bobble-headed. But, we’re making the most of family-friendly summer music festivals now, and making memories that we’ll carry with us like melodies we hum when we’re happy.
So, whether you prefer camping in the mountains or seeing a new city, make it appeal to your whole family by building it around a summer music festival.
And, if you miss summer, look into these fall music festivals: Joshua Tree Music Festival in Bradley, California, is October 10–13, 2019; and Austin Kiddie Limits (part of Austin City Limits in Austin, Texas) is October 4–6 and 11–13, 2019. They’re also on my list.