Ever since 1969’s historic Woodstock music festival took place in the town of Bethel, you’ll find the spirit of love, peace, and music still ingrained throughout the countryside of upstate New York. It’s because of this history artists continue to come out and pay homage to years past, while keeping the spirit alive well into the future; here’s our favorite upstate New York music festivals worth the groovy trip, man.
SUMMER (Bethel, NY)
In 2005, Mountain Jam kicked off as a one-day event to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Radio Woodstock. An overwhelmingly positive response has facilitated its growth into the largest rock music and camping festival in New York. Co-founder Warren Haynes (of the Allman Brothers) has kept the Woodstock zeitgeist alive, and the festival now vibrates through a weekend each June. Past performances include a lineup of contemporary greats like The Black Keys, The Lumineers, The War on Drugs, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and plenty more, alongside original Woodstock acts like Levon Helm (The Band), Phil Lesh, Bob Weir, and his band, Gov’t Mule.
In 2019, the festival relocated from Hunter Mountain Ski Resort to Bethel Woods, site of the original Woodstock Music and Arts Fair of 1969. Here, in a setting overflowing with historical significance, Mountain Jam spent its fourteenth consecutive year bringing an eclectic range of performances to the masses. The festival reminded us all why Mountain Jam is continuously one of the top-ranked festivals in the nation, and 2020 will surely rage on.
This annual event was founded in the 1960s by Pete Seeger, the legendary singer, songwriter, folklorist, activist, environmentalist, and peace advocate. Clearwater began as a call to action to save the Hudson River – one of America’s most important estuaries – from dire peril, the result of centuries of pollution. So along came Pete, playing his banjo and talking environmental necessities, in a series of riverfront concerts across the Hudson Valley. He eventually amassed enough funds to build a symbolic sailing vessel which would become the symbol of the American Environmental Movement: the sloop Clearwater.
Every year at Croton Point Park, seven sustainably-powered stages, a zero-waste initiative, and an all-inclusive attitude welcome music-lovers and beyond. The two-day event is soundtracked by folk music, with local food and farm stands supplying grub, and a slew of environmental exhibits offer free education on how to make an impact. All proceeds of the festival continue to directly support the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Inc., a non-profit environmental organization, in its crusade to preserve and protect the Hudson River and surrounding communities in the Valley. Soaking it all into perspective, it’s no wonder this festival is also called “the Great Hudson River Revival.”
Small, intimate, and set deep in the bucolic Catskills wilderness, this festival – affectionately called “KMA” – has been resonating across the entire region. KMA offers an immersive, three-day camping experience for all of its 350 attendees. Pack for a full camp (a tent, a stocked cooler, and bug spray at a minimum), take advantage of multiple on-site vendors for food, and get ready to hear a mix of established and up-and-coming artists of the region and beyond. While not set to the tone or scale of Woodstock, a three-day combination music festival and camping experience is well worth your weekend. Just please don’t feed any curious bears that might be attracted to the jams.
In 1919, Hervey White – a writer, philosopher, guru and considered to be the “first hippie” – built a massive barn-like structure just outside the artistic Maverick Colony near present-day Woodstock. Over a century later, the building’s intricate wooden accents and vaulted ceiling have created an acoustic utopia for live chamber musicians. The historic structure is home to Maverick Concerts, Inc., the oldest continuous music festival in the country.
Each year scattered from June to Mid-September, with Sunday concerts performed by world-renowned soloists and ensembles, the Maverick Festival unites music, history, and nature. Youth programs for up-and-coming musicians are offered for free, and admission is always inexpensive thanks to state funding and private donations. The location’s tranquility combined with the storied past of the building is as much a draw as the musicians themselves.
Have a damn good time in the name of health and wellness with art at the heart of it all. Founded in 2010 by a group of artists, activists, doctors, and a single dentist, O+ (pronounced “O Positive”) is an annual festival where artists and musicians create and perform in exchange for a slew of health services. Seems like a fair trade, right? The mission is positive, and the mix of music, poetry, chiropractic care, massages, and plenty more is unparalleled – it’s even been replicated across the country.
While the foot rubs, acupuncture treatments, and dental work are reserved for performing artists, we still think the festival is well worth attending. Murals are splattered all across an already colorful early-Autumn Kingston, and the music (ranging from folk to punk) showcases some of the best talents across the entire Hudson Valley. Film screenings, participatory art workshops, and classes focusing on the healing powers of the arts round out the festival’s offerings.