Whether you like rock, folk, jazz, bluegrass, electronic music, noise, or all of the above, the Triangle has an annual festival for your tastes.
Hopscotch Music Festival (September, Raleigh, hopscotchmusicfest.com) has grown into the region’s definitive music festival, with its well-curated slates of local and national indie rock, hip-hop, metal, experimental music, dance music, and more. With its copious free day parties, itís also widely accessible.
The Art of Cool Festival (September, Durham, aocfestival.org) is a big booster for local jazz, and it also brings some of the finest national names in funk, soul, and hip-hop to downtown Durham.
Meanwhile, true to its hometown’s form, the Carrboro Music Festival (September, Carrboro, carrboromusicfestival.com) is a more laidback affair where scores of local bands take to stages around Carrboro’s compact downtown. It’s a cool opportunity to see a range of area talent for free.
Every Fourth of July weekend, West Point on the Eno hosts the Festival for the Eno (July, Durham, enoriver.org/festival). The largest annual fundraiser for the Eno River Association, it’s a family-friendly two days that’s all about community and the environment.
Raleigh hosts the International Bluegrass Music Associationís annual conference (September/October, Raleigh, ibma.org/world-of-bluegrass), which features ticketed concerts by bluegrass’s biggest names as well as a free street festival. Roots music fans also enjoy the biannual Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance (spring/fall, Pittsboro, shakorihillsgrassroots.org), which draws a huge variety of acts, from folk and rock to world music. Kick off your shoes and dance in the mud.
The music-and-tech-fusing Moogfest (May, Durham, moogfest.com), still a fairly recent transplant from Asheville, is more expensive than other local festivals, but offers big-idea innovative programming in addition to sets from artists all over the musical map, especially from electronic music.
The Bars N Beats Festival (September, Durham, beatsnbarsfestival.com), which recently wrapped its third year, features local hip-hop artists performing alongside national acts. But if you really want to get off the beaten path, try Savage Weekend (mid-May, Chapel Hill, nightlightclub.com). Every year at experimental bastion Nightlight, dozens of noise acts from around the country convene for fast and furious sets that range from the harsh to the sublime.
Of course, the Triangle’s festival scene extends far beyond music. In fact, other than for Hopscotch, it’s probably best known on the national festival circuit for dance and film.
The American Dance Festival (June/July, Durham, americandancefestival.org), a summer dance festival along the lines of Jacobís Pillow in Massachusetts, is a national institution that has existed in various forms since 1934. For six weeks, it mixes canonical works by modern greats like Shen Wei and Martha Graham with new ones by the brightest young choreographers at Duke University and in downtown Durham.
Founded in 1998 by Pulitzer-winning photo editor Nancy Buirski, The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival (April, Durham, fullframefest.org) has grown into one of the top annual events in the country for documentary fans and creators. For four days every April, it fills the historical Carolina Theatre and other venues within a few blocks with classic docs, premieres, and visits from big names like Albert Maysles and Steve James.
The Carolina is also home to another, even longer-running film festival, The North Carolina Gay & Lesbian Film Festival (August, Durham, carolinatheatre.org), an important local institution that helped set the nationwide mold for festivals showcasing LGBTQ films. It’s a great prologue to the NC Pride Festival (September, Durham, ncpride.org) and its climactic parade.
On the less important but lots-of-fun side at the Carolina, thereís Nevermore (February, Durham, carolinatheatre.org), a juried competition of new genre films from around the world. But for film with a more local flavor, go for the Carrboro Film Festival (November, Carrboro, carrborofilmfestival.com), which highlights local indie film in the artsy mill town. And if you prefer your pictures to hold still, the Click! Triangle Photography Festival (October, Durham, clicktrianglephoto.org) hosts a month of exhibits, talks, and workshops all over Durham each fall.
On the literary side, the West End Poetry Festival (October, Carrboro, westendpoetryfestival.org) brings together area poets for an accessible weekend of readings and community events, while the Zine Machine Festival (November 4, Durham, zinemachinefest.com) convenes zine-makers and other printed-matter-mavens for a weekend at the Durham Armory. Plus, don’t miss NC Comicon (March, Raleigh/November, Durham, nccomicon.com), for all the comics and cosplay you need, and then some.
If your tastes trend more arts-and-crafts, with lots of food and stuff for kids, each of the Triangle’s cities has an annual street festival to suit you: There’s CenterFest (September, Durham, centerfest.durhamarts.org), Festifall (October, Chapel Hill, chapelhillfestifall.com), Lazy Daze (August, Cary, townofcary.org), and Artsplosure (May, Raleigh, artsplosure.org). There are also the thriving, long-running cultural festivals: Bimbe Cultural Arts Festival (May, Durham, facebook.com/bimbe-cultural-festival), which honors African influences in the Triangle, as well as Fiesta Del Pueblo (September, Raleigh, elpueblo.org), which celebrates Latinx heritage. It’s all part of a thriving local festival economy that goes as big-tent as SPARKcon (September, Raleigh, sparkcon.com), which brings everything from local circus arts to local fashion to downtown Raleigh.