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Best alternative music festivals worth checking out

The spring and summer music festival season is about to kick off.  And while there are the massive gatherings, like New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and California's Harmony Festival or Lollapalooza (this year it's in Chicago), there are dozens of other alternative music festivals around the country to satisfy all musical tastes.

From Savannah, Georgia to Santa Fe, New Mexico - small and larger cities are vying for the opportunity to get your toes tapping at music festivals throughout the spring and summer. 

Whether you’re planning on driving or flying to hear some concerts, small and larger music festivals packing a big lineup are abound throughout the country. Organizers say even if you can’t afford a vacation away this year - there’s likely a festival within driving distance that would make for an enjoyable staycation.

So how do you know which festival to make a long weekend trip to? Fox News Traveler has the notes on which could be music to your ears.

Savannah Music Festival

No matter what type of music you like, the Savannah Music Festival has it all. Soul, salsa, jazz and classical are just a few of the genres offered during the festival, which swings through three weekends. 

“We always tell people to treat it like a sushi bar,” said the executive and artist director for the Savannah Music Festival, Rob Gibson. “You don't go to a sushi bar to eat one kind of fish. You try three or four different kinds and that's what we encourage people to do with music.”

The festival features more than 100 performances of world-class jazz, classical, blues, bluegrass, gospel and other genres of  music during the 17-day event. It’s music that will not only treat your ears, but your wallet as well. 

“I always tell people you can hear Bronfman at Carnegie Hall and sit in the best seat and pay $125 or you can go and hear him in a hall that holds 200 people and sit in the front seat and pay $65,” Gibson said. “The choice is yours.”

Dates: March 22-April 7, 2012. Tickets are available at www.savannahmusicfestival.org

MerleFest

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the MerleFest this year - the festival in Wilkesboro, North Carolina has been known by some as “the little festival that could.” Situated in the foothills of North Carolina, MerleFest 2012 will feature some of the superstar talent normally seen at larger festivals, such as country artist Vince Gill and contemporary blue glass artist Alison Krauss. The roots music festival includes country, blue grass, folk and blues performances.

“This year’s initial lineup will bring back a little nostalgia for the core MerleFest audience; those fans who return year after year to hear the traditional sounds of roots music,” said the director of the festival, Ted Hagaman. “We have some of the leading names in the music industry, of today and yesteryear, lined up to perform at the historic 25th festival.

Up to 90 performers will delight guests on 14 stages around the campus of Wilkes Community College throughout the weekend. The festival is family-friendly with no alcohol or smoking allowed on campus. Children 12 years old and under are admitted for free when accompanied by a paying adult. 

Dates: April 26-29, 2012. Tickets are available at www.merlefest.org.

Caramoor International Music Festival

Encompassing a variety of tunes, the Caramoor International Music Festival appeals to music lovers of all ages with its lineup of classical, jazz, Latin and American roots music. This is the 67th season of the iconic summer festival. It is held at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts’ distinguished 90-acre garden estate in Katonah, New York.

“The 2012 Caramoor season is a beautiful example of our continuing work presenting classical masterpieces, and our ongoing program expansion,” said the CEO and general director of Caramoor Center, Michael Barrett. “I am very happy with our collaboration with the Rossini Festival in Pesaro, Italy, on Ciro in Babilonia, and I look forward to another performance of Ewa Podles at Caramoor.”

The festival also features several family-friendly events, such as Dancing at Dusk - a series where children can learn about traditional songs and dances of Indonesia, Spain, India, Pakistan and Brazil.

Dates: June 23-August 8, 2012. Tickets are available at www.caramoor.org.

Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival

The Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival is one of the oldest festivals in the West. As part of its 40th anniversary celebration this year, organizers are co-presenting a symposium, “Music, The Brain, Medicine, and Wellness: A Scientific Dialogue.”

“The Music and the Brain Symposium is a unique gathering of over a dozen leading researchers in this fascinating young field,” said the artistic director for the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Marc Neikrug. “It is meant to illuminate the 'state of the science' and is a great attraction for anyone interested in how music affects the mind."

As for younger guests, there will be free concerts for children where the artists will play short pieces and explain the music to the audience in hopes of cultivating a passion for music. 

“Santa Fe offers the audience a wide variety of chamber music performed by world-class musicians in the beautiful, historic setting of Santa Fe,” said the executive director of Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, Steven Ovitsky. “The Festival offers something for all musical tastes, whether it be well-known works, rarely heard gems or new works by some of today’s foremost composers."

Dates: July 15-August 20, 2012. Tickets information available at www.sfcmf.org

Ravinia Festival

As North America’s oldest music festival, Ravinia Festival organizers say the concerts attract hundreds of thousands of listeners each year. The events are hosted in Highland Park, Illinois, which is about 23 miles north of Chicago.

“We present over 100 separate events from June to mid-Sept., including the annual summer residency of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra to concerts by Train, Tony Bennett and Glen Campbell,” said president and CEO of Ravinia, Welz Kauffman. “Where else can you find performances by violinist Itzhak Perlman, cellists Yo-Yo Ma and Johannes Moser, Latin guitar rocker Carlos Santana, blues guitarist Derek Trucks, ukulele performer Jake Shimabukuro and even the great Steve Martin on banjo. And that's just a few of the string players. Don’t even get me started on piano.”

Among the superstars at the festival this year are Idina Menzel and Santana. The lineup also includes many concerts that the whole family will enjoy. Organizers say the festival is also one of the country’s most programmatically diverse.

“What truly defines us is that music-lovers can really create their own vision of what Ravinia is to them--an intimate dinner date for two followed by a performance by the great Chicago Symphony Orchestra, or a group of friends on the lawn partying with the Blues Brothers,” Kauffman said.

Dates: June 7-September 9, 2012. Tickets are available at www.ravinia.org.