For the Rest of Us

A field guide to the hippest music festivals of the summer

Typically, summer festivalgoers migrate to the same sites and are treated to the spectacle of vendors all lined up hawking overpriced clothing, terrible food and beer at gentlemen's club prices. And the music? Just how many maudlin, middle-aged musical memories need to be rehashed? How often can Cheap Trick play before "Surrender" becomes the only option? Often, folks are left with little to show except a sunburn, an empty wallet and the omnipresent mantra: "I'm not going to do that again next year."

We can all be thankful there are a few area festivals that pack quite a bit of actual fest into two or three days of music and merriment. If you're looking to maximize your summer music time and money, here are some events worth taking in.

ArtFest 2007 in Addison takes place May 25-28 and offers a fairly hip lineup of locals in a variety of genres. Saturday's main stage has Kelci Page and Josh Daniels, while supercool urban soul singer Montrose highlights Sunday's program. Monday's headliners are Rumblefish and Brave Combo, and while the latter has been treading the same offbeat water for a decade, the former is actually one of the area's best cover bands. The art takes center stage (hence the name), but the music is probably the best Memorial Day bang for the buck.

For the multiculturally adventurous, the 41st Annual National Polka Festival in Ennis on Memorial Day Weekend is the most authentic musical experience of all. Visitors can learn Czechoslovakian traditions, religious customs and folk dances, all the while munching on some delicious kolaches and checking out a surprising variety of musical talent. Of course Brave Combo plays here as well, but Wade Bowen headlines Saturday's program and his brand of neo-traditionalist country is well worth the trip to Ennis. Other performers include the Zorya Ukrainian Dance Ensemble and the Jodie Mikula Orchestra.

By far the most extravagant Memorial Day celebration will be KSCS-96.3 FM's Country Thunder. Boasting 20 tons of beef, 20,000 hot dogs and 3,000 garbage barrels, this event is the mother of all shitkicker galas. With country music heavy-hitters Pat Green, Ronnie Milsap, Lorrie Morgan and Reba McEntire on the bill, this four-day event (May 24-27) is heavy on the corporate schmooze and light on what Steve Earle calls "real music." Only the ever-dependable George Strait and Houston's Reckless Kelly will break up the middle-of-the-road mania happening in Waxahachie (where else?).

For those who can afford the gas and don't mind the drive, the most celebrated musical event has to be the Kerrville Folk Festival, which takes place May 24 through June 10. Performers include Sara Hickman, Patrice Pike, Gretchen Peters, Tom Russell, Terri Hendrix, Trout Fishing in America, John Gorka, Susan Werner and a seemingly endless list of other highly regarded Americana acts. In spite of—perhaps because of—its well-worn vintage, this event encapsulates much of what is still vital about rural music.

Once summer starts getting hot, the Texas Scottish Festival and Highland Games should provide an interesting place to play in the sun. Celebrating its 21st year in Arlington, this fest takes place June 1-3 and offers a hell of a lot more than guys in kilts. Besides the best selection of beer, the music at this event is a who's who of Scottish acts, including acclaimed fiddler Alasdair Fraser, balladeer Alex Beaton and folk singer Brian McNeill. Throw in the Canadian Celtic rock group Enter the Haggis and a solo bagpiping contest, and it's easy to see why 50,000 folks are expected to sweat it out Scottish-style.

The Fourth Annual City Arts Celebration of Dallas will feature more than 75 local artists and a diverse selection of musical performers. This free event should even be able to overcome being sponsored by TXU. It takes place June 8-10 and will also include local chefs sharing heart-healthy recipes in the Medical City Culinary Tent. Music from the likes of Doyle Bramhall, The Inner City All Stars, Jed Marum and Emily Elbert will accompany visitors as they take in some of the best art the city has to offer.

It's a bit of a drive to The Abilene Summer Music Festival (June 10-16), but the rewards might be the most altruistic of any summer event. Held in and around Hardin-Simmons University, this four-day happening features all manner of classical performances by some of the school's students and renowned faculty. The press materials say that this event "is dedicated to enriching the quality of life in West Texas." Hell, who can say "no" to that?

Taste of Dallas makes its 21st annual appearance in the West End on July 13-15. Along with a mouthwatering smorgasbord of chow and the expected throng of jewelry and clothing vendors, this free event is never too shabby on the music, but a list of acts is not yet available.

Once August hits and the heat is unbearable, the only thing left to do is risk dehydration and head out to Ozzfest, which dutifully makes its way to Dallas on August 2. This year tickets are free (is that a hint?), and the lineup is as gruesome as ever. Lamb of God, Lordi, 3 Inches of Blood, Behemoth and Hatebreed are just a few of the troubled souls willing to shed pounds and share sweat with the huddled masses. You've been warned.

Those searching for an out-of-the-ordinary festival a few days after Labor Day should check out the National Championship Indian Pow Wow held at Traders Village in Grand Prairie September 6-8. Several hundred Native Americans, representing dozens of tribes from across the United States, take part in the two-day event. Colorful tribal dance contests, Indian arts and crafts, tepees, ceremonies, food booths and much more provide an intriguing insight into Native American culture. This free festival will make one wonder why the original inhabitants of this land allowed in anybody else in the first place.

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