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Five St. Louis Music Festivals that Draw Tourists (Riverfront Times)

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes perform on stage at Loufest in a photo by Steve Truesdell for the Riverfront Times

Digital feature, Riverfront Times, March 6, 2018

Photo by Steve Truesdell for the Riverfront Times

For the first couple of years of my Riverfront Times tenure, I primarily was an entertainment reporter who covered artists, makers and musicians. That was just fine with me, because St. Louis was and is filled with creative folks, especially in the music scene.

In 2014, as St. Louis was gaining more national attention for its music history, current artists and brand-new festivals, I wrote about the fantastic events that repeatedly drew music-loving tourists from around the Midwest and beyond. A few of my capsules are below.


When the inaugural LouFest was announced way back in 2010, we were excited but secretly wondered if this was going to be a one-and-done deal. A large-scale festival in Forest Park sounded like a good idea, but could it really work? Well, it could and it did. Over the years, LouFest has drawn major acts like Built to Spill, the Hold Steady, the Flaming Lips and Girl Talk while also spotlighting great local talent. In 2013, LouFest's local founders teamed up with C3 Presents (which manages Lollapalooza and the Austin City Limits Festival) to offer the festival's best headliners yet of Wilco, the Killers, the National and Alabama Shakes, drawing its largest and most diverse crowd so far.

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In 2012, Steve Pohlman and John Henry coordinated Off Broadway's first Open Highway Music Festival after noticing regional and national interest in "red dirt" music -- a combination of earthy country with good old rock & roll. The four-day event was a near-sellout each night, so Pohlman and Henry upped the ante in 2013 with a broader scope of musicians and genres. The gambit worked, with folks traveling from all over to see Lucero, JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound, Murder by Death and more. Concertgoers received an extra treat during the first night when Americana great Cory Chisel brought out Norah Jones for a surprise performance.

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These family-friendly, sunshine-on-our-shoulders events are great, but they don't necessarily get the job done for all music lovers. Enter Gateway to the West Fest, a hardcore-punk bonanza not for the faint of heart. As one of the largest hardcore events in the region, Gateway to the West Fest has brought out the big guns for six installments since its debut in 2005, delivering Blacklisted, Bitter End, No Class, Rival Mob, Cast Aside and more to St. Louis venues and rabid fans. In recent years, local hardcore promoter and fest founder Adam "The Devastator" Greer handed the baton off to local tattoo artist/hardcore scene veteran Donna Klein to expand the fest even more, bringing hardcore fans in by the van full from all over the Midwest.

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With the Bluesweek Festival moving to Chesterfield this year, the Big Muddy Blues Festival practically has the downtown summer blues market cornered -- not that it needs help. Big Muddy draws about 60,000 music lovers each year to Laclede's Landing to hear all manner of the blues and related genres: R&B, rockabilly, gospel, jazz and more. Even though the festival draws some hefty headliners -- recent years have given us the Reverend Horton Heat, Walter Trout, Booker T. and Joe Louis Walker -- the region's largest blues event takes pride in showcasing rising local talent. And don't even get us started on how well festival organizers weathered Hurricane Isaac's wrath in 2012 -- they deserve a golden harmonica for that one.

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With food, games, art, fireworks and music serving as catnip for a family vacation during Independence Day weekend, Fair St. Louis has been enticing concertgoers of all ages for decades. The festival has grown beyond July 4, though; in recent years, Fair St. Louis has added Celebrate St. Louis concerts throughout the summer, bringing even more nationally recognized talent to the Gateway City. Visitors and natives alike have enjoyed Heart, Ray Charles, Neon Trees, Josh Turner and more under the Arch, but that tradition changes this year when Fair St. Louis moves to Forest Park.

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