It’s a time-honored tradition — parents reminisce about the bands they saw when they were younger, kids react with amazement at how inexpensive concert tickets were back in the day. But even better is getting out and making musical memories together as a family, and Virginia is home to some of the most wonderfully family-friendly music spots you’ll find, from festivals to concerts and competitions. Here are a few stops you won’t want to miss.
One of the state’s strongest festivals from a lineup standpoint is also one of the family-friendliest. FloydFest was started in 2002, and as the festival has grown into venerated annual tradition, organizers have kept families in mind, offering a full slate of affiliated outdoor activities and comfortable VIP accommodations. (There’s even a Show Sherpa service that sets up tents in a special village with a community camp kitchen.) Take a leisurely dip in the Little River via daily On the Water float trips — complete with shuttles to and from the site — or test your riding skills on the Belcher Mountain Beat Down, an all-ages downhill mountain bike ride. And don’t miss the Children’s Universe & Teen Scene in the heart of the grounds, offering balloon art, face-painting, puppets, and yoga.
This treasured Vienna, Virginia venue boasts a full slate of evening shows — Pollstar Magazine has ranked the club among the top 100 venues in the world according to ticket sales — but you may not know that Jammin’ Java is also one of the most active clubs around when it comes to children’s concerts. Their series is called Jammin’ Java’s Tot Rock, and frequent performers include The Great Zucchini, who has decades of experience entertaining at schools, zoos, parties (even the White House Easter Egg Roll) and three-man outfit Rocknoceros, which has performed at Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits, Wolf Trap, and The Kennedy Center. Tot Rock shows typically start at 10:30 a.m. — perfect timing for when school’s out!
Dave Matthews’ decades-long run of success in the music industry means that multiple generations now have firsthand experience listening to new albums and yelling for “Ants Marching” at concerts. That success also meant that Matthews could venture into the realm of winemaking, and Blenheim Vineyards is the result. Blenheim is located a half hour’s drive from the mall in Charlottesville, where Matthews’ music career took root. The winery features live music, food trucks, tastings, and beautiful views of the sloping landscape, with plenty of space for stretching your legs and a large back porch where you may even hear DMB songs streaming out of iPhone speakers. Be sure to wear the shirt you got at your favorite show — chances are you’ll find someone to trade memories with.
The Hurrah Players—Norfolk
Maybe you see a performing career in your child’s future. Or maybe you’re just looking for musical theater you know your kids will love. Either way, the Hurrah Players are a great place to turn. This Norfolk-based non-profit offers learning experiences starting at age five, including classes and summer day camps in which campers participate in dance and vocal training in the morning and then learn about producing, promoting, and performing in the afternoon. Plus, The Hurrah Players stage performances that are open to the public! Parents can enjoy singing along to their favorite Grease tunes while their kids can see their peers bring a full musical theater production to life.
Central Park—Cape Charles
Did you miss Simon and Garfunkel’s legendary 1981 benefit show in New York City’s Central Park? Don’t worry, new musical memories are waiting to be made at the Central Park in Cape Charles on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The park plays host to weekend concerts that, together with shows at the Historic Palace Theater, will comprise the 2017 Harbor for the Arts Festival. The series kicks off at the Palace with Raw Beets on June 30th, continuing the next day in the park with Little Country. Beach chairs and blankets are encouraged for concerts in the park, as are picnic suppers. Plus, the beautiful surroundings include a newly renovated children’s playground and a great lawn where soccer and other sports can be played. Best of all — no chance of getting lost in New York City’s labyrinthine subway system!
The Carter Family Fold—Hiltons
Located off the appropriately named A. P. Carter Highway in Hiltons, Virginia, the Carter Family Fold represents both a link to country music’s past and a wonderful family outing in the present. Weekly Saturday evening shows are all-ages affairs, with discounts for children ages 6-11 and free admission for kids under 6. Old-time and bluegrass bands grace a stage that’s packed with pieces of Carter family history, and dancers young and not so young move their feet nearby, with stadium seating for those looking to relax while taking in the sights and sounds. Snacks and souvenirs are available, and true fans of history can slip out and explore the nearby museum and cabin, which are home to more ephemera from the early days of Country music’s first family. (You can even sit in a chair that belonged to Johnny Cash!)
Old Fiddler’s Convention—Galax
Don’t let the “Old” in the name of this storied annual Galax event fool you; the weeklong Old Fiddler’s Convention, held in August, is a great way for young players and fans to experience a unique tradition: competitive performing. The Convention hosts instrument–specific contests, with youth divisions for those 15 and under who want to put their old time fiddle, bluegrass fiddle, mandolin, clawhammer banjo, bluegrass banjo, or guitar skills to the test. There’s even a segment for bands. The atmosphere is welcoming, and you’re as likely to see kids sitting on their parents’ knees as you are to see banjos, and there are camping options for families coming in from out of town. There could be a first-place ribbon in your son or daughter’s future…
One of the best and most beautiful spaces in Virginia’s capital city to get outside and see a show is Brown’s Island, located in downtown Richmond along the James River. The Friday Cheers concert series takes place there from early May to late June, and while eager fans tend to line the front of the stage for local and national acts alike, the island offers plenty of space for laying down blankets and parking folding chairs and strollers. (And early, punctual Cheers start times allow for reasonable bedtimes.) For more adventurous family fun, consider the outdoor-themed Riverrock event, which takes place in late May, and October’s Richmond Folk Festival, which features multiple stages, spilling off the island onto other nearby downtown green spaces.
The Historic City Market—Roanoke
Buying food directly from a farmer’s market is a great way to eat healthily and foster a sense of community, but there are more tuneful reasons to stop by the Historic Roanoke City Market, which is open year-round, seven days a week, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. City Market Saturdays offer opportunities to see live music in the sunshine, with genres ranging from blues and Americana to folk and R&B, as well as holiday-specific crafts and activities. (Perfect for Mother’s and Father’s Days.) And the Market is located just a stone’s throw away from Elmwood Park, which is home to the Budweiser Summer Series.