Things to do in Houston

Houston Music Festivals

As you explore the vibrant music festivals, you'll also discover the myriad of things to do in Houston, each reflecting the city's diverse cultural scene.

Houston's birds can sing their hearts out, while babies cry and dogs occasionally bark. These are the normal sounds of life in Houston, but none of them can draw a crowd like the live music in Houston and cheering throngs of the Houston music festival season. We adore every genre listed here, and you will too as you sing your heart out at one of the city’s top music events.

Country, Folk, and Blues Festivals

Has there ever been music as American as country, folk, or the blues? You can lose yourself in the overlap between these genres, where the river of country flows into folk, and onward ever more into the blues. These are the words of the common man, sung from the talented voices of real people. 

One is the anthem of the farmer, the frontiersman, the soldier, and sailor, and scouts. Another is the music of front porches in the Ozarks and Appalachia. Evocative plaints rise above the Great Smoky Mountains to mingle with coal smoke and the scent of backwoods rye. As for the blues? You could weep with grief at the wail of suffering and twang that accompanies blues ballads. 

The air above Houston is alive with these traditional forms. As the performers lift their voices, the lyrics lift our spirits, and the fans lift their glasses and little brown jugs. It reminds us of our upcoming creation Goin’ Country, which is slated to premiere in Nashville in 2024, then hit the road and share the gift of country music with generations of new audiences who will come to love it as much as we do.

Photographer: Raúl Nájera

Houston Folk Festival

It’s all lawn chairs and blankets, but no coolers or pets, please, at the storied Houston Folk Festival, which tours hotspots around the state on a rotating, seasonal schedule. Drop by and appreciate acts such as Endurance, Mike Zito, and Jones Family Singers. Every voice shall lift, as they say, and the crowd is free to sing along to the tunes they’ve been humming at home all their lives. 

Big As Texas Festival

Big As Texas Festival is a riot of country titans, with a whole constellation of Texas stars on hand to lift the spirits and keep things swinging through dozens of albums worth of classic hits and current trends. Thomas Rhett will be there for 2024, and so will Dierks Bentley, Billy Strings, Dwight Yoakam, and Morgan Wade. Look for Midland, Los Lobos, and Clay Walker. A portion of all ticket sales goes to suicide prevention.

Photographer: Patty Brito

CMA Music Festival

Recognized the world over as “the ultimate country music fan experience,” there’s nothing quite like a night out at the CMA Music Festival. One of the most amazing music festivals in America, CMA Fest does not disappoint, hosting the biggest names in country for four full days. It started back in 1972, and today, iconic artists such as Dolly Parton, Alabama, Little Big Town, Josh Turner, Ashley McBride, and many more of your favorites hit the stage with gusto.

CMA Fest is the longest-running country music festival in the world, and a fraction of ticket sales go directly toward music education. If you love this style of music, you simply need to be there to discover over 250 acts playing nine official stages. This is one roaring weekend you’ll never forget.

Black-Inspired Music Festivals

The bell has rung and the day is largely done. It’s time to sit around the fire with your children and share a meal of soul food with your family and closest friends. Here, artists pick up a fiddle and play a private ballad that speaks to the heart, as riotous crowds roar with approving cheers inside.

On the stage, singers howl jumping songs about lost love and the way life can sometimes surprise you. The joint seems to be on fire, with clapping and laughing and drinks all around in the welter of a backwoods tavern.

As your feet pound the pavement, arms swinging and eyes turning from left to right in search of admirers, the music drifts through the air. The beat is pumping like your heart, each note landing as you walk in step with it. It’s a voice like your own, and you know every word.

The music of America tells the tale of generations of Black families, from the ancient African traditions to the latest in trendsetting synth. 

Honeyland Festival

Honeyland Festival has traditionally been a wild celebration of Black culture in music and other performing arts. There are beats, eats, and sips for all at this 21-plus event. Look for the 2023 lineup, which includes Amaris Jones, Andra “AJ” Johnson, and Ben Williams at the VIP Lounge. Chlöe headlines the Beats stage, while Chris Williams brings it all together on his own at the back of the club. Proceeds go to support Flamart and the Foundation of Modern Music.

Afrobeats in America Festival

Afrobeats in America is a festival of rhythm and percussion that’s worth a road trip to see at least once. This revel in global sound tours throughout the South and strives to take in elements of the local culture every stop along the way. In Houston, Afrobeats fans can admire while local DJs and recording artists do their thing for 7 hours. Listen for hip-hop, R&B, and a unique Afrohouse sound served up alongside the soul food that’s free for all-access guests.

Utopia Fall Reggae Fest

The SoHo crew needs to get ready for the 2023 Utopia Fall Reggae Fest. Everybody needs to head down to hear the slow vibes and sip the sloe gin from licensed vendors at the venue. Between sets, we’re all cruising around the flower garden for looks and likes. Sit and groove with your crew while the tunes color the sky overhead with the hues of the spirit. Praise be to all, and rack it up for the most laid back musical fellowship known to humankind.

You’re getting more than just the dope vibes from SoHo this season. Chill at unique bars, pick up some cool merchandise, and meet up with local vendors who might be your neighbors when you’re not chilling together at the smoothest fall festival to hit the row this year.

Photographer: Meik

Heavy Metal

It starts hard and gets harder as it goes. The instruments come in one at a time, each musician giving you their best before joining with the next in line. First a downtuned guitar, starting out with notes so sharp you could use them to shave. It’s all melody at first, with the power riff rolling over itself in eagerness to tell you its story before the fun really gets started.

When the drum kick hits, you’re already banging your head. Kick with your knees, trot into the pit, and narrowly dodge an elbow thrown with violence but without malice; we’re all here to cut loose. Now, the full sound swells in your breast and seems to take control. You’re thrashing and shoving; a man dives from the stage. You're screaming louder than you ever have before, but the amps are so pumped you can’t even hear yourself.

The vocals start, and you know that outsiders will never understand them. It’s like a secret message to you and your fellow ‘heads. The song is about saving the environment, but an outsider will only hear growling and screaming. For that, you will love this band forever, for it’s part of your very identity.

Heavy metal is the scream of the unheard, and the talents who power it from the stage know how to deliver 300-decibel sermons from the stage mount. It's flair of excitement and intensity compared to the compositions we're used to, but smashing nonetheless. 

Hell’s Heroes Festival

Way back in 1929, audiences were thrilled to see one of the earliest Western talkies ever shot. That film, Hell’s Heroes, followed three heroes across the Old West as they struggled to save a dying woman’s child.

It’s with that ethos that Sodom, Queensrÿche, and Candlemass have pulled together to tour Texas in 2024 with the Hell’s Heroes Festival. The White Oak Music Hall is the place to be in March, when handpicked thrash and bands of headbangers turn up to bring the house down for us all. Queensrÿche alone has promised to run through the ultra-classics, including The Warning and other headline hits from the band’s earliest days.

Photographer: Jeff James

Classical

A stone villa rises above the manicured formal gardens. Next to the fountains, a lady in a silk mantua chats with her husband. Servants carry trays, and a game of croquet is being slowly lost by everybody who isn’t the king. The Lord Chamberlain steps into the garden and claps, signaling the gentle crowd that the quartet has arrived, and it’s time to hear the latest from Maria Bach. 

The streets of Vienna are unlit and hazardous. Though nobody knows it, this score was composed by the great and phenomenally undisciplined Mozart, who's down on his luck and will make good his debts with heartbreaking genius in the song the man starts to sing. Beethoven has allegedly dedicated his latest to M. Bonaparte, though he may mean it as a joke. Time will tell.

Photographer: Larisa Birta

Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival

For more than three decades, Houston has turned eager eyes to the Immanuel and Helen Olshan Texas Music Festival to hear the fruits of the academy’s most promising students. Playing in the summer heat, this one-of-a-kind annual event pulls together an eclectic mix of students near the top of their class with world-class Classical musicians at the top of their games. 

Guest artists joining the festival for 2023 include Vadym Kholodenko,  Awadagin Pratt, and Amy Yang on the piano, while Andrew Grams, Franz Anton Krager, and Gerard Schwarz agree to hold the baton as guest conductors. Series’ include the Sharon Ley Lietzow Piano Series, the Faculty Chamber Music Series, and a round of full orchestral performances for adoring crowds who attend the main venue.

Unleash Your Inner Music Maverick

The world comes alive when we laugh or love one another. Music is the soundtrack that livens this up even more, as it paints a mental picture of everything that we love or fear in life. We make the most out of this power with an always stunning mélange of fast and slow, high and low, and endless variations of tempo, register, and arrangements. Join us as our amazing performers bring the music to life with their amazing physical feats of grace, style, and harmony. Have a look at our packed schedule of Houston shows, and prepare to get an earful.

More articles about