Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Freedom, Fireworks and Fun: The Best Music Festivals in July 2016



Summer’s heating up, and so is the national live music scene! We highly recommend making the most of your July by heading outdoors and enjoying one of these wonderful festivals.

Fillmore Jazz Festival (7/2/2016 – 7/3/2016) in San Francisco, California
Looking for a fun way to spend the long weekend? The theme of this year’s Fillmore Jazz Festival is (re) discovery, and it’s sure to make you look at jazz – and the City By The Bay – with fresh eyes. As always, it will welcome more than 100,000 music lovers to the famously curved street for outdoor entertainment.

Bar Harbor Music Festival (7/3/2016 – 7/31/2016) in Bar Harbor, Maine
Founded by violinist Francis Fortier in 1967, the Bar Harbor Music Festival remains a popular summer pastime to this day. Hailed as “A Beacon of Hope for Young Artists,” the month-long celebration serves to connect emerging musicians with potential mentors and patrons. Attendees, meanwhile, delight in a variety of musical genres as performed by both up-and-comers and international icons.

Rocky Mountain Old Time Music Festival (7/6/2016 – 7/10/2016) in Berthoud, Colorado
The annual festival presented by the Central Rockies Old-Time Music Association (CROMA) is a beloved summer tradition now in its sixth year. It’s also the only old-time music festival in the Central Rockies – and it’s become so popular that the Association added a full day of music to the line-up in order to satisfy demand. If that doesn't pique your interest, we don’t know what will.

New Bedford Folk Festival (7/9/2016 – 7/10/2016) in New Bedford, Massachusetts
Now in its 21st year, the New Bedford Folk Festival continues to grow – and yet, it remains true to its mission to feature the best in contemporary, traditional and Celtic folk music. This year’s headliners include Rory Block, Livingston Taylor, Spuyten Duyvil, Melissa Ferrick and Kate Taylor, with about 70 other performers rounding up the lineup. The event will also have juried arts and crafts vendors throughout the historic district.

Mendocino Music Festival (7/9/2016 – 7/23/2016) in Mendocino, California
This festival features too much “Music on the Edge of the World” to fit into just a couple of days. In a 16,000-square-foot tent that seats 850 overlooking the Pacific Ocean, attendees will enjoy the finest classical, Latin, dance, bluegrass and chamber music along with breathtaking views and delicious picnic-style feasts.

Pitchfork Music Festival (7/15/2016 – 7/17/2016) in Chicago, Illinois
This year’s lineup for the annual Pitchfork Music Festival is a study in today’s hottest independent artists; it features Beach House, Broken Social Scene, Carly Rae Jepsen, Brian Wilson, Digable Planets, Miguel, Neon Indian, and many more. The celebrated event will also have 50 individual vendors selling a wide range of items as well as specialty fairs that work to support local businesses and promote Chicago’s arts community.

Columbia Gorge Bluegrass Festival (7/21/2016 – 7/24/2016) in Stevenson, Washington
Bringing some of the biggest stars in bluegrass to a famous stage, this annual event is always one to remember. Along with nightly dances, instrument contests, a guitar raffle, workshops for all ages and fantastic vendors, the festival will feature a lineup including Peter Rowan, Kathy Kallick, The Special Consensus, and other renowned acts.

W.C. Handy Music Festival (7/22/2016 – 7/31/2016) in Florence, Alabama
A weeklong celebration of Northwest Alabama’s rich musical heritage, this annual event serves as iconic tribute to an iconic figure: W.C. Handy, the “Father of the Blues.” Come see some of the greatest performers of the Tri-State area as you take in the sights, sounds and culture of the world-famous Muscle Shoals.

Wicker Park Festival (7/23/2016 – 7/24/2016) in Chicago, Illinois
Dubbed “Chicago’s Best Street Festival of the Summer,” this is one fun-filled event the whole family can enjoy. It’s a vibrant celebration of one neighborhood’s rich musical heritage, nightlife and cuisine – and all attendees will be able to sample all three. Of course, we consider the music to be the main highlight – and after seeing over 30 bands perform on three stages, you might just agree.

Underground Music Showcase (7/28/2016 – 7/31/2016) in Denver, Colorado
One of Denver’s biggest summer music events, this festival packs over 400 performance sin 20 venues into just three days. This year’s lineup features Poli├ža, Thee Oh Sees, Allah Las and other emerging artists from around Denver and the country. There will also be drink specials, food vendors, and other reasons to join in the weekend of fun.

Haven't seen what you’re looking for yet? Well, keep reading…

Mississippi Valley Blues Festival (7/1/2016 – 7/2/2016) in Davenport, Iowa
High Mountain Hay Fever Bluegrass Festival (7/7/2016 – 7/10/2016) in Westcliffe, Colorado
80/35 Music Festival (7/8/2016 – 7/9/2016) in Des Moines, Iowa
Master Musicians Festival (7/8/2016 – 7/9/2016) in Somerset, Kentucky
Rhythm on the River (7/8/2016 – 7/9/2016) in Longmont, Colorado
Newport Music Festival (7/8/2016 – 7/24/2016) in Newport, Rhode Island
Woody Guthrie Folk Music Festival (7/13/2016 – 7/17/2016) in Okemah, Oklahoma
California Worldfest (7/14/2016 – 7/17/2016) in Grass Valley, California
Pickin’ on the Plains Bluegrass Festival (7/15/2016 – 7/17/2016) in Colby, Kansas
Rock ‘n’ Roll Running Festival Chicago (7/16/2016 – 7/17/2016) in Chicago, Illinois
Moondance Jam Rock Festival (7/21/2016 – 7/23/2016) in Walker, Minnesota
Oregon Coast Music Festival (7/21/2016 – 7/30/2016) in Coos Bay, Oregon
Bear Valley Music Festival (7/22/2016 – 8/7/2016) in Bear Valley, California
Sounds & Sights Summer Festival (7/28/2016 – 7/30/2016) in Chelsea, Michigan
GuitarFish Music Festival (7/28/2016 – 7/31/2016) in Cisco Grove, California
RockyGrass Festival (7/29/2016 – 7/31/2016) in Lyons, Colorado
Evergreen Jazz Festival (7/29/2016 – 7/31/2016) in Evergreen, Colorado
Music in the Vineyards (7/29/2016 – 8/21/2016) in Napa Valley, California


For information on events near you, check out FestivalNet.com – and for more news and updates from the American music industry, be sure to keep following us here at HillTop Records.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

5 Unusual Songwriting Tips



Even the most seasoned songwriters among us hit a wall from time to time. We might just call it a good, old-fashioned case of writer’s block – or maybe we’re consistently writing, but we feel we’ve hit a plateau as far as creativity and inspiration are concerned.

For whatever reason, the next time you feel the need to mix things up a bit, consider incorporating one of these unusual ideas into your songwriting process.

Write your song in a different order.
When we sit down to write a new song, most of us consistently start with the same component – perhaps an interesting chord progression we’ve stumbled upon, or maybe a new lyric that recently popped into our heads. The next time you write, through, consider changing the process by starting with a component that you don’t usually choose first – whether that be the melody, harmony, lyrics, rhythm or structure.

Try a new (for you) topic.
Yes, of course, we all like to think that each song we write is completely different from the next – but the truth is that most of us stick to the same handful of themes and topics (and almost all of us have written a love song at some point.) If you’re at a loss for what else to write about, try one of these compelling themes: surprise, grief, revenge, fear, peace, or forgiveness.

Co-write with the deceased.
Did you know that music published before 1923 isn’t protected by copyright and is instead considered to be in the public domain? This means that it is free for other artists to use. Someone who definitely knew this was Vera Matson. When stumped for a catchy tune, she borrowed one from an old civil war song, “Aura Lee”; the resulting song was “Love Me Tender” – which became a huge hit after being recorded by Elvis Presley.

Switch up your instrumentation.
Timbre can change drastically from instrument to instrument, altering the overall mood of a song. This is why many songs in the same genre have the same instrumentation; however, no songwriter should necessarily feel restricted by that. Instead, feel free to experiment with different instrumentation. If you usually write for the guitar, consider what the same song would sound like on the piano – or the violin, or the saxophone, etc.

Experiment with structure.
You know the tried-and-true formula by heart: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus. But what if you stepped out of that structure and tried something more unusual? Sure, you might wind up with something weird and confusing – but you also might wind up with something surprisingly catchy and beautiful (and if nothing else, entirely yours.) Give it a try.


Want more advice? Check out our older post on Unblocking Writer’s Block – and be sure to keep checking back with us here at HillTop Records as we bring you news, updates and sources of inspiration from the world of American music.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

No Gloom in This June! Best Music Festivals of June, 2016



It might not officially be summer yet, but we’re definitely feeling the season – especially with so many fantastic outdoor music festivals on the horizon. Here are just a few of the many we’ve got our eyes on this month:

Thousand Islands Bluegrass Festival (6/2/2016 – 6/4/2016) in Lafargeville, New York
Brought to you by the Thousand Islands Bluegrass Preservation Society, the North Country’s Oldest Bluegrass Association, the 26th Annual Thousand Islands Bluegrass Festival is a celebration that people wait all year long for. This year’s lineup features Remington Ryde, Spare Change, Washington County Line, and many other legendary performers.

Capital Jazz Fest (6/3/2016 – 6/5/2016) in Centreville, Virginia
Now in its 24th year, this event just keeps getting bigger and better. In fact, it’s currently one of the world’s largest showcases of contemporary jazz music – so if you’re a fan of the genre, you should not miss it. Along with a great lineup of nationally known artists, there will be lots of international foods and juried crafts.

Newport Beach Jazz Festival (6/3/2016 – 6/5/2016) in Newport Beach, California
Now sponsored by Hyatt Regency, this much anticipated annual event promises to be even bigger than before. The star-studded lineup features the best in jazz, R&B and soul – think Michael McDonald, Peter White, Brian Culbertson, Stephanie Mills and many more internationally acclaimed artists.

Burlington Discover Jazz Festival (6/3/2016 – 6/12/2016) in Burlington, Vermont
For ten days the streets of downtown Burlington become so much more as citizens prep for a city-wide celebration. Expect to find a great mix of free and ticketed live music events within walking distance of each other; mix and match to create your own perfect weekend.

Stuart Beach Music Festival (6/9/2016 – 6/11/2016) in Stuart, Virginia
How could a three-day concert that bills itself as “the BEST time you’ll EVER have” be anything but fun? Stuart Beach Music Festival is the oldest continuous beach camping weekend music festival, and this year is its 35th. The lineup features a wonderful mix of genres, and the laidback atmosphere helps to make this weekend one to remember. 

Carolina Country Music Festival (6/10/2016 – 6/12/2016) in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
The beautiful oceanside setting of Myrtle Beach is a lovely place to enjoy live music – and this festival’s got that in spades. From the Thursday night kick-off concert to the great headlining acts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, this fun-filled event will keep you dancing all weekend long. Want specifics? You got them: The line-up features Florida Georgia Line, Cole Swindell, A Thousand Horses, Chase Rice, Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, and many other country superstars.

Chicago Blues Festival (6/10/2016 – 6/12/2016) in Chicago, Illinois
As the largest blues festival in the world, this event has a reputation to uphold – and it does so beautifully, year after year. This year’s events include a special Soul/R&B Night, a Tribute to Otis Rush, and Alligator Records’ 45th Anniversary Celebration featuring Shemekia Copeland, Curtis Salgado, and Tommy Castro & The Painkillers.

Telluride Bluegrass Festival (6/16/2016 – 6/19/2016) in Telluride, Colorado
Every June the world-famous ski town of Telluride transforms into the ideal venue for one of the country’s best bluegrass festivals. Four full days of excellent live music, spectacular mountain views and great fun for the whole family make this an unforgettable annual event.

Live Oak Music Festival (6/17/2016 – 6/19/2016) in Santa Barbara, California
A fabulous three-day festival with 16 main stage musical performances, this event always draws a crowd to the Central Coast. Along with fantastic concerts it features music workshops, teen dances, barn dances, a children’s activities area, food and drink vendors, and even a popular talent contest.

Buckeye Blues Festival (6/24/2016 – 6/26/2016) in Thornville, Ohio
With over 100 bands and an equal number of merchandise vendors, this three-day music festival is huge. This year it is welcoming six headlining acts, and also offering attendees a great array of food and beverage options. And as if that weren’t enough, there will also be a car show and lively Kid Zone for the little ones.

Didn’t find the event that you’re looking for? Try one of these:

Strawberry Park Bluegrass Festival (6/2/2016 – 6/5/2016) in Preston, Connecticut
Great American Brass Band Festival (6/2/2016 – 6/5/2016) in Danville, Kentucky
Tupelo Elvis Festival (6/2/2016 – 6/5/2016) in Tupelo, Mississippi
Hank Williams Festival (6/3/2016 – 6/4/2016) in Georgiana, Alabama
Blue Plum Arts and Music Festival (6/3/2016 – 6/5/2016) in Johnson City, Tennessee
Summer Arts and Music Festival (6/4/2016 – 6/6/2016) in Benbow, California
Hot Springs Music Festival (6/5/2016 – 6/18/2016) in Hot Springs, Arkansas
Kick’n Up Kountry Music Festival (6/8/2016 – 6/11/2016) in Karlstad, Minnesota
American Heritage Music Festival & Fiddle Contest (6/9/2016 – 6/11/2016) in Grove, Oklahoma
Sea Music Festival (6/9/2016 – 6/12/2016) in Mystic, Connecticut
Alexander City Jazz Festival (6/10/2016 – 6/11/2016) in Alexander City, Alabama
Wakarusa Bluegrass Festival (6/10/2016 – 6/12/2016) in Wakarusa, Indiana
Golden Music Festival (6/10/2016 – 6/12/2016) in Golden, Colorado
Berkeley World Music Festival (6/11/2016 – 6/12/2016) in Berkeley, California
OK Mozart Festival (6/11/2016 – 6/18/2016) in Bartlesville, Oklahoma
Kauai Music Festival (6/16/2016 – 6/18/2016) in Waimea, Hawaii
Smoked Country Jam Bluegrass Festival (6/16/2016 – 6/18/2016) in Cross Fork, Pennsylvania
4 Peaks Music Festival (6/16/2016 – 6/19/2016) in Bend, Oregon
Seldovia Summer Solstice Music Festival (6/16/2016 – 6/19/2016) in Seldovia, Alaska
Cape Fear Blues Festival (6/17/2016 – 6/19/2016) in Wilmington, North Carolina
Ziontific Summer Solstice Music Festival (6/17/2016 – 6/20/2016) in Woodford, Vermont
Flagstaff Folk Festival (6/18/2016 – 6/19/2016) in Flagstaff, Arizona
Two Rivers Music Festival (6/24/2016 – 6/25/2016) in Conesville, Iowa
Hampton Jazz Festival (6/24/2016 – 6/25/2016) in Hampton, Virginia
Crazy Horse Campground Bluegrass Festival (6/24/2016 – 6/26/2016) in Ashland, Illinois
Elkhart Jazz Festival (6/24/2016 – 6/26/2016) in Elkhart, Indiana
Black Hills Bluegrass Festival (6/24/2016 – 6/26/2016) in Sturgis, South Dakota


For more information on festivals near you, visit FestivalNet.com – and for more fun facts, news and updates from the American music industry, keep checking back with us at HillTop Records!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

America’s Most Incredible Outdoor Concert Venues



With summer right around the corner, we’re spending more time outdoors. We’re planning camping trips, garden parties, picnics – and, of course, visits to America’s most incredible outdoor concert venues. Here are some places we’d love to hear our favorite bands play this summer:

Red Rocks AmphitheatreMorrison, Colorado
Although it was just officially declared a National Historic Landmark last year, Red Rocks has long been considered a national treasure. Rows of outdoor seating sit within a natural amphitheatre of giant red rocks that look like something out of a sci-fi film. Along with amazing acoustics, the landmark boasts an onsite museum displaying dinosaur fossils and other artifacts.

Cumberland Caverns McMinnville, Tennessee
So this particular venue isn’t technically “outdoors,” as it is in fact located underground – but how could we leave it off the list? Cumberland Caverns, a U.S. National Natural Landmark and Tennessee’s largest show cave, has been the subject of countless television shows and documentaries – and as soon as you see it, you won’t wonder why. The virtually perfect, natural acoustics and remarkable atmosphere make it an unforgettable concert venue.

Starlight TheatreKansas City, Missouri
Probably the most “manmade” venue on this list, the Starlight Theatre is no less stunning for it. In fact, the historic architecture of the place is what makes it so incredible. In 1925, Queen Marie of Romania paid a visit to Kansas City and to celebrate the occasion, the city organized a showcase of local talent – and the massive success of the event led to the construction of an outdoor concert venue that vaguely resembles a European castle. To this day it remains one of two self-producing outdoor theatres in the United States.

The Gorge Amphitheatre George, Washington
A 27,500-seat concert venue that has hosted some of the greatest international performers, The Gorge has got one of the most scenic stages in the world. It has won countless awards for its majesty and offers visitors sweeping views of the Columbia River, Cascade Foothills, Kittitas County, Grant County and the Columbia Gorge Canyon. Even if it wasn’t a concert venue, it would be worth the trip.

Jones Beach Theater Wantagh, New York
One of two major outdoor arenas in the New York metropolitan area, Jones Beach is beloved for its spectacular views of the sea – and for its whimsical history. The venue’s original design actually featured a moat and performers were brought to the stage by boat (there was even sometimes floating scenery.) And while it was originally constructed to host musicals, Jones Beach has since been the site of many popular events.

Snow Park Outdoor Amphitheater Park City, Utah
If you’ve ever been to Utah in the summer, you know how beautiful it is – and this outdoor concert venue perfectly showcases its scenic splendor. It features a full calendar of events each summer season; from the Utah Symphony to the Bright Nights Outdoor Concert Series, there is something for everyone.

Kualoa Ranch Kaneohe, Hawaii
The Concert Pasture at Kualoa Ranch covers five acres of stunning scenery on the coast of Oahu, Hawaii. It can accommodate up to 12,000 concert-goers who, along with great live music, enjoy panoramic views of soaring, rainforest-covered mountains and the crystal-clear Pacific Ocean. The Concert Pasture is a popular venue for larger concerts and festivals; meanwhile, other parts of Kualoa Ranch, meanwhile, offer everything from zip line adventures to horseback riding.

Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park Live Oak, Florida
Nestled amid Spanish moss along the Suwannee River, the Spirit of Suwannee is a bit off the beaten path but more than worth the trek. It’s home to several major annual festivals and events; however, it manages to maintain a reputation for being a hidden gem – and allows all who visit to feel as though they have just discovered something truly special.

For more fun updates from the American music industry, be sure to keep checking back with us at HillTop Records – and enjoy the summer concert season!


Monday, May 2, 2016

Amidst the May Flowers: The Best Music Festivals in May, 2016



The sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, and it’s time to get outside! One of our favorite ways to spend time outdoors? By attending a spring music festival, of course!

Here are our picks for the best live music events happening this May:

Joshua Tree Spring Music Festival (5/12/2016 – 5/14/2016) in Joshua Tree, California
Did you miss Coachella this year? Well, here’s another opportunity to enjoy some great live music in the striking California desert. The spring edition of this year’s global music event (the fall festival happens in early October) offers three days of camping and fun along with the sounds of The Main Squeeze, Little Hurricane, The Accidentals, All Good Funk Alliance, and many more.

Montauk Music Festival (5/19/2016 – 5/22/2016) in Montauk, New York
Majestic coastal scenery surrounds this annual event, which this year is set to feature over 90 bands and performers. Over 100 shows will take place over four days and in various venues around picturesque Montauk. Visit the festival’s official website to see the full lineup of artists and list of participating venues.

Hangout Music Festival (5/20/2016 – 5/22/2016) in Gulf Shores, Alabama
A one-of-a-kind event that takes place each year on the sandy shores of Alabama, the Hangout Music Festival is part live concert and part beach party. This year’s lineup features The Weeknd, Calvin Harris, Florence + The Machine, Alabama Shakes, Lenny Kravitz, and other indie and hip hop bands sure to make everyone get up, brush the sand off and dance.

Bluegrass on the Bogs (5/20/2016 – 5/22/2016) in Hanson, Massachusetts
Now in its eleventh year, this music festival keeps getting bigger and better. It draws acoustic talent from around the Northeast region, with crowds coming together to celebrate their love of bluegrass music. There will also be artisan vendors, workshops, unique activities for kids, and much more – so gather up the entire family and head to the “bogs” of the Kiwanee and Rainbow campgrounds.

Meadowgrass Music Festival (5/27/2016 – 5/29/2016) in Colorado Springs, Colorado
No one does bluegrass quite like Colorado – so if you’re a fan, then you should definitely consider hitting up this event. It’s got a lineup of 20+ heavy-hitters including the Jeff Austin Band, Jackie Greene, The Barr Brothers and Mandolin Orange, as well as plenty of fun workshops, activities for kids, and food and beverage vendors.

Florida Folk Festival (5/27/2016 – 5/29/2016) in White Springs, Florida
Florida’s rich cultural heritage comes alive this spring with a three-day music festival celebrating the best of folk. This event has grown to become one of the state’s most prestigious, and it’s easy to see why: It’s got a fantastic atmosphere, lovely scenery (the festival takes place right along the Suwannee River) and wonderful music for all to enjoy.

Kentucky Reggae Festival (5/27/2016 – 5/29/2016) in Louisville, Kentucky
Kentucky might not be the first state that comes to mind when one thinks of reggae music, but don’t write this annual event off just yet. There’s plenty to love about the Kentucky Reggae Festival, from its Caribbean-flavored vendor market full of authentic Jamaican food to its lively children’s entertainment zone. There’s even free parking – and, of course, fantastic live music.

ROCKLAHOMA (5/27/2016 – 5/29/2016) in Pryor, Oklahoma
You’ve been to music festivals that celebrate a specific genre, or maybe even artist – but what about a decade? This incredible three-day event is all about the 80’s, from music inspired by those days (think Rob Zombie, Megadeth Collective Soul, Three Doors Down, P.O.D.) to themed vendor booths sponsored by popular brands and favorite beverages. One thing’s for sure: This will be a unique party.

Virginia Women’s Music Festival (5/27/2016 – 5/29/2016) in Kents Store, Virginia
A Memorial Day celebration unlike any other, the annual Virginia Women’s Music Festival honors women in the military with a fun-filled long weekend of camping, music, dancing and bonfires. The lineup this year features Indigie Femme, Someone’s Sister, Martine Locke, Devon Sproule, and more. Rent your tents early, as they are sure to sell out.

Sasquatch! Music Festival (5/27/2016 – 5/30/2016) in Quincy, Washington
One of the Pacific Northwest’s premiere events, Sasquatch! is known for drawing a crowd the size of its namesake. This year’s lineup features The Cure, Disclosure, Florence + The Machine, Major Lazer, M83 and more – so it’s safe to say that the show will probably sell out. After all, it does every year.

Didn’t see what you’re looking for? See if one of these upcoming music festivals is more your speed:

Main Street JazzFest (5/6/2016 – 5/7/2016) in Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Juneau Jazz and Classics (5/6/2016 – 5/21/2016) in Juneau, Alaska
Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival (5/12/2016 – 5/15/2016) in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Carolina Roots Music Festival (5/13/2016 – 5/14/2016) in Statesville, North Carolina
Chesapeake Jubilee (5/19/2016 – 5/22/2016) in Chesapeake, Virginia
Belk Bluegrass Festival (5/20/2016 – 5/21/2016) in Belk, Alabama
Grand Junction Art and Music Festival (5/20/2016 – 5/22/2016) in Grand Junction, Colorado
Rock on the Range (5/20/2016 – 5/22/2016) in Columbus, Ohio
Hope Bluegrass Festival (5/21/2016) in Washington, Arkansas
Doheny Blues Festival (5/21/2016 – 5/22/2016) in Dana Point, California
Tri-State Bluegrass Festival (5/26/2016 – 5/29/2016) in Kendallville, Indiana
Wind Gap Bluegrass Festival (5/26/2016 – 5/29/2016) in Wind Gap, Pennsylvania
Atwood Music Festival (5/27/2016 – 5/28/2016) in Monticello, Mississippi
Northwest Folklife Festival (5/27/2016 – 5/30/2016) in Seattle, Washington
Augusta Music Fest (5/28/2016) in Augusta, Georgia
Best of the Best (5/29/2016) in Miami, Florida


For more information on events happening near you, visit FestivalNet.com – and keep checking back with us at HillTop Records as we bring you the latest news and updates from the American music industry!