This summer many of us literally and figuratively dipped a toe in the post-lockdown waters and opted to sun ourselves on a moderately crowded beach. Or waited in line at a bar for a cooling quaff. Or screamed behind our masks at a sporting event. Now we’re ready to go further. To stand in a grand public space and listen to music. To sit in a theater and revel in the embrace of great drama and dance. To follow the spotlight at a world-renowned performing arts festival.
Here are eight performing arts festivals to put on your travel calendar now.
The small Alpine town of Oberammergau stages one of the world’s most famous performances. Photo courtesy of Passion Play
PASSION PLAY, OBERAMMERGAU, GERMANY
May 14–October 2, 2022
Staged every 10 years since 1634, this production began as a response—a post-pestilence promise, if you will—to the country’s emergence from one of the plagues that terrorized Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries. Postponed twice due to the current pandemic, the 42nd version of the five-hour performance is slated to run in its picturesque Alps hometown of Oberammergau from May 14 to October 2, 2022.
No production in the world is more intimately associated with its setting than this amateur play since its cast—more than 2,000 participants—is drawn from about half of the town’s residents. These devoted performers reenact the last days of Jesus of Nazareth, from his entry into Jerusalem through his death and onward to his Resurrection. Divided into 12 scenes (staged in two parts with a three-hour break between them), the event is famous for its tableaux vivant, or representations of paintings by living people, which are accompanied by orchestra and choir. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle worthy of its subject.
The Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park is a striking backdrop for the Blues Festival. Photo courtesy of Chicago Dcase
BLUES FESTIVAL, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS
June 3–5, 2022
Several great Midwestern cities can make a convincing case for being the home of the blues. But for certain aficionados—the kind who prefer their sad songs tinged with a helping of Memphis Delta—Chicago remains unchallenged thanks to local legends such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Ma Rainey. So, it’s no surprise that the Windy City bills itself as staging the world’s largest free festival devoted to the blues.
Held for three days in early summer (June 3–5, in 2022) in downtown’s Millennium Park, the festival got its start in 1984 as a memorial to Waters, who had died the year before at his home in a Chicago suburb. The early days of the festival saw appearances by the remaining sidemen for such blues fathers as Robert Johnson and included classic pairings, like Keith Richards performing with Chuck Berry. These days, the event is dedicated to keeping the genre alive. As anyone who attends will happily attest, in the words of B.B. King, “blues is a tonic for whatever ails you.”
Festival International de Jazz de Montreal presents some 650 (mostly free) concerts over 10 days. © Benoit Rousseau
FESTIVAL INTERNATIONAL DE JAZZ DE MONTREAL, CANADA
Montreal has enjoyed a reputation for jazz since the 1920s when Americans flocked there to take advantage of its free-flowing booze during Prohibition in the US. Music greats such as Oscar Peterson and Maynard Ferguson were born here, and in 1980, luminaries like Ray Charles and Chick Corea gathered to celebrate the city’s chops before 12,000 spectators. Ever since, Montreal has been presenting le jazz hot to larger and larger crowds.
Now centered in Place des Festivals, the event attracts millions of visitors who can choose during a 10-day span from 650 concerts (the bulk of them free) by nearly 3,000 international musicians on some 20 stages, ranging from massive outdoor setups to intimate jazz clubs to prestigious concert halls. Pride of country shines in the annual juried Grand Prize competition, which goes to the festival’s best Canadian act performing original music. After a shortened return in mid-September, the festival is pegged to return to its full summer glory in July 2022 with Al Di Meola, Macy Gray and Bebel Gilberto scheduled to appear.
With its four days of live music and NOLA foodie favorites, the French Quarter Festival has gained a loyal following. Photo by Zack Smith, Courtesy of French Quarter Festivals, Inc.
FRENCH QUARTER FESTIVAL, NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
April 21–24, 2022
The Crescent City’s Mardi Gras is madness, and its Jazz Fest is jammed. But this four-day celebration of local music puts the “ease” back into the Big Easy. Rather than citywide, the action is centered in the quintessential New Orleans neighborhood of Vieux Carre.
While relatively mellow, the French Quarter Festival remains hugely popular, with acts that skew toward the sounds most associated with the city. Think jazz, blues, Zydeco and Cajun and the chance to see hometown faves such as Preservation Brass and Kermit Ruffins—all for free. Dozens of the Quarter’s eateries erect food stalls, and as an extra treat, many of the neighborhood’s residents throw open the doors to their stately homes and secret gardens for no-charge peeks.
If you’ve been itching to experience a festival in NOLA, plan your trip now to take in the spring lineup April 21–24.
All the city’s a stage when Edinburgh celebrates its annual Fringe Festival. Photo by David Montieth-Hodge 2019
FRINGE, EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND
While most Americans don’t have to travel far to visit a fringe festival these days, you’ll want to hop the pond for this Scottish one, considered the granddaddy of them all. Dating to 1947, Fringe was started by a handful of performing artists who hadn’t been invited to participate in a large city-sanctioned event. So-called because these actors and musicians staged their works outside the concentration of major venues, Fringe evolved to become literally all about the edgy and the odd, the small and the nontraditional.
That’s still the norm, but as one would expect from an event that bills itself as the “single greatest celebration of arts and culture on the planet,” there are plenty of big acts, and the scope of performances is wider than ever, including circus, comedy, children’s performances, opera and spoken word events. This year, the Fringe returned in modified form for three weeks in August and is set to do so again in August 2022.
Yola perfoming at SXSW in 2019; photo by Stephen Olker
SXSW, AUSTIN, TEXAS
March 11–20, 2022
The annual event that put Austin on the map, this music festival and industry gab fest has mushroomed since its founding 35 years ago. Once primarily a showcase for country musicians and singer-songwriters, its 10-day roster now includes a multitude of music genres, along with comedy and film tracks, all with an emphasis on tech’s (multimedia/interactive) impact on culture.
Always a hot ticket, the event is a great opportunity to rub shoulders with players in these various fields via a host of ancillary parties, conferences, award ceremonies, screenings and exhibitions. Known for its newsworthy keynote speakers (Barack Obama, Ava DuVernay, Elon Musk, Bruce Springsteen and Ta-Nehisi Coates were among the lineup of past speakers), surprise appearances and career-launching potential, every SXSW is different from the previous one. Next year marks the event’s in-person return, March 11–20, 2022.
The Royal George Theatre is among the iconic venues hosting the Shaw Festival. Photo by peter Andrew lusztyk
SHAW FESTIVAL, NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, ONTARIO, CANADA
Continuing through 2021
Known for his mix of sparkling wit and thought-provoking social commentary, the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw serves as the inspiration behind this 60-year-old theater festival set amid lush wine country not far from Niagara Falls. The Shaw company’s first season—four productions each of Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell and Candide—operated out of the town’s historic courthouse. The festival grew over the next decade, touring across Canada and the US, and by 1973, the Shaw had built a permanent home and established a repertory model, which relies on a resident troupe of actors to present an alternating group of shows for the duration of its season.
There’s still time to catch the end of the 2021 season when the Shaw will present Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms along with two holiday productions, A Christmas Carol and Holiday Inn, through mid-December. In recent years, the festival has presented between 10 and 12 shows on its three stages; next year’s lineup was not available at press time.
Spoleto Festival USA performances in the past have included Odeon by Ephrat Asherie Dance as well as a host of chamber music concerts. Photo by David Montieth-Hodge 2019
SPOLETO FESTIVAL USA, CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA
May 27–June 12, 2022
Searching for some European charm in America, the Italian organizers of Spoleto Festival USA, who included opera composer Gian Carlo Menotti, found exactly what they were looking for in Charleston’s easy walkability, lush gardens and Southern architecture. Primarily devoted to classical music, opera and dance, the 17-day spring festival typically invites theatrical productions and jazz and blues music into the mix. Lucky attendees may even discover a world premiere among its 150 or so performances in about a dozen venues; there have been more than 20 such premieres over the festival’s 45-year history, including works by iconic playwrights Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller and contemporary composers Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson.
This past spring, the festival offered about half of its usual number of shows. Next year, though, promises a full schedule along with the debut of a new festival director following the departure of Nigel Redden, who had run the show for the last 35 years.