For many, attending a summer music festival is something you do when you’re single, young and have no responsibilities. When kids come, that chapter of life ends.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Some festivals go out of their way to advertise that they are family friendly. They offer games and activities for kids, set up special family camp areas and offer other entertainment designed to appeal to the little ones.
There’s a range of music to choose from, including world, folk, bluegrass and reggae, typically in beautiful natural surroundings where families can pitch their own tents or bring RVs.
Here are a few festivals that welcome families within driving distance of the Bay Area:
 California World Fest
This is where you go to hear an eclectic mix of anything from sitar to fiddle to folk to old-fashioned rock.
The Grass Valley festival highlights its all-ages offerings on its website in a section titled Family Fun. For starters, there is a daily parade featuring drummers, stilt walkers and jugglers. Kids can make arts and crafts or attend workshops on everything from yoga to hula hooping.
Bia Edwards runs children’s games like spike ball and a beanbag toss. She oversees six or seven stations that kids can check out including a reading tree where they can relax and read books and a craft area to make creations out of recyclables.
Edwards gets between 80 to 120 children a day and is assisted by some 32 volunteers daily. Parents can stay nearby and listen to the music or they can drop off their children. Kids are given wristbands with their phone numbers and campsite numbers so they can easily be reconnected with their family. “It’s not just kid-friendly, it’s kid safe,” Edwards says. 
Traci Prendergast, of San Geronimo in Marin County, was concerned at first about taking her kids, ages 3 and 6, to a crowded festival but says it has ended up being the most fun thing they do all summer. The kids love the music and seeing other children. 
“It feels really healthy,” she says. “There is plenty of space and places to find down time. If there is a party scene, it’s limited to late night.”
Father’s Day Festival
Kids are a main focus of this festival sponsored by the California Bluegrass Association. Also in Grass Valley, the festival gives young people a chance to perform bluegrass, old-time and gospel music while also featuring major professional entertainers.
A highlight of the festival is the Kids on Bluegrass performance. Kids ages 3-17 with some basic ability to perform the music are invited to rehearse and then perform a 45-minute show before the festival audience of 4,000 to 5,000 people.
There is also KidFest, a recreational program for kids ages 2 to10 that children can attend with parents and do arts and crafts, music and other activities.
Finally, the event includes a musical instrument lending library where children can check out an instrument at no charge for a whole year if they sign a contract promising to practice on it. The library includes guitars, mandolins, fiddles, dobroes and stand-up basses. “You cannot believe the volume of instruments that come to the program and go out of the program,” says Rich Cornish, the California Bluegrass Association’s operations director.
Sharon Khadder of Alameda says the festival was a hit with the two of her three children who enjoy fiddling. “Everybody is really friendly and people are happy to jam with anyone of any ability,” she says.
Located 20 miles west of Truckee, Guitarfish bills itself as an “intimate music experience” in the woods on the Yuba River about 20 miles west of Truckee. The music is a mix of folk, global funk, electro-grooves and traditional African music.
A centerpiece of the event is Kidsville, which offers activities all day, including button making, leatherwork, henna, floral crowns, painting and more. The programming is organized by Truckee’s Kindred Art & Folk Institute. There is also a special Starfish Stage featuring kid-friendly entertainers.
“The environment is safe, with lots of eyes and ears who are professionally trained to keep the peace and look out for everyone,” says Barnett English, who helps organize the event.
Organic food is available for sale and swimming can be enjoyed in the river. Temperatures are in the pleasant high 80s.
“The folks that come here are delighted to find that they can bring their kids to a festival,” English says. “They say ‘I didn’t know that was possible.’”
High Sierra Music Festival
Located in Quincy, about 84 miles east of Chico, this festival offers an eclectic mix of jam bands, bluegrass, folk, rock blues, funk and world music.
The 29-year-old event has become a family tradition for many, with some who attended as kids now returning with their own kids in tow.
The festival proudly advertises its Family Village, which includes a quieter campground, parades with giant puppets, a family stage, an art house with crafts and books, kid-friendly vendors, a talent show and more. There is a tot area with wading pools and space for nursing mothers to rest.
The festival is also conveniently located by a public pool and a playground, which families enjoy when they want a break from the music.
“We’ve made a concerted effort over the last decade to really improve and double down on our offerings” for families, says promoter Rebecca Sparks.
One unusual offering is the “Rockin’ Nannies,” childcare providers who offer a slumber party each night from 8 p.m.-4 a.m. with snacks and activities while parents “can get their groove on at night,” Sparks says. The cost is $15 per hour for potty-trained children and $10 per hour for each additional sibling. The nannies are also available for hire for individual campsites if reserved in advance.
Menlo Park resident Laurie Hall, who has an 8-year-old son, says the festival is one of the best for families.
“There’s so much support for a family and so much inclusiveness,” she says.
Lisa Rener is a Bay Area Parent calendar editor and frequent contributor.
Summer Music Festivals
If You Go:
• California World Fest – July 11-14. Headliners include Delhi 2 Dublin (Bhangra, Celtic), Ayla Nereo (folk) and Con Brio (soul and rock). Four-day pass: $180-215 adult, $60-65 teens, $25-30 kids 5-12, under 5 FREE. Camping pass for one to four days: $35-45 for 12 and up, under 12 FREE; RV camping $525-610. Nevada County Fairgrounds, 11228 McCourtney Road, Grass Valley. 530-274-8384.
Father’s Day Festival – June 13-16. Bluegrass. Headliners include Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers, Lonely Heartstring Band and Sister Sadie. Four-day pass/early bird: $165 adults, $155 seniors (55 and up), $65 teens. Tent camping and “in the rough” RV camping included; RV camping with hook-up: $250. Nevada County Fairgrounds, 11228 McCourtney Road, Grass Valley.
Guitarfish – July 25-28.Check website for lineup. Four-day pass: $170 adults, $90 kids 11-16, under 11 FREE; $700 Friends and Family (up to five people). Tent camping car pass: $75; RV pass: $250. Cisco Grove Campground & RV Park, 48415 Hampshire Rocks Road, Cisco Grove. [email protected].
High Sierra Music Fest – July 4-7. Headliners include Greensky Bluegrass, Jim James (psychedelic rock) and St. Paul & the Broken Bones (Southern soul). Four-day pass: $275 adults, $160.75 teens, $65 kids 5-12, under 5 FREE. Onsite parking pass: $150.50; RV parking pass: $575.50. Plumas County Fairgrounds, 204 Fairgrounds Road, Quincy. 209-588-6031.


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