Festivals worth traveling to this summer

Chinese Lantern Festival, Philadelphia
Source: Jeff Fusco

May is the kick-off month for a packed spring and summer schedule of music, dance, food and theater festivals, museum exhibit openings and city-wide parties. Many will likely be happening right in your city, but here are a handful that could be worth planning a trip around.

Jazz in Atlanta

Atlanta Jazz Festival
Source: Matt Alexandre Photography

The month-long Atlanta Jazz Festival is underway now, with jazz erupting in neighborhood parks, MARTA stations, city museums, clubs and bistros and even at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The festival's grand finale takes place Memorial Day weekend (May 25-26) with a free concert at Atlanta's Piedmont Park featuring more than a two dozen noted jazz performers.

Get your tie-dye and party like its 1969

Yasgur Dairy Farm Sign and Woodstock Banner - 1969
Source: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

This August marks the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, the groovy three-day, mud and hippie-filled music festival that took place in upstate New York. Several major events are planned to mark the milestone.

Cleveland's Rock & Roll Hall of Fame just opened a Woodstock 50 exhibition with rare prints, performance outfits, video footage, original signage and artifacts including the guitar strap Jimi Hendrix used while playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the festival.

Michael Lang, the co-creator of the original Woodstock Music & Art Festival, is trying to raise funds to rescue a Woodstock 50 concert with Miley Cyrus, Santana, Chance the Rapper and Jay-Z, and many others scheduled for Watkins Glen, New York on August 16-18. But organizers are currently mired in a contentious legal battle, and it's unclear what will happen. 

But a series of concerts with Ringo Starr, Santana, the Doobie Brothers, John Fogerty and others is on for Bethel Woods, New York, the site of the original Woodstock Festival, for Aug. 16-18. The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts has also scheduled a showing of the award-winning "Woodstock" documentary in the field where the event took place, which is sold out. 

Chicago's festival season

Ruthie Foster
Riccardo Piccirillo | Chicago Blues Festival

Chicago is chock-full of festivals each summer.

There's Lollapalooza (Aug. 1-4), of course, but also the Chicago Blues Festival (June 7-9), Chicago SummerDance (June 27-Aug. 24), the Windy City Smokeout (BBQ, country music and beer; July 12-14) and the Chicago Jazz Festival (Aug. 23- Sept. 1), to name just a few.

Shakespeare in the parks

The Public Theater's Free Shakespeare in the Park.
Source: Tammy Shell

Around the country, Shakespeare and summer go together very well.

In New York City, The Public Theater's free Shakespeare in the Park season kicks off May 21 with "Much Ado About Nothing." Shakespeare Festival St. Louis will offer "Love's Labor Lost" in Forest Park May 31-June 23. Chicago Shakespeare in the Park brings its free (abridged) performance of "Comedy of Errors" to city parks July 18-Aug. 18. And the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company in Boston offers free performances of Shakespeare's "Cymbeline" July 17 - Aug. 4 on the Boston Common.

Celebrate the Grand Canyon Centennial

Star Party at Grand Canyon National Park.
Source: National Park Service

This year is the centennial of the Grand Canyon being designated a national park. There are special events taking place all year long to help celebrate the milestone, but one major summer event will only take place after dark.

The Centennial Star Party (June 22-29) is a night-sky celebration that takes advantage of the park's dark skies and clear air and takes place on both the North Rim and the South Rim of the park. Amateur astronomers and park rangers set up telescopes nightly and offer constellation tours, lectures and free viewing tips to help spot planets, star clusters and far off galaxies in the sky. The week caps off with the Centennial Summerfest and Grand Archeology Fair on June 29.

Make music — Even if you can't carry a tune

Mass Appeal Guitars
Source: Make Music Day

More than a thousand cities around the world will be celebrating Make Music Day on June 21 with free outdoor concerts, music lessons, jam sessions, "Mama Mia,!" sing-along trucks and other and music-making events.

"Mass Appeals" in many cities are musical performances all played on the same instrument, i.e. kazoos, ukuleles, guitars or accordions. "Sousapaloozas" will bring together hundreds of brass and wind musicians to play marches by John Philip Sousa. And in many cities, drum shops will set up two full drum sets out on the sidewalks and invite passersby to sit down for drum set duos.

Giant lanterns in Philadelphia

Chinese Lantern Festival, Philadelphia.
Source: Jeff Fusco

Philadelphia's Franklin Square boasts a carousel, a miniature golf course and a historic fountain.

One of the five original open public squares William Penn laid out in the city in 1650s, Franklin Square also hosts special events throughout the year. Though June 30, the Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival lights up the square each evening with performances, craft demonstrations and 29 giant lanterns make of silk and thousands of LED lights. Highlights of this year's lantern festival are a 200-foot long, 21-foot tall phoenix and mythological creature made of 30,000 jars filled with colored water and lights. Tickets required.

Straight to the moon — 50th anniversary of Apollo 11

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon
Source: NASA

Cities, attractions and museums everywhere are getting ready to — or have already begun to — celebrate the 50th anniversary of NASA's July 1969 Apollo 11 mission and the first time humans walked on the Moon.

A few to set your sights on: Seattle's Museum of Flight is hosting the Smithsonian Institution's traveling exhibition, Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission, featuring the Columbia command module and other artifacts, through Sept. 2. The Smithsonian Institution's National Air & Space Museum has five days of Apollo 50 events and exhibits planned July 16 through July 20. At the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, the exhibit Journey to the Moon: How Glass Got Us There, opens June 29 and runs through January 30, 2010. And there are Apollo 50 events scheduled at Florida's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Center, at Space Center Houston and in many other communities around the country that have direct or casual connections to the space program.