Music Festivals Make Memories - My Family Travels

Sing, dance, clap, and march your way around North America, starting in Quebec, with some of the most celebrated musical festivals in the world.

It’s August in Quebec. The weather has already started to cool after a busy season of summer festivals. Holland America’s Maasdam is in port, and visitors from around the world practice their French with the locals. It’s just another sunny, windy day in one of North America’s most beautiful cities, and then the sounds of drums and bagpipes approach from the distance, signifying a music festival…

The spectacle of a parade is always fun for families, and the music in this parade is top notch. Banners announce military bands from all over the world—Germany, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and all over Canada. This parade means that it’s time again for the Quebec City International Festival of Military Bands, held every August for nearly a decade.

I had the pleasure of attending this five-day festival, and not knowing much about military bands, I expected a lot of marching and drilling. Certainly there was plenty of that, but the festival’s several events were diverse and infused with great artistry. The festival kicked off with a decorous opening ceremony and a Bavarian night of food and music hosted by the German band.

The next evening, the Belgian Royal Navy Band and the Quebec 22nd Regiment Band performed in the sit-down Grand Concert. Selections included both popular and classical songs from the bands’ home countries and cultures as well as combined songs with over 100 musicians on the stage at once. Some musicians even showed off their vocal talent. The Grand Concert, held every year for the festival with a different combination of bands, would probably be challenging for little wiggle worms to sit through. Yet patient teens who play in the school band may especially appreciate the music—just trying to count how many instruments the percussionists play in one song is entertaining.

The Military Band Festival’s keystone event and its top choice for families occurred the next evening, at the Quebec City Military Tattoo held in the Pepsi Colosseum. A tattoo, by definition, is an evening performance of military exercises for entertainment. The artistic director for this extravaganza of over 600 musicians (at times all appearing and playing in unison) traveled to the biggest tattoos in the world, including Edinburgh, Scotland’s, for inspiration to bring back to Quebec.

The result is a collection of marching music played by musicians of many ages and nationalities, and it also included dance and multi-media presentations. One of the most fascinating parts for me didn’t involve a band at all—in a beautifully staged tribute to the Inuit people of Northern Canada, rangers hired as emergency police in sparsely populated areas accompanied female traditional throat singers.

The Tattoo proves great for families not only because of its high-energy performances, but also because of its partnership with Expo Quebec, Quebec’s equivalent of the state fair, which sets up for the year right next to the Pepsi Colosseum. Families may use their Tattoo tickets to gain free, day-of entrance to the Expo. Rides, livestock, and cultural exhibits will keep you entertained during the day until it’s time to see the show.

The day after the Tattoo, not only is there the festival parade, but there are also free concerts at various spots around Quebec City. This is a convenient day to experience this charming city while taking in some open-air music. The performing bands are strategically placed in popular and picturesque areas. You might listen to a band on the Terrace Dufferin, with the Saint Lawrence River in front of you and Le Chateau Frontenac Hotel behind you.

Le Chateau Frontenac is the majestic building that you often see in photographs of Quebec’s ramparts. Then, take the funicular down the ramparts and into the Quartier Petit Champlain for food and window shopping. Head over to Place-Royal to watch street performers, view archeological excavations, and visit the highly interactive, great-for-kids Place-Royal Interpretation Centre. Since just walking through Quebec is a memorable experience, never mind ducking into its many shops and museums, the opportunities to make a day of it are plentiful.

In 2008, Quebec City celebrated its 400th anniversary, and festivities at the Quebec City International Festival of Military Bands continued to reach a new level. For more information on the festival, visit

Music, Music Everywhere

Feeling inspired? Of course, there are music and cultural festivals all over North America to visit with your family. Here are some others that we at Family Travel Forum think would be worth checking out:


California: late Spring. The Coachella Valley Music Festival in Indio, California (near Los Angeles) takes advantage of its star-studded location by packing a huge volume of popular musicians–including past headliners Madonna, Kanye West, Depeche Mode–onto five stages over the course of two days. Despite all of this rock ‘n roll, the festival’s website makes it a point that strollers are allowed. Vegetarian and vegan concessions are available.

Louisiana: late April. After 37 years, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, popularly known as Jazz Fest, secured its place in American history by making the 2006 theme “Music Has the Power to Heal” come alive in the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Despite the city’s myriad problems, more than 450,000 fans turned out to hear artists such as Bruce Springsteen and his new Seeger Sessions Band, Paul Simon, and guests such as Etta James, Herbie Hancock, Los Hombres Calientes, Neil Young, Wilco and dozens of local gospel, blues and jazz bands. For six full days over the course of two weeks, the Louisiana Heritage Fair features all types of indigenous American music with artists appearing on multiple stages at the same time. There are indoor and outdoor venues, picnic tables and stages with folding chairs, crafts and music vendors, tents filled with children’s activities, and a famous Food Fair with over 100 varieties of irresistible Louisiana and international foods.

South Carolina: late Spring. Spoleto Music Festival brings international performing arts and multiple musical styles to Charleston’s theaters, churches, and outdoor spaces. The name comes from its sister festival in Spoleto, Italy. Last year, Spoleto brought the opera Don Giovanni, the Paul Taylor Dance Company, hip theater productions, a circus, chamber music, and many more diverse performances to town. Accommodation suggestions and visitor information are available on the Spoleto website.


Tennessee: June. The name of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival means “really good time” in Cajun, and this four-day, multi-stage festival located on a farm in Manchester, Tennessee (outside Nashville) promises just that. Spectators can camp onsite or stay elsewhere between full days of rock, jazz, Americana, hip hop, and electronica.  Adults will enjoy classic acts like Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Bela Fleck, Elvis Costello, and Merle Haggard, while the kids will like the hip contemporary bands like The Decemberists, Girl Talk, and Kings of Leon. Comedians such as Jimmy Fallon and Michael Ian Black were also included in past lineups. There’s also an arcade, cinema, and music technology center set up, which future DJs could love. In 2006, a major greening effort started for the festival that included biodesiel-run generators.

Colorado: Late June to Early August. During the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, over 60,000 annual attendees flock to Colorado’s Vail Valley to hear philharmonic orchestras from around the country perform all summer. Some events, like chamber music sessions, are free, while others combine casual performances with educational discussion. This could be an entertaining supplement to the hiking, mountain biking, and other outdoor activities available in Vail Valley in the summer.


Ontario: late November. During the Canadian Aboriginal Festival in Toronto, a grand weekend pow wow features over 1,000 Native American dancers. The music in the air will be mainly drumming and singing as traditional dancers compete on the vast floor of Roger’s Centre (formerly the Skydome). Kids are everywhere as both participants and spectators, and families can browse crafts in the market place, watch a special fashion show, or attend a lacrosse skills competition. A family price for two adults and two kids is offered, and accommodation suggestions are available on the festival’s website.

Michigan: Fall/Winter. Interlochen is a highly esteemed arts community in northern Michigan with a school, summer camps, and adult education programs. Their reasonably priced Interlochen Arts Festival actually runs for the majority of the year and offers a constant stream of student and guest musical performances, dance, theater, film, and even creative writing events.

Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.