CukoRakko: Alabama's Family-Friendly Festival with a Funky Vibe

The natural beauty and remarkable boulder formations of Horse Pens 40 made it the perfect place to hold a gathering where everyone would feel like family.
The natural beauty and remarkable boulder formations of Horse Pens 40 made it the perfect place to hold a gathering where everyone would feel like family. gail
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As spring and early summer breeze into the South, a crowd of music festivals, from Bonnaroo to The Hangout to the Forecastle Festival, satisfy the urge to bask in pleasant weather and indulge our passion for live music. Whether you’re into bluegrass or electronic music, there’s a festival to suit your taste. In fact, there are so many gatherings these days that it’s not easy to decide what should be on your road trip itinerary.

If you’re looking for an event that’s family-friendly but still has a young vibe, you should really consider Alabama’s CukoRakko Music & Arts Festival. Held each spring and fall, it blends a diverse mix of music with arts displays, climbing and other outdoor activities, plus entertainment for kids.

A Unique Vibe

Launched in 2013, CukoRakko emerged from humble beginnings. During a game of frisbee golf, founders Jamie Glass and Greg Entrekin tossed around the idea of starting a festival with a family feel. As they considered a site for their festival, they looked to a farm northeast of Birmingham known as Horse Pens 40, where climbers had long gathered to camp and scale a remarkable collection of boulders. Glass and Entriken knew that the rural surroundings of Horse Pens and its huddle of stone formations offered an environment where festival-goers would feel like a tight community. Because the farm property was once a Native-American ceremonial site, they named their festival CukoRakko, which is a combination of Native-American words that means "dance ground."

Over time, CukoRakko has emerged as one of the most unique music and arts festivals in the Southeast. Including spring and fall gatherings, it offers not only a community feel, but also an intriguing location, positive energy, and a notable lineup of artists, including talented new bands. Plus, it’s kid-friendly, making it a perfect event for families. To make the festival accessible to more people, the spring gathering is moving from Horse Pens 40 to Birmingham this year.

A New Location for Spring

Now in its fifth year, CukoRakko is moving the spring festival to Avondale Brewing in Birmingham. Dubbed FamJam, the Avondale event will bring the family-oriented festival atmosphere to more people.

"It’s an awesome venue to discover new and exciting music and will make CukoRakko more approachable for people who aren’t able to make it to Horse Pens, or who just aren’t big campers," says Dawn Cassizzi, the festival’s marketing manager and creative director. “Another plus is that people will be able to bring their dogs—something they can’t do at Horse Pens.”

While you can’t camp at the FamJam, the day-long event will still give festival-goers a feel for the CukoRakko experience.

Diverse Programs & Entertainment

FamJam begins with a yoga session at 9:45 a.m. on May 19 at Avondale Brewing, and festivities and live music fill the day in the outdoor space behind the brewery. Outstanding work from local artists will be on display, and the lineup of music artists includes Russ Liquid Test, Toubab Krewe, Steady Flow, Jimmy Lumpkin & the Revival, Barnaby Ridge, and Dynohunter.

FamJam will also include one of the staples of the CukoRakko experience—drum circles—with John Scalici from Get Rhythm participating. At 11 p.m., the party moves inside with a late-night set from Dynohunter to cap off the night

To encourage families to attend, CukoRakko allows kids 12 and under to attend for free, and young ones can participate in face painting and hula-hooping with Hoops for Fitness.

A Return to Horse Pens 40 In Fall

When CukoRakko returns to Horse Pens 40 in the fall, festival-goers will be greeted with the same high-energy community vibe and the chance to connect with old friends, as well as newcomers who are inspired by the festival at Avondale.

The fall camping festival will feature music, yoga, frisbee golf, and plenty of climbing. The central attraction at Horse Pens 40 is the concentrated collection of sandstone boulders that feature an array of bouldering problems across various difficulty levels. Considered one of the premier bouldering spots in the world, Horse Pens 40 is a must-visit for experienced boulderers, and also the perfect place for newbies to make their first climb. Plus, when you climb during the festival you’re within earshot of that band you’ve been waiting for.

Also, kids will have their own climbing wall, and they can join guided nature hikes, try yoga for kids and have fun doing crafts and tie-dying.

With all of the festivals popping up in the Southeast, you could fill your calendar from spring to fall. But, if you’re seeking great entertainment for your family, consider putting CukoRakko on your itinerary. By merging family-friendly activities with music, art and inspiring landscapes, it has emerged as one of the most unique festivals in the region.

Written by Hap Pruitt for RootsRated Media in partnership with BCBS of AL.

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