Hello, May! A busy spring continues in the Raleigh area this month—longer days and lots of sunshine mean it's time to get outdoors and explore. Temperatures have hit a sweet spot, patios are open, picnics are in full swing, the calendar is packed with major events and there's never been a better time to visit the City of Oaks.

Must-see art celebrations

One of the most highly-anticipated art exhibits of the year—perhaps one of the most highly-anticipated in many years—brings an incredible 'wow' factor to the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh this spring and summer.

You Are Here: Light, Color, and Sound Experiences (through 7/22) features 20 immersive art installations created by 15 artists from around the world. The works take over an entire floor of the museum's East Building and spill into the 164-acre Ann and Jim Goodnight Park, creating a campus-wide presentation of contemporary experiential art.

Large-scale video projects, pioneering light and sound installations, experimental technologies and more make up a collection of interactive art that is nothing short of incredible (exhibits this large—and so elaborately made up of diverse works from well-known artists—are a rare find anywhere in the world!).

You Are Here

In downtown Raleigh, one of the area's biggest arts festivals has big plans for the 39th annual event. Artsplosure - The Raleigh Arts Festival (5/19-20) brings together more than 170 artists and craftspeople for a three-day festival. Artists will have their work on display along Fayetteville Street and around Moore Square, along with performance stages for jazz, blues and roots-inspired musicians playing free shows. Nine performances are on the schedule for the main stage, and Squonk Opera's Cycle Sonic—a giant, human-powered, double-decker bicycle spectacle—will delight with a super-unique rock show. Kidsplosure, with tons of fun opportunities for children to get creative, will feature music, crafts and activities, storytellers, a fossil dig and more—count us in!

At Raleigh's Dorothea Dix Park, a glowing, one-of-a-kind installation will be on display. Local artist Nate Scheafer's Light the Woods with Sound (weekends, 5/11-27) brings together artists and musicians to create sound and light using 384 neon light tubes hanging from the beautiful oak trees at Dix Park. Connected to a theremin (an electronic musical instrument controlled without physical contact), artists will perform songs and musical interpretations that light up the park in a sea of bright colors. Food trucks will be onsite, and you're encouraged to bring blankets, chairs, picnics and leashed dogs!

At Animazement (5/25-27), a three-day Japanese animation and culture celebration that's been a staple in Raleigh for more than 20 years, nearly 15,000 attendees will flock to the Raleigh Convention Center to take in concerts, browse art galleries, show off their cosplay, snag autographs from celebrities, play video games and more. This year's event will feature Japanese guest Yusuke Kobayashi—who won Best New Voice Actor from the Seiyu awards in 2017—as well as American guests Elizabeth Maxwell (Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Attack on Titan, Criminal Minds) and E. Jason Liebrecht (Shadow Warrior/Borderlands, Noragami, American Crime).

Freedom Balloon Fest

Ready for Memorial Day weekend? Freedom Balloon Fest (5/25-28) takes over Fleming Loop Park, offering a truly-unique, family-oriented and free weekend of events, highlighted by 30 hot air balloons filling the skies of the town of Fuquay-Varina each day and evening. Local musicians hit the stage, field games are offered for children and dozens of food vendors will be on hand serving N.C. State Fair-inspired eats. A beer, wine and cider garden (with a big tent providing plenty of shade) is planned for this year as well.

If you're up for a real adventure, a number of the balloon pilots are offering high-flying rides to passengers—see the festival website for full info!

Freedom Balloon Fest

More major festivals

A huge month of outdoor festivals is lined up! Here's the rundown on more can't-miss get-togethers all across the Raleigh area in May:

PeakFest (5/5—a festival with more than 30 years of tradition—draws 20,000 visitors and families to Salem St. in historic downtown Apex for a day of fun, food and fellowship—all-day live music, arts and crafts on every corner, entertainment for kids and plenty of State Fair-style food vendors will be on hand.

Great Grapes! Wine and Food Festival (5/5) brings one of the state's largest wine festivals to Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary. More than 200 wines from 22 wineries—plus great live music, festival eats and arts and crafts—make for a perfect day of sipping and sampling the rich heritage of N.C. vines.

Out! Raleigh 2018 (5/5), an inclusive, action-packed event that brings nearly 50,000 together to celebrate the LGBT community, is prepped to hold their eighth annual event in downtown Raleigh. Live entertainment, local vendors and artists, lots of food and kids activities make for a sea of fun on Fayetteville Street.

The Downtown Raleigh Food Truck Rodeo (5/6) is back for another year of massive events (giddyup!). More than a half-mile of food trucks, spanning 11 city blocks, will line the streets of downtown Raleigh, ready to serve wood-fired pizzas, buttery lobster rolls, over-the-top ice cream concoctions, drool-worthy barbecue sandwiches and way, way more.

Downtown Raleigh Food Truck Rodeo

The first ever Triangle Craft Beer Fest (5/12)—part of Triangle Craft Beer Week—is pulling together 50 of the area's favorite breweries for an all-day event at Cary's WakeMed Soccer Park. The unlimited sampling event will have each brewery pouring a special one-off brew made just for the event (in additional to their usual offerings). Bonus! A ticket to the festival includes entry to the North Carolina Courage soccer match (7pm vs. Washington) immediately following the event.

Koka Booth Amphitheatre's Beer & Bacon Fest (5/19) is a local favorite for obvious reasons—the all-you-can-sample event has a selection of more than 75 international beers and wines, plus two tons of griddled-on-site gourmet bacon from 10 vendors across the country (yes, please!).

Outdoor concert season

Need 100-percent proof that outdoor concert season is officially back? The May lineup in the Raleigh area is stacked! As always, check out a full calendar of music events at themostnc.com, and get a sample of the major outdoor events this month below.

  • Fleet Foxes (5/3) at Red Hat Amphitheater
  • Ben Folds (5/4-5) at Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
  • Sierra Hull (5/5) at Garner Performing Arts Center
  • Odesza (5/9) at Red Hat Amphitheater
  • Steely Dan with The Doobie Brothers (5/11) at Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek
  • Kenny Chesney (5/12) at Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek
  • Vance Joy (5/12) at Koka Booth Amphitheatre
  • Post Malone (5/18) at Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek
  • Outlaw Music Festival: Willie Nelson, Sturgill Simpson, Alison Krauss (5/25) at Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek
  • Kendrick Lamar, SZA, ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, SiR and Lance Skiiiwalker (5/26) at Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek

More May picks

A Series of Fortunate Events (5/3-16)—a menagerie of all things art—brings to life a mission of making the arts accessible to all with a film screening, kid’s art exhibition, adult art show, theater showcase and concert, all featuring artists with disabilities from N.C.

North Carolina Theatre's A Night With Janis Joplin (5/4-20), a rock-and-roll musical rendition of the singer-songwriter's life, runs at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts.

How about an outdoor movie? The City of Raleigh and the brand-new Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Raleigh have teamed up for Movie by Moonlight at Dix Park (5/5) where Spaceballs will be shown on the big screen; also, Coco (5/25) will be shown at Koka Booth Amphitheatre later in the month.

Fest in the West (5/5) brings craft beer, food trucks, art demonstrations and more (including a petting zoo!) to the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary.

A two-day event featuring 50 of the area's top chefs and restaurants, Thrive NC (5/10-11) is a collaborative event that offers attendees unlimited sampling of great eats and craft beer.

Friday Night on White, featuring the band Love Tribe (5/11), is a free outdoor concert series in downtown Wake Forest just outside of White Street Brewing Company. 

Calling all comedy fans! You're in for a treat this month, as Katt Williams (5/12) returns to PNC Arena and D.L. Hughley (5/25-27) performs at the legendary Goodnight's Comedy Club, plus the Oak City Comedy Festival (5/22-26) features up-and-coming comics plus improv and sketch comedy groups at various venues around downtown Raleigh.

The third annual Spring Into the Arts Walk (5/12) is a day-long gala of visual, fine and performing arts in Wendell's historic downtown district. Arts and crafts vendors, a classic car show and more will be on hand.

Carolina Ballet's Sleeping Beauty (5/17-20) tells the story of a princess destined by a terrible curse to prick her finger on an enchanted spindle and sleep for 100 years. The performance will bring Carolina Ballet's 20th anniversary season to a thrilling close!

Join friends and family for three great days of down-home celebration, N.C. style, at the 2018 Got to Be N.C. Festival (5/18-20) at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds.