Five Fantastical Musical Experiences You Can Find in the Real World

I’m no stranger to exploring the unique intersections of fantasy books and music. I’ve extolled the virtues of books that make great use of music. I’ve offered soundtracks to amp up your reading ambiance. Novels often have a melodic quality about them, threading music into the fabric of their worlds.

On the other hand, our own world offers fantastical musical experiences that are magical in their own right. Music has the power to connect us to the fantasies we seek out in our favorite books. Below are five ways of experiencing music that remind me of getting lost in a fantasy world…


The Lord of the Rings in Concert

The Lord of the Rings in Concert features a full orchestra playing the movie’s score live as the film plays. The show has captured the hearts of Tolkien fans worldwide, with the current tour taking the group to Canada and Spain for international shows. Similar concerts are available for other epic film series, of course, but LOTR remains one of the most popular.

There’s a glimmer of magic to the experience, seeing and hearing Howard Shore’s iconic soundtrack played live, swelling and soaring during the epic film’s biggest moments and weaving subtly through quieter scenes. It feels somewhat like being at a Hobbit festival—in the moment, everyone around you seems equally captivated, taking in the multimedia fantasy as one collective unit, lost in the spectacle. It’s an unforgettable experience for any fantasy fan.


Renaissance Faires

I hope anyone reading this has attended a Ren Faire, or at the very least heard of one and thought “I should go some time.” Consider this article an official nudge: Do it!

I venture to the Bristol Renaissance Faire, an hour’s drive from Chicago, at least once a year (usually dressed as a bard and armed with juggling balls and devil sticks). It’s a veritable smorgasbord of sights and sounds, replete with all sorts of entertaining diversions: Axe throwing! Pickles on sticks! A cat circus!

Music is central to the Renaissance Faire experience. Walk around your local Faire, and you’ll encounter musical trios performing old-timey tunes or a bard plucking a lute and singing about a love sadly spurned. It’s always a real treat to plop down on a bench (with a pickle on a stick for refreshment, of course) and take in the tunes straight out of a bygone (and distinctly fantastical) era.



In Greg Lobanov’s indie adventure game Wandersong—available for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation systems, PC, and Mac—you play as a plucky bard who has to save the world…without violence. The game’s primary mechanic is a musical wheel that has you sing notes to solve puzzles and accomplish tasks.

A sword-wielding “hero” pops up from time to time, countering the bard’s kind and whimsical outlook with the hardened, gruff, and arrogant behavior of a would-be protagonist more interested in being called a hero than in acting like one. The result is a game that feels unlike any other, one that places music at the forefront of its experience and creates a melodic atmosphere to draw fantasy fans into its charming world.


Sofar Sounds

If you live in or near one of the hundreds of major cities where it holds shows, Sofar Sounds is one of the more unique musical experiences on this list. You select a location—usually listed as just a neighborhood within your city—and purchase tickets to the show. The exact venue remains a surprise until you purchase your tickets, and you have no idea who you’re going to see perform ahead of time. Sofar (an acronym for “Songs from a room”) promises intimate venues such as museums, rooftops, or boutique shops featuring new and diverse artists. Each show highlights three talented musical artists, and many now-famous artists have played Sofar shows in the past, Billie Eilish and Hozier among them.

An element of mystery is part of Sofar’s appeal, and the experience it offers feels a bit like fantasy presented with modern flair. Seeing a Sofar show is like finding yourself on a delightful side quest, leading you through the crowded city streets to discover a beautiful performance venue, where no fewer than three talented bards wait to regale you with their musical stylings.


Jacob Collier’s Djesse Albums

Jacob Collier released Djesse volumes 1-3 between 2018 through 2020, with a fourth volume expected late this year or early next. Collier is something of a musical genius, brimming with creativity and using collaborations to incorporate various global styles of music into his vision.

Collier describes each album as its own musical universe, and listening to them over and over again (as I regularly do, on a weekly basis) cements that reality into the listener’s ear. Djesse won’t be for everyone—indeed, I shared Volume 1 with my weekly album club once and it was the lowest-rated album of that cycle—but when it resonates with a listener, it hits hard. Every time I listen, Djesse makes me feel like I’ve been freshly deposited in a fantasy realm and I’m hearing the many sounds emanating from the lands around me and the different people who inhabit them; it’s like nothing else, a kind of adventure in musical form.



Your turn! What are your favorite fantastical musical experiences? Let me know in the comments.

Cole Rush writes words. A lot of them. For the most part, you can find those words at The Quill To Live or on Twitter @ColeRush1. He voraciously reads epic fantasy and science-fiction, seeking out stories of gargantuan proportions and devouring them with a bookwormish fervor. His favorite books are: The Divine Cities Series by Robert Jackson Bennett, The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, and The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.


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