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Burning Man, Lollapalooza, Firefly: The 20 Summer Music Festivals Worth Traveling For

Burning Man, Lollapalooza, Firefly: The 20 Summer Music Festivals Worth Traveling For:

Over the past decade or so, music festivals have become such a familiar part of American summers that it’s hard to remember that we came late to the party. You used to have to cross the Atlantic to attend an event like Glastonbury or Roskilde; the best the U.S. could do, for the most part, was the occasional package tour. But after Coachella and Bonnaroo (as well as rave culture’s massive parties) paved the way, multiple-day festivals started popping up all over the States, and long-running folk and jazz gatherings opened up their lineups to a wider range of music. This year, you could easily attend a first-rate festival every weekend from now until Labor Day — as long as you could shell out a few hundred dollars for each one, and didn’t mind feeling like Flume and Charli XCX were stalking you. Here’s the lowdown on 20 of this summer’s most notable festivals.

Lightning in a Bottle — May 21-25
Bradley, CA
A dance music marathon that doubles as a Memorial Day weekend getaway for the meditation-and-smoothies crowd, LIB’s main stage features the four-on-the-floor likes of Flume and SBTRKT. But they also have an overnight “silent disco,” a burlesque stage, and areas devoted to yoga, lectures (“Sacred Womb Mysteries”), and cooking workshops. The festival’s info page includes an admonition not to wear culturally appropriated headdresses.

Sasquatch / Photo by Christine Mitchell

Sasquatch / Photo by Christine Mitchell

Sasquatch — May 22-25
George, WA
The big attraction of this Memorial Day Weekend campout is its setting: the main stage is located directly in front of the glorious Columbia River Gorge. Sasquatch’s five stages of music programming are pleasingly all-over-the-place (headliners include Kendrick Lamar, Robert Plant and Sleater-Kinney), and their El Chupacabra stage features standup comedy in the afternoon before switching to dance music in the evening. A Saturday afternoon jewel: the Budos Band’s Afrobeat/stoner-metal instrumentals.

Movement — May 23-25
Detroit
Now in its 16th year (depending on how you count), the Detroit techno scene’s flagship event packs six stages at Hart Plaza — and only goes until midnight each night, so keep an eye out for afterparties. Snoop Dogg and Skrillex are DJing under pseudonyms; Squarepusher and !!! are playing live sets. But most of all, it’s a showcase for the scene’s godfathers, including Richie Hawtin, Carl Craig, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May.

The Roots Picnic — May 30
Philadelphia
With the Weeknd headlining, ?uestlove’s baby — a rare single-day festival — has added a DJ tent this year (one of the DJs is Arcade Fire’s Win Butler, spinning as DJ Windows 98). The lineup is always interesting: Afrika Bambaataa and the Australian soul group Hiatus Kaiyote are both welcome surprises. The Roots will, of course, be playing on their own, as well as backing up Erykah Badu.

June

Governors Ball Music Festival — June 5-7
New York City
A ferry from New York City gets you to Governor’s Island, where four stages host dozens of alt-rock bands, a few dance acts (Saturday’s headliner is Deadmau5), and a handful of unexpected names: “Weird Al” Yankovic is playing on Sunday. There’s also “Gov Ball After Dark,” a slew of gigs back in Manhattan and Brooklyn all three nights. And the food selection is unusually fancy by festival standards.

Bonnaroo — June 11-14
Manchester, TN
It’s not the jam-band Mecca it once was, despite the inevitable appearance of My Morning Jacket, and this year’s headliner, Billy Joel, is a bit of a headscratcher. But there’s still something for everyone on the bill — D'Angelo! Slayer! Béla Fleck! — and the culture of this 90,000-attendee mega-fest encompasses parades, a cinema and a hair salon, as well as a zillion bands all playing at once.

Playboy Jazz Festival — June 13-14
Los Angeles
Oh, as if we weren’t going to mention this one. Now in its 37th year, the Playboy Jazz Festival is all-day performances at the Hollywood Bowl. Some acts are familiar jazz names (Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, playing with the Monk Institute Ensemble); others, like Aloe Blacc and Ozomatli, stretch the definition. Get there early Saturday to catch the Campbell Brothers’ “sacred steel” performance of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.”

Firefly — June 18-21
Dover, DE
A campout festival in the Delaware woods, Firefly has most of its more interesting acts clustered at the top of the bill — Paul McCartney, Morrissey and Modest Mouse headline Friday night. It also takes advantage of its surroundings, with a late-night silent disco called The Thicket and a “hammock hangout” that serves as a chill-out space.

Electric Daisy Carnival — June 19-21
Las Vegas
Approximately nine billion people came to last year’s EDC (estimates may have been a little off). Despite the Vegas madness and the VIP-pass shilling, it’s inescapably America’s biggest dance festival, with an unstoppable lineup on eight stages — Calvin Harris, Avicii, Martin Garrix, Pretty Lights, and on and on — and the carnival rides that dot its grounds are an original touch.

Milwaukee Summerfest — June 24-July 5
Milwaukee
“The world’s largest music festival,” they call themselves, and although that definition’s a little wiggly (Marcus Amphitheater, where the likes of the Rolling Stones and Neil Young play, requires a separate ticket), they’ve got 13 stages running over the course of two weeks. The lineup is heavy on guitar-rock, but it’s full of surprises, including Seun Kuti, reunited emo legends Braid, and, er, Paris Hilton.

Electric Forest — June 25-28
Rothbury, MI
Despite the “electric” in the name and the presence of Bassnectar and Skrillex, it’s not all dance music: the String Cheese Incident will be playing three shows over the course of this campout festival’s four days, and the likes of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros are on the bill too. “Your totem must be no taller than 7 ft,” advises the official site.

July

Essence Festival — July 2-5
New Orleans
Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Essence Fest is wall-to-wall R&B stars in the Louisiana Superdome — Usher, Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, and the like. The “Art of Hip-Hop Superlounge” mostly focuses on the old school (Kool Moe Dee! Slick Rick!). There’s also a (free to the public) area with motivational speakers including Deepak Chopra and Donna Brazile.

Pitchfork

Pitchfork

Pitchfork Music Festival — July 17-19
Chicago
The tastemaking music site’s annual three-day showcase in Union Park values buzz over commercial clout, and it’s distinctly weighted toward the Chicago scene: Would any other festival make Chance the Rapper a headliner? But along with familiar festival acts like Wilco and Sleater-Kinney, there are some remarkable up-and-coming musicians packing the bill, from ILoveMakonnen to Waxahatchee.

Newport Folk Festival — July 24-26
Newport, RI
Launched in 1959, Newport has changed with the face of folk music; these days, it’s heavy on dudes with beards (the Decemberists, Iron & Wine, José González) and willowy young women with bangs (First Aid Kit, Courtney Barnett, Angel Olsen). If you miss the festival itself, NPR puts up streaming archives of many of its notable acts.

Gathering of the Vibes — July 30-Aug. 2
Bridgeport, CT
Originally a “what to listen to now that Jerry Garcia’s gone” festival, Vibes is no longer all jam bands and RVs, although the presence of Gregg Allman and the Dark Star Orchestra (as well as the dedicated tapers’ section) might suggest otherwise. The ringers this year include Weezer, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings.

lollapalooza

lollapalooza

Lollapalooza — July 31-Aug. 2
Chicago
Perry Farrell’s brainchild, once a roving tour, is now a seemingly permanent annual fixture in Grant Park. Paul McCartney, Metallica and Florence + the Machine are headlining; elsewhere in the park, there’s a kid-specific stage, a ton of sponsored tents, and free water filling stations. Playing all three days: the School of Rock All-Stars.

Pickathon — July 31-Aug. 2
Happy Valley, OR
A shuttle ride away from Portland, this laid-back festival has moved away from its acoustic-folk roots — this year’s lineup includes Ex Hex, Shabazz Palaces and the amazing Malian rock band Tinariwen. (Every artist plays twice.) It’s still distinctly ecology-minded, though: The excellent food vendors don’t use plastic cups or plates (bring your own dishes), and one of its stages is in the middle of a forest.

August

Outside Lands — Aug. 7-9
San Francisco
The lineup playing at Golden Gate Park is an all-things-to-everyone assortment — Elton John is the biggest one who’s otherwise not on the festival circuit this year — but they try to make the vibe a little bit kooky: their lineup announcements are produced by Funny or Die, they feature an “outsider art” area, and there’s a “GastroMagic” stage with food-related performances.

FYF Fest — Aug. 22-23
Los Angeles
Having relocated to the L.A. Sports Arena & Exposition Park last year, FYF is still low on things to do other than see bands play, but it’s heavy on the big alternative-rock names, some from previous generations: Morrissey, Dinosaur Jr., Spiritualized and the Jesus & Mary Chain are all appearing. Frank Ocean is headlining on Saturday; cross your fingers that he’ll have new music out by then.

Burning Man — Aug. 30-Sep. 7
Black Rock City, NV
It’s not a music festival in the usual sense (more of a survivalist experience, and it’s considered gauche to let it be known in advance that you’re playing there), and its 70,000 tickets sold out instantly. But the legendary week-long arts festival in the middle of the Nevada desert features, among other things, round-the-clock music on dozens of stages, both stationary and mobile, and a lot of well-known DJs and electronic performers always put in appearances.


Douglas Wolk is a freelance journalist and critic who writes about music, comic books and other things for TIME, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, and a bunch of other places. He’s also the author of Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean and Live at the Apollo. He also wrote the Judge Dredd: Mega City Two comic series, recently collected as a graphic novel.

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