Music festivals. They come in every shape, size, and color in every corner of the world. From the hundreds that dot California’s coastline all summer (aka February to November) to EDM blasting raves in the Mediterranean, music festivals create the possibility to experience dozens of performances, in the setting, genre, and price range you are looking for. Whether you want to camp out for days in the woods, relaxing in a hammock, or would rather be able to collapse into a hotel room after seeing five or six shows in a row and standing for ten hours straight, there is one out there for you.
If you’re thinking that you are not a person who goes to music festivals, it is important to realize it is not a singular community, and can be accessible to anyone. I’m sure many people see it as a younger and more party-oriented community, however in my experience some of the most stalwart supporters of independent festivals are older folks who have been living a lifestyle including music festival attendance for decades. These are the people who aren’t shoving to the front, or taking videos on their phones, but are relaxing in a lawn chair a hundred yards from the stage, for what is not their first or fifth or tenth time there. Also with them in the back are the families, those brave souls who bring young children on long road trips to places not extremely comfortable, or especially quiet, or entirely kid-friendly. These different groups of people represent the diversity and accessibility of festivals, and are those who not only value live music and comedy and art, but community as well, and are able to love all that en masse and presented at breakneck pace over the course of a few very long days.
Everyone wants something different out of their experience. Whether it be early morning yoga and meditation workshops, a performance of a long sought after band, or an all day and night party, picking the festival to fit your experience is essential. For those who live in or love cities, there are plenty of festivals in surprising proximity to hotels, sushi restaurants and your favorite airport. Coachella, Lollapalooza, Ultra, and Austin City Limits all thrive in their respective megalopolises, carving a surprising amount of space out of the limited area in places like Chicago and Miami. On the other side of the coin are those that live outside of the cities. These festivals are usually a bit more independent, and a bit further outside the rule of law than the more corporate based city festivals. Festivals like Electric Forest (formerly Rothbury), Bonnaroo and the inestimable Glastonbury take place on what is usually private land, generously shared by people who are trying to keep the spirit that they love alive. These festivals are almost exclusively camping events, and being outside of the city allows the music and party to drive deep into the night, sometimes running 24 hours straight.
However, for most of us the most important part of these festivals isn’t the environment, the price range, or the location, but the music itself. Yes there are some destination festivals or party festivals in which the location or the ‘vibes’ may outweigh which particular band is playing that year, but I for one look straight into the lineup when choosing where I’m going to spend my weekend. Of course the big festivals I’ve mentioned have the most and the biggest artists, but even the smaller players in the field cater to a particular genre. As you grow from borderline free gatherings in the sticks, which might almost exclusively cater to folk, bluegrass or jam bands (and have the most local talent in them), to the biggest festivals in the world, the lines get more blurred. For example, if you look at Austin City Limits in Texas, its lineup spans countries, genres, and the past half a century. There’re artists coming from Norway, England, Columbia and Australia, as well as music ranging from brand new bands getting their first break in the legendary music city to artists like Willy Nelson who have been around since before those lower totem-polers were born.
Some of the biggest acts playing on the festival circuit this year are what I think of as Indie bands. Not necessarily independent financially or of major labels, but definitely paving their own path musically, these bands like LCD Soundsystem and Tame Impala have been pushing the envelope for years as well as pushing a more avant garde musicality into the main stream. Radiohead is probably the most famous and mainstream of ‘Indie’ bands this year, and they have taken the top billing at Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits, two of the most massive festivals in the country. Sometimes though, the rarest and most interesting headliners are bands that come out of nowhere, like the Dead and Company who’re performing at Bonnaroo this summer. This combination of the remaining members of The Grateful Dead and John Mayer may sound odd at first, but there is definite promise in combining the unmatched improvisational and collaborative skills of Weir, Hart and Kreutzmann with the musical chops of John Mayer. While Mayer is known for a totally different style of music than the Dead, when he chooses to he can crank out some of the most impressive blues guitar playing in America, and I think their collaboration has the potential for some truly unique music being created.
One of the most impressive and unique festivals in the United States is Newport Folk Festival. Coming up at the end of July on the coast of Rhode Island, it is hard to beat the scenery and environment of Newport. Unfortunately, if you don’t already know about this festival and have your ticket, you’ll have a hard time making it because it’s sold out. It didn’t sell out recently, though. It sold out in January… before anyone had a single solitary idea who would be playing there! It is absolutely mind blowing how a festival can sell out in DAYS, six or seven months before the music starts, and three months before the lineup comes out. However this devotion is not pure lunacy, but a firm testament to Newport. Year after year this folk festival has an unbelievable lineup consisting of the oldest, newest and best blues, folk and rock artists in the States. An institution for over 50 years, Newport’s influence goes all the way back past Bob Dylan’s first performance with an electric guitar in 1965. The cultural icon was criticized at the time for the change, and was so loudly booed at that first performance in Rhode Island, that it drowned out the music. These days it looks like those who booed the future in front of them worried in vain, because it doesn’t seem that the years have too much of a detrimental impact on the festival, and to this day it is a musical devotee and musician’s festival. Newport is not only noteworthy to fans due to the unheard of amount of collaborations and jam sessions between some of the biggest names in the world, but also to musicians for the reported comfort of the experience, as musicians seem able to relax and join the crowd more readily than at other places where they would be mobbed at first sight.
It would be impossible to sum up all the different experiences at the probably thousands of music festivals across the world, so this is just a much abbreviated introduction into a few going on this summer around the US. These events range from ten dollar local talent showcases to some of the largest gatherings and ticketed events in the world, and even the most expensive can be some of the best values. They’re worth the trip and the money in my experience, due in no small part to the amazing people populating the festivals, which create an environment unlike any other I’ve ever experienced. If you’re in the area this summer and have a few bucks to spare, I’d suggest taking a Desert Trip through Indio, CA and seeing Roger Waters, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Paul McCartney all in one place. Sounds almost too good to be true.
This article was written by Jake Perry, a writer for dusk magazine.