by Jason Hicks
With the days lengthening and daffodils blooming it can only mean one thing; the summer music festival season is rapidly approaching! It used to be that were only a few players on the big time festival scene, and most of them were touring genre-specific festivals like Ozzfest, The Warped Tour or the original Lollapalooza. These days most festivals go for massive multiple day affairs in one location. As gas prices skyrocket, condensing many acts onto several stages at one event makes sense for both bands and concertgoers alike. So grab your sunscreen and lawn chairs for our rundown of the hottest festivals.
Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival April 13th-15th & April 20th-22nd Indio, CA
Patterned after European music festivals like Glastonbury and Roskilde, Coachella has kicked off the U.S. festival season since 1999 in the perpetual summer paradise of Palm Springs. The venue is a big part of the appeal of Coachella as it's held at an immaculately tended polo club that is lined with postcard worthy date palms. It's not uncommon to see recycled art installations from Nevada's freaky Burning Man festival dotting the grounds. The weather ranges from perfection to blazing, with nearly zero chance of rain and Woodstock style mud pits. The bands usually skew toward the electropop end of the spectrum, although this year seems to be decidedly scattershot with acts like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, Florence + The Machines, The Black Keys and former Oasis head honcho Noel Gallagher topping the bill. Since the festival has sold out in advance the last couple of years, they are trying out an unusual strategy to increase attendance this time around and are holding two identical festivals on successive weekends. My advice, go on the second weekend after the kinks have been worked out.
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival April 27th-May 6th New Orleans, LA
Widely regarded as the city with the richest musical tradition in the country, it's fitting that New Orleans annually hosts one of the most massive and long running musical festivals around. Just about every New Orleans heavy hitter will be there over the two weekends: Dr. John, The Neville Brothers, Trombone Shorty, Allen Toussiant, The funky Meters, the list goes on and on. But of course there is also a plenty of other music on tap too. The rest of the lineup isn't limited to jazz, but it does favor the baby boomer set with artists like Bruce Springsteen, The Beach Boys, Herbie Hancock and Bonnie Raitt being among the main attractions. Since it's New Orleans the food is also a huge part of the melange, and local offerings of jambalaya, gumbo, bbq and po boys abound. On top of all that, you'll find a crafts fair and historical exhibits on the festival grounds. The music ends early each night so marathon minded enthusiasts can venture into the city proper to take in the myriad of local venue shows that extend deep into the night.
Sasquatch Music Festival May 25th-28th George, WA
The Northwest's premiere music festival's lineup this year is so stellar that the festival sold out over a month advance, which is impressive even given the venue's small 20,000 capacity. Speaking of which, the Gorge Amphitheater is one of the most breathtaking venues in the country with the Columbia Gorge serving as a picture perfect backdrop to the proceedings. From certain angles it almost looks like the stage is hanging over the Columbia river, although that's not the case. The schedule is indeed packed with quality indie acts like the newly solo Jack White, Beck and a bunch of locally affiliated bands like The Shins, Carrie Brownstein's Wild Flag and Portland's up and comers Blind Pilot. The lovely Ms. Brownstein will be doing double duty as she and Fred Armisen will also do a live version of their insanely popular Portlandia sketch TV show, which promises all kinds of hipster in-jokes. Finally, the on site camping is notorious for all night parties, but pace yourself as the Eastern Washington heat during the day can turn your tent into a sauna in no time. Since it's sold out, pricey VIP packages or trolling Craigslist are your only hope to get in on the fun if you haven't scored tickets yet.
Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival June 7th-10th Manchester, TN
Bonnaroo, or simply "the Roo" for those in the know, started out as a neo-hippie mecca primarily focused on jam bands in 2002. Although the name Bonnaroo comes from New Orleans slang for "a really good time" and there has been no shortage of Louisiana based music at the festival over the years as well. Since around 2006 or so the lineup has included more indie rock and electronic acts and this year is no exception with Radiohead, Bon Iver, Foster the People and Feist all set to perform. Of course you'll still find the likes of Phish and Umphrey's McGee turning out crunchy grooves. But music is just the beginning of the offerings, with top comics like Aziz Ansari on hand, a cinema tent, a "Broo'ers" festival with microbrews and more. If the humidity and surely odorous attendees don't bother you, the Roo is one of the biggest and wildest festivals to catch.
Newport Folk Festival Newport, RI July 28th and 29th
Dating all the way back to 1959 the Newport Folk Festival will always be remembered for the infamous 1965 performance by Bob Dylan in which his newly electric band was met with boos from the crowd. These days fans can expect to hear a variety of music, which although still rooted in folk and Americana, includes numerous electric rock n' roll acts. The strategy of appealing to a wider audience since the 90s has paid off and the festival has gained so much prominence that Saturday and two day tickets are already sold out. The top acts this year include Arlo Guthrie, Patty Griffin, My Morning Jacket, and hot buzz band Alabama Shakes. There will also be a warm up show of sorts by Wilco with Portland's Blitzen Trapper opening up on Friday July 27th.
Lollapalooza August 3rd-5th Chicago, IL
Lollapalooza started out as the quintessential alternative music festival in 1991 when it served as founder Perry Farrell's farewell tour with Jane's Addiction. That petered out in the late 90s, but the festival was reborn in 2005 as a stationary festival in Chicago's Grant Park, which makes for a uniquely urban setting. The eclectic tradition of the original festival remains in tact as this years acts range from cutting edge groups like electronic rockers M83 and Bassnectar to nostalgia acts like Black Sabbath. You'll also find a plethora of lounges sponsored by hip companies like Google and Adidas. Kids 10 and under get in for free and will be treated to their own area with a stage featuring kid friendly acts like Ralph's World and other activities and workshops.