At one time or another, most of you can relate to what I’m feeling this very second—trapped to my desk at work, facing a blank, windowless wall—I want out! This is exactly the feeling that has me counting the seconds to summer every year—in other words, music festival season.
Each spring my seven college roommates and I set up a Skype date to debate and discuss the merits of each festival, argue about performance line-ups and decide on which fests we will attend. This process, which in reality is much more uncivilized and full of explicit language than I’ve described it, is followed by the organization of road trips and then, finally, the most memorable, most enjoyable weekends of the year. I get goose-bumps just thinking about it.
So in honor of summer and to procrastinate doing real work, I’ve decided to share our version of the 2011 top US music festivals. Note, many of these have already occurred for 2011, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check them out next year.
Summerfest: Milwaukee, WI June 29-July 3 and July 5-10
This is THE music festival and has been since 1968. It’s the world’s largest music festival and lasts 11 days along the Lake Michigan lakefront. There are 11 different stages and hundreds of bands. The music industry’s biggest stars have all performed at one time or another, but there’s a good mix of emerging talent too. I’ve found that Summerfest has a strong showing from each genre—from country to rap and in between.
Coachella: Indio, CA April 15-17
This 3-day fest has been growing like crazy each year since 2001 when it was re-vamped after a yearlong hiatus. Coachella always has a mix of big-name alternative artists mixed with classic bands from the past and new talent. The festival has a little something for everyone and tickets generally sell out within a few days, so I recommend getting tickets early if you’re planning on going next year.
Bonnaroo: Nashville, TN June 9-12
This 4-day jam-sesh is held just outside of Nashville and is for serious music lovers only as many people end up literally camping out or living out of their cars. The event has a wide variety of music, featuring big-name rappers like Lil’ Wayne to classic rock artists and more alternative musicians.
Lollapalooza: Chicago, IL August 5-7
Held in Grant Park in Chicago, this 3-day festival has had its share of ups and downs over the last two decades. It seems to have found its stride and has been awesome the last few years. The festival hosts over 130 artists from all over the music world. Personally, I enjoy that there are popular, mainstream headliners each year, but that the vast majority of musicians aren’t your typical radio bands. If you’re into hip-hop, reggae, indie, rock, modern roots, and such you’ll like Lolla.
Outside Lands: San Francisco, CA August 12-14
Set in picturesque Golden Gate Park, this 3-day fest featuring generally well-known rock or alternative groups. The event is known for its commitment to being eco-friendly and there are often many “greening” projects for visitors to join. Bonus, the Bay area is gorgeous and home to lots of good food and wine!
Wanderlust Festival: Bondville, VT June 23-26; Squaw Valley/North Lake Tahoe, CA July 28-31
This unique music festival combines yoga and wellness with top musical acts and DJs in gorgeous settings. This 4-day event is an experience unlike any other and allows you to relax, get in-tune with nature, exercise and all while enjoying awesome music from the likes of Michael Franti & Spearhead and Girl Talk.
South By Southwest: Austin, TX March 11-20
SXSW is a music and film festival that’s been around since 1987. Today, the event is known as the IT place for upcoming artists to promote their work. SXSW is definitely for people who like to hear stuff before it goes mainstream and who really have a passion for the arts. The number of performers can be overwhelming so be sure to plan ahead if there are acts you don’t want to miss.
Austin City Limits: Austin, TX September 16-18
I guess Austin gets all the good stuff! This 3-day music festival draws big names and big crowds. The lineup typically features popular bands and artists from all over the music industry. Well-known for being family friendly, the event has plenty of activities for the kiddos too (a very unique feature for music festivals, believe me). ACL is also praised for its “greenness,” good food and local art.
Remember, this is a teeny-tiny list of this summer’s US music festivals. There are a ton of other festivals to checkout if these don’t appeal to you. A great resource for festivals across the world is the Music Festival Junkies website. Now, grab some friends, stock up on sunscreen and head to a music festival—guaranteed the best weekends of the summer.