For some reason, over the past ten or twenty years, music festivals have exploded in popularity across the U.S. Maybe it’s because artists are willing to show up for one of the few sure-fire ways to get audiences to pay for their music that they’re otherwise streaming for cheap or free. Or who knows – maybe we’re all just sick and tired of sitting in front of our screens and want to get out there and see our favorite performers live. We don’t really know for sure, but we’re pretty damn happy about the result.
Music festivals have a lot to recommend them; getting to see a wide array of artists you may not have otherwise been able to catch means you get more bang for your buck, you almost always have a wide array of food-trucks to try out, and you get the chance to spend a lot of time with your close friends while making new ones. What makes festivals so cool though, is how varied they can be. With so many popping up across nearly all 50 states, each has its own unique flavor that makes it stand out from the rest. To help guide you through this morass of fun, we’ve come up with a list of the 30 best music festivals in America.
Location: Seattle, Washington
Dates: September 2nd-4th, 2016
You can’t go to Seattle without a bumbershoot and you can’t write a festival list without it either. This festival has been going on now for more than 45 years, and while it does have some great musical acts, it offers so much more than just that. Located in the shadow of the space needle, in the heart of the city – you can go for this three day event to catch some of the world’s best acts, great comedians, theater, film, dance, and even thought provoking talks. While this event usually takes place around the first few days of September – it never hurts to think about bringing a rain jacket.
Location: Happy Valley, Oregon
Dates: August 5-7th, 2016
Festivals have always been synonymous with huge crowds, an overwhelming number of choices, and gross amounts of trash. Pickathon is a response to all of that. Set in Oregon’s Happy Valley, this festival has a crowd limit of 3,500 and emphasizes building a family friendly environment while managing to book a wide array of fantastic musicians – all of whom play twice over the three day festival. As if that wasn’t enough – the festival also boasts some of nearby Portland, Oregon’s best food trucks.
Location: Dufur, Oregon
Dates: June 17th-20th, 2016
Located all the way out in Dufur, Oregon, a small town west of Mt. Hood – this gathering is a kind of Burning Man meets main-stream festival. It’s a little crunchy, but it’s also full of neon fueled fun – just without all the dust and weird old tech guys from the Bay Area. If the huge number of performers aren’t enough for you, the group that puts this three day festival on in the middle of July also sets up a huge wading pool for mid-day fun.
Location: George, Washington
Dates: May 27th-30th 2016
You’ve heard stories about it, some of your friends swear they’ve seen it, and maybe you’ve even caught a glimpse of it yourself. Of course – we’re talking about the legendary Sasquatch music festival. It’s a Pacific Northwest stalwart held in George, Washington every spring. Stretching four days, you’ll have plenty of time to catch a wide array of performers and comedians.
Location: Darrington, Washington
Dates: August 11th-14th, 2016
Set in the dead center of the summer, this three day festival boasts 4 stages for its wide swath of musicians, camping sites, activities for families. Located in Darrington, Washington, a town right outside the Boulder River Wilderness, it’s a secluded and beautiful place to send a few summer days while listening to music.
Location: Indio, California
Dates: April 15th-24th, 2016
Would we be writing a list about our favorite festivals if it wasn’t for Coachella? Maybe. But then again, maybe not. Either way, this two-weekend long music and arts festival in Indio, California hasn’t gone from small desert concert to cultural phenomenon for no reason. With some of the best performers in the world, and a huge array of art instillations to visit and food to try – it can’t disappoint.
Location: Napa, California
Dates: May 27th-29, 2016
So if you are going to set a music festival in the heart of California’s wine country, chances are you’ll find more than just great music there (although, there is a whole lot of that). Expect great food, wine, and beer to go along with top-notch performer. This three day festival held in downtown Napa during the spring is the first of its kind for the region. Started in 2013 by an attorney who had a passion for music – this has grown to be a must for festival fans.
Location: San Francisco, California
Dates: August 5th-7th
San Francisco has always been a city that embraced music, and Outside Lands is a testament to that fact. Located in one of the nation’s greatest municipal parks, this three day festival attracts some of the best music in the world, and plops them right in the middle of the city alongside a wide range of food, and beverage options for attendees. Heed Mark Twain’s warning, “The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco”. Even though this festival is right at the beginning of August, it can get foggy and cold.
Lightning in a Bottle
Location: Bradley, California
Dates: May 25th-30th, 2016
It isn’t an accident that some of the best festival are located far away from everything else. Maybe it is because you get a sense that you are leaving behind your worries, or maybe it’s just as simple as the fact that any change in place can feel good. Either way, Lightning in a Bottle captures that freeing sensation and combined it with art instillations, fantastic musicians, and a friendly environment. Located out in Bradley, this five day event is a must for those who love forgetting themselves for a few days.
Location: Los Angeles, California
Dates: August 27th-28th
We all know that the music industry was essentially blown apart in the early 2000’s and is still in the process of putting itself back together, but Los Angles has managed to remain the industry’s home city despite all of that. Its fitting then, that one of the better festivals on the west coast is set right in the city’s heart. FYF Fest is a party at the L.A. Sports Arena and Exposition Park during August, and manages to get some of the best musicians in the game to come out and preform with downtown L.A.’s skyline has a backdrop.
Location: San Marcos, Texas
Dates: July 16th-17th, 2016
If you aren’t close to the coast, one of the best ways to cool down in the summer is to hop in an inner-tube and float down the river. Float Fest combines that great tradition with a fantastic lineup for a two-day party just outside of San Marcos, Texas in the heat of July. With two stages, a camping area, and complimentary inner-tubes – it’s a party worth waiting all year for.
Location: Dallas and Austin, Texas
Dates: May 13th-14th
Not all festivals have to be multi-day events. JMBLYA goes for quality not quantity by packing in some of the best names in hip hop onto one days bill. While this spring festival is only a one day event, JMBLYA shows up in two cities – first in Dallas and then in Austin. So you can catch it in the city closer to you, or if you are crazy
enough – you can hit both.
South By Southwest
Location: Austin, Texas
Dates: March 11-20th, 2016
At this point, South By South West is much more than just a festival. It’s evolved into a city-wide cultural event that encompasses not only music, but art, business, technology, food, and so much more. You’d need a time machine in order to catch all that ends up going on in the city during the more than week long event, but that shouldn’t serve as a deterrent. Whether you end up focusing on the lesser known musicians, or just hit up all the tech talks like the big nerd you are – this is the event to do it at.
Location: Austin, Texas
Dates: April 29th – May 1st, 2016
The way things begin matters. At the outset, Levitation (formerly the “Austin Psych Fest”) just wanted to provide good music to anyone interested enough to come check it out in Austin, Texas. There wasn’t a lot of money, advertising, or media coverage involved, just passion for good music and creating a unique and fun environment for the audience. Since they first started in 2008, this simple philosophy has ballooned this otherwise small festival into a four day world-class festival that manages to nab some of the best musicians and put them on three different stages on the Carson Creek Ranch.
Location: Arcosanti, Arizona
Dates: May 13th-15th, 2016
Usually festival organizers are focused on curating a fantastic array of artists, but these festival organizers are as focused on the crowd as they are on the musicians. Set in the micro city of Arcosanti, an experimental town located 70 miles north of Phoenix, this two year old festival blurs the lines between performer and audience. Only 1,200 people (the organizers refer to them as participants) are allowed into the Form Festival where they can see big names preform, collaborate, and create with one another. It’s a truly unique experience – and one that people are calling the ‘future of festivals’.
Austin City Limits
Location: Austin, Texas
Dates: September 30th-October 9th, 2016
People talk about how ‘trendy’ or ‘hipster’ Austin is as if the art coming out of the city is this brand new thing that popped out of nowhere. It didn’t. Events like Austin City Limits have been around for over two decades, and for good reason. This festival packs some of the coolest acts out there into two weekends filled with great music, food, and fun. A staple of the music festival circuit, you can’t miss it.
Norman Music Festival
Location: Norman, Oklahoma
Dates: April 21st-23rd
Forget paying for music festivals when you can go to great ones like the Norman Music Festival in Norman, Oklahoma. Started back in 2008 with the simple goal of providing great free music from top-notch bands for a day, this festival has grow to be a two night and one full day and night of great music. Run by a volunteer board of directors, supported by a sustaining members and an array of national, regional, and local businesses – the Normal Music Festival is a different type of festival with a notably different feel. Keep an eye out for it every spring.
Location: Durham, North Carolina
Dates: May 19th-22nd, 2016
If you were to mash up a tech conference with an art exhibition and throw in a bunch of big name acts in on the evenings, then you’d get Moogfest. This festival named after the late Dr. Robert Moog, a pioneer in electronic music and instrument design, has exploded in popularity much like electronic music as a whole. Started in 2004 as a small gathering in New York City, this festival has worked its way to Durham, North Carolina in part because organizers view the city as the center of the regions research triangle. This four day long festival in the middle of May is ideal for the tech nerd and music enthusiast alike.
Location: Manchester, Tennessee
Dates: June 9th-12th
When any fan of live music thinks of big open air festivals on large green fields – Bonnaroo is sure to come to mind. The cultural significance of this festival would make you think that this event has been around for at least 20 or 25 years – but it only started out in the early 2000’s. With a consistent line up of fantastic artists from all genres who preform over four days in June, this event based out of Manchester, Tennessee should be on the bucket list for any big fan of great live music.
Location:Gulf Shores, Alabama
Dates:May 20th-22nd, 2016
Attending the Hangout Festival is a great way to kick off the summer right. Every May, these organizers manage to put together a stand-out lineup of touring artists that fill up three days worth of performances on the beaches of Gulf Shores, Alabama. With plenty of sun, sand, food, and great music, you’ll be sure to have a great time with you and your friends.
Location: Arrington, Virginia
Dates: August 25th-28th, 2016
Set in Arrington, a small town in central Virginia located right near the Blue Ridge Mountains, this four day long music festival aims not just to present amazing music, but to showcase the best of what the area has to offer in terms of food and community. With a lineup that tends to highlight some of the more classic acts still touring like Willie Nelson, Tom Petty, Carlos Santana, and Wilco, Lockn’ is a great choice for fans of traditional and classic rock.
Location: Birmingham, Alabama
Dates: July 16th-17th, 2016
This new festival set in Birmingham, Alabama does its best to reflect the heritage of the Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark while highlighting all the fantastic things that the surrounding community has to offer today. Sloss boasts three stages and well over 30 performers ranging from all genres, in just a couple of years this festival has proved itself a one worth both your time and your money.
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Dates: July 28th-21st 2016
Before there was Coachella, there was Lollapalooza. Since the early 1990s this festival has boasted some of the most energetic and innovative preforming musicians out there. With 8 stages, and 170+ bands in over four days in Chicago’s Grant Park – the festival has an absolute glut of musical options. Because festivals aren’t complete without great local eats – you can also expect the cream of the crop when it comes to grabbing a bite.
Location: Des Moines, Iowa
Dates: August 5th-6th, 2016
People talk down on the midwest way too much. They call it flat and expressionless, and refer to it as primarily ‘Flyover country’. The hinterland festival in St. Charles, Iowa embraces all of those slights and in turn celebrates the feel, sounds, and community in the overlooked parts of the country. Located in the 1,500 acre Water Works Park, this two day festival in August has a slew of relevant artists, art exhibitions, area for camping, and craft vendors for you to enjoy. All things said, this festival is well worth heading off the beaten path to go and visit.
Pitchfork Music Festival
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Dates: July 15th-17th, 2016
It is only natural that the crowned kings of cool would be able to bring together some of the most influential and important names in music for a three day event set in the great city of Chicago. Yeah, sneer all you want. Call it ‘pretentious’ and ‘hipster’ (as if that means anything anymore) if you feel like it – you can’t deny that this festival is anything but fantastic without setting your pants on fire. Since 2011 the famed publication has managed to pull off one hell of a weekend each July, and there is no sign that they plan on scoring anything less than a 10 each year.
Location: Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Dates: August 12th-13th, 2016
Justin Vernon, the man behind Bon Iver among many other projects, has set out to put together his own festival in his home town of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. It probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that a guy who recorded the entirety of his breakout album in a cabin in his home state after a gnarly breakup would want to create his own music festival in the same area that spawned such a huge success. Started only in 2015, this two day long festival in the middle of August is off the beaten path, but still manages to attract notable names from all genres.
Location: Rothbury, Michigan
Dates: June 23rd-26th, 2016
Revered by music lovers world wide, this festival set in Sherwood Forest outside of Rothbury, Michigan is more than just a gathering of musicians and fans – it’s an experience. After the sun goes down on this four day event in late June, the surrounding forest lights up with lasers, string lights, and the sound of a wide variety of performers – from heavy dub to twinkling experimental music. It’s well worth any festival enthusiast’s attention.
Made In America
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Dates: September 3rd-4th, 2016
Jay Z isn’t a business man, he’s a business, man. So of course in the era of big music festivals the OG rapper would go out and set up his own gigantic show. This event, packed full with the biggest names in all of rap and hip hop, has popped up in both Los Angeles and Philadelphia since it was first started back in 2012. Usually set in the fall, this two day show boasts dozens of musicians on multiple stages over a two day period. A must-attend for fans or rap.
Location: New York, New York
Dates: June 3rd-5th, 2016
You think that New York City, of all places, would have at least a handful of ‘big deal’ festivals. The city is the center of so many things – so why not gigantic live performances? Well, it wasn’t up until recently that the Big Apple was able to land their own. Located on Randall’s Island Park, a small island between East Harlem and Queens, this three day long festival in the first weekend of June offers all you could possibly would want from a festival. Great performers, a good vibe, and – of course – New York’s incredible skyline.
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Dates: May 27th-29th, 2016
An event in Boston that doesn’t have anything to do with sports? Yeah, it exists, and it’s called Boston Calling. Like New York, Boston had a shortage of good festivals for a long time – so they’re making up for it by celebrating great music not once – but twice a year. Both during Memorial Day Weekend, and again during the fall these organizers bring out some of the best live acts to Boston’s City Hall Plaza. Just remember, though, you can’t park your car in Harvard Yard (sorry).
Location: Newport, Rhode Island
Dates: July 22nd-24th, 2016
Located in Fort Adams, an old military fortification right at the mouth of the Newport Harbor in Rhode Island, this festival is perfect for big folk fans. Over three days in late July, this festival puts some of the biggest names in folk on four stages that overlook the Narraganset bay. With great music, good food, and a beautiful backdrop, it’s hard to go wrong with the Newport Folk Festival.
Hot 97 Summer Jam
Location: East Rutherford, New Jersey
Dates: June 5th, 2016
Radio stations puff themselves up just as routinely as we brush our teeth. What radio DJ isn’t going to tell you their station is the best? When Hot97 says they are the home of hip hop, however, they really mean it. It makes sense then that their Summer Jam would rank among the top festivals for hip-hop lovers. Located in East Rutherford, New Jersey, this day-long festival in early June offers up some of the biggest names in hip hop, along with promising up-and-comers on two separate stages.
Location: Scranton, Pennsylvania
Dates: July 14th-15th, 2016
Maybe it’s the high contrast between all the otherworldly electronic sounds and the gorgeous forest surrounding Montage Mountain, or all of the great camping spots, but Camp Bisco, located just outside of Scranton Pennsylvania, is something special. A three day event in the middle of July, Bisco boasts a huge number of great dance musicians, access to Montage Mountain Water Park, and some of the best food around.
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