A.V. Club's guide to trip-worthy music festivals
Is seeing a bunch of bands in a field worth driving hundreds of miles? We break it down
It wasn't that long ago that big outdoor music festivals were things that seemed to happen exclusively in Europe or the U.K., but now we're party to an embarrassment of riches—with fests circulating everything from modern techno in city centers to wiggly jam bands in mounds of dirt. Here, Decider presents a guide to some of this summer's best—and because nobody has the money to fly these days, we’ve provided you with the mileage it would take to road trip it, as well as tips for what to see on the way, courtesy of Roadside America.
Bonnaroo, June 11-14 (Manchester, Tenn.)
There’s no bigger festival than Bonnaroo, which started as a jam band summit but gradually evolved into the kind of omnibus, genre-bending event that unreconstructed hippies, rave kids, and music snobs of every stripe can agree on. Part of that has to do with the sheer amount of stuff on offer: Four days of music across six stages means more conflicts than dull spots, and comedy and film tents provide alternatives for those whose ears just need a break. The festival grounds, meanwhile, play host to all manner of hucksters, vendors, and dealers, who ply their wares amid impromptu jam sessions and sodden revelry. It’s a scene that’s almost as enthralling as Bonnaroo's best performances.
This year’s highlights: Big names include Phish, Beastie Boys, Snoop Dogg, and Bruce Springsteen, but mixed in are some very pleasant surprises like Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors, St. Vincent, Bon Iver, Femi Kuti, King Sunny Adé, Wilco, and David Byrne.
Distance: 623 miles
On the way: Located just outside Clarksville, TN, the Don F. Pratt Museum offers a small taste of Roadside America's disconcertingly enthusiastic Hitler page, in the form of the man's "calling card bowl and walking stick."
Pitchfork Music Festival, July 17-19 (Chicago)
A taste-making website that evaluates music to the tenth decimal place, Pitchfork is equally exacting when it comes to curating performers for its annual throwdown in Union Park. The very now collection of indie, hip-hop, and electronic acts serves as a pretty good time capsule of pop culture circa five minutes ago—and thus it volleys between the exciting and the disposable—but it's an affordable, slightly more intimate alternative to Lollapalooza, and one that takes far more risks. There's also a surprisingly well-stocked record store/handmade clothing/DIY crafts tent, and the chance to catch impromptu, text-everyone-you-know happenings, like Les Savy Fav's Tim Harrington giving out free haircuts.
This year's highlights: "Write your own set" performances from Built To Spill, The Jesus Lizard, Yo La Tengo, Tortoise, and The Flaming Lips; The National, Beirut, Grizzly Bear, Final Fantasy, The Walkmen, The Black Lips, Fucked Up, M83, and Doom.
Distance: 92 miles
On the way: Don't just cruise through the Wisconsin-Illinois border. Rather, visit two great attractions: The world's largest collection of angels (6,000 of them! Holy shit!), and an enormous can of Hormel chili (Beloit, WI).
10,000 Lakes Festival, July 22-25 (Detroit Lakes, Minn.)
Held on the 600-acre Soo Pass Ranch near the northern Minnesota burg of Detroit Lakes, this four-day camping-friendly music fest leans toward a lineup heavy on the spiritual children of the Grateful Dead. But this year moves further away from the jam-band aesthetic (but not by much) by bringing in indie-rockers like Akron/Family and Cloud Cult, soul singer Sharon Jones, Rhymesayers rappers Atmosphere, and L.A.'s Latin/hip-hop fusion combo Ozomatli. All told, more than 60 bands will grace the festival's four stages, so expect a lot of wandering back and forth to put together your perfect itinerary. (Given the area's great natural beauty, it's also worth taking some time away from the music to visit one of the half-dozen nearby state parks and forests, including the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Itasca State Park.)
This year’s highlights: The headliners are Dave Matthews Band, Widespread Panic, and Wilco; besides those mentioned above, other draws include Umphrey's McGee, Mason Jennings, and Railroad Earth.
Distance: 534 miles
On the way: If the comedown's hitting you hard on the way back, make a quick cheer-up detour past Waite Park, MN's smiley face watertower.
All Points West Music And Arts Festival, July 31-Aug 2 (Jersey City, N.J.)
A kind of eastern adjunct to Coachella, All Points West draws from that festival’s keen curation but seems equally inspired by Lollapalooza’s urban setting and penchant for more mainstream talent. The three-day event, now in its second year, takes place at a waterfront state park that overlooks Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, and the proximity to New York means that it’s easy to move on to more intimate celebrations after the show ends, or catch one of the countless after-parties that spring up in Manhattan and Brooklyn—both just a short train or ferry ride away.
This year’s highlights: As with last year, the lineup jumps between the au courant (Vampire Weekend, MGMT, Fleet Foxes), the very famous (Coldplay, Tool, Beastie Boys), and the retro but still in possession of musical capital (My Bloody Valentine, Echo And The Bunnymen).
Distance: 878 miles
On the way: Go just a bit out of your way to the Goodyear World Of Rubber Museum (Akron, OH), which is almost certainly the most comprehensive rubber museum in the world. Special feature: A re-creation of the kitchen where Charles Goodyear first vulcanized rubber.
Lollapalooza, Aug. 7-9 (Chicago)
Ever since re-inventing itself four years ago as a destination festival, Lollapalooza has succeeded where practically every band it featured back in the early ’90s failed—it has become relevant for a new generation. But while Lollapalooza is bigger than it used to be, it’s not necessarily better, in part because it is so much bigger. It’s certainly not the weird little traveling show it was nearly 20 years ago; the lineup has been leaning more and more heavily on superstar arena acts, leaving the cutting-edge stuff to its crosstown rival Pitchfork. But with several stages and a constant turnover of bands over three days, there’s bound to be something that strikes the fancy of the mainstream-ish indie rock fan.
This year’s highlights: Lollapalooza is really kicking it 120 Minutes-style this year, with Depeche Mode, Beastie Boys, Tool, and Jane’s Addiction headlining alongside relative whippersnappers The Killers and Kings Of Leon.
Distance: 92 miles
On the way: One of the nice things about going to a concert outside Wisconsin is you don't have to suffer through touring musicians' tired pile of dairy jokes. You can also take your time getting there. So take the long way so you can take a gander at Janesville's Bessie The Cow, just off I-90.
Outside Lands Music And Arts Festival, Aug. 28-30 (San Francisco)
Given San Francisco’s unpredictable summer weather, it makes sense that the City by the Bay doesn’t enjoy as many outdoor music events between Memorial and Labor Day as the rest of the country, but organizers from Another Planet and Bonnaroo decided to brave the elements last year by unveiling the inaugural Outside Lands. Despite some logistical nightmares (poor cell phone reception on festival grounds, getting more than 60,000 people to and from Golden Gate Park in a city with no parking and a pathetic excuse for public transportation, etc.), the occasional P.A. snafu, and Jack Johnson having a headlining slot, Outside Lands turned out to be both worth the hassle and worthy of a sequel.
This year’s highlights: The lineup is still coming together, but headliners Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band, and Beastie Boys have already been announced. Those heavyweights, along with M.I.A., Modest Mouse, Deerhunter, Q-Tip, Os Mutantes, Band Of Horses, The Dead Weather, and, uh, Tom Jones prove that there’s going to be a little something for everyone.
Distance: 2,174 miles
On the way: Since I-80 takes you through Salt Lake City, how about giving yourself a reason to never return? The deranged Mormom-centric sculptures of Gilgal Garden should do the trick.