The temperature’s rising, and it ain’t just global warming. In the next few months, there’s a scorching array of live music fests worth road-tripping to, with every hot band you can think of eager to rock your metaphorical socks off. (Besides, socks in summer are gross.) So pack your flip-flops, sunscreen and iPhone (to capture moments for online posterity, of course), and get ready to hit the road. Destination: Rock ’n’ Roll (and a Little Bit of Country and Dance Music) Heaven.
The most important fest this year, at least for music-lovin’ Las Vegans, is Coachella (April 15-17), a huge outdoor extravaganza that unites fans of indie-rock, electronica and hip-hop for three days just east of L.A., at the expansive Empire Polo Fields in Indio, Calif. With five stages and a massive campground, this year’s event looks to be the best yet. Consider the headliners alone: Kanye West, Arcade Fire, Animal Collective, PJ Harvey, Ms. Lauryn Hill—holy shit, Lauryn Hill?!—not to mention such varied and dynamic acts as the Black Keys, the Chemical Brothers, Robyn and the Strokes. Coachella is truly a veritable all-you-can-eat sonic buffet, and I for one can’t wait to gorge myself silly. Passes are no longer available, but chances are you already bought yours months ago. If not, feel free to drool and hate yourself by visiting Coachella.com.
So Coachella may be a tad lacking in the country music department. That’s OK, because Stagecoach: California’s Country Music Festival (April 30-May 1) occurs in the same location just a couple of weeks later. The headliners are freakin’ massive—Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts and Carrie Underwood, plus a smattering of hardcore country-music legends who shouldn’t be missed, including rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson (Jack White produced her most recent album), Loretta Lynn (ditto), and Leon Russell (who late last year released a critically acclaimed collaborative album, The Union, with Elton John), among many others. I’m tempted to buy a pass just to see my new favorite country duo, the Secret Sisters, whose T-Bone Burnett-produced album last year was a highlight. A weekend pass is $149. As of this writing they’re available for purchase. Visit StageCoachFestival.com for info.
Lightning in a Bottle (May 27-30) is definitely worth being captured by, especially if you’re an environmentally sensitive, yoga-enthusiastic, electro-rocking soul for whom Burning Man just isn’t enough. Naturally, this event is more community-oriented and participatory, taking place at something called the Do LaB at Oak Canyon Ranch in Silverado, Calif. There are workshops galore, from solar cooking to composting, from African dance to Qigong. Volunteer, vendor and workshop applications can be submitted via LightningInABottle.org. Weekend passes are $195 ($225 at the gate), but you can also buy two-day and one-day passes. Kids 12 and under get in free! Best part is the incredible live music being offered: Thievery Corporation, Pretty Lights, Lucent Dossier and Beats Antique, just to name the headliners. Note to dudes: Hate to sound frat-headed, but I’m told this fest boasts the hottest hippie chicks!
If Lightning is too granola for you, then spend that same Memorial Day Weekend driving to the edge of the gorgeous Columbia River Gorge in eastern Washington to take in four days (May 27-30) of the Sasquatch! Music Festival. Foo Fighters will headline the first evening’s festivities. (Camping opens a day earlier on May 26.) Then it’s just one killer indie-rock band after another: Death Cab for Cutie, Modest Mouse, Wilco, the Flaming Lips, the Decemberists, Guided by Voices, Iron & Wine and (for those of you pushing 40 like this writer) peerless alt-rock legend Bob Mould. C’mon, Bob Mould? Single-day and all-inclusive passes for this monster are sold out, but according to SasquatchFestival.com, “VIP Supertickets” are still available.
While the somewhere-in-Colorado location and musical lineup for this year’s Sonic Bloom (June 24-26) has yet to be announced, this bass-music affair looks to be pretty damn cool, with likely (again, I mean likely) appearances by EOTO (basically Jason Hann and Michael Travis, percussionist and drummer in the String Cheese Incident), plus electronics-heavy bands such as (maybe) Karsh Kale, VibeSquaD and ZILLA. This is another one of those sustainable, don’t-leave-all-your-shit-behind gatherings, so if you’re green-minded you’ll certainly have a blast at this one. Last year’s Sonic Bloom sold out quickly, so keep checking SonicBloomFestival.com for updates. Note to parents: Last year, kids 7 and under were free, ages 8 to 13 were half-price.
However, if you don’t have the gas money to attend a wild rave in a neighboring state, just stay in town June 24-25 for the Electric Daisy Carnival, which bills itself as “the biggest dance music event outside Europe,” with parties in Dallas, Denver, Puerto Rico and (now, this year) Vegas, baby! Lineup, ticket prices and precise location to be announced, but given the already-solid reputation Vegas has as a home for electronic-music mecca, you can bet the headliners will be huge.
Around the same time (June 30-July 3), there’s High Sierra, a solid, mid-size annual fest that has been occurring in the hills of Quincy, Calif., for more than 20 years. Situated 80 miles north of Reno, this event emphasizes “jazz, newgrass, bluegrass and jambands” (with stabs at funk, electronica and world music). This year’s headliners are extremely varied: My Morning Jacket (indie), Ween (alt), Neko Case (country-rock) and Warren Haynes Band (jam). Visit HighSierraMusic.com to find a four-day pass ($185); kids and teens get discounted pricing.
Finally, in late summer, there’s San Francisco’s Outside Lands (Aug. 12-14, lineup to be announced), a “music, food, wine and art” shindig. Keep checking SFOutsideLands.com for updates.
Music Fests That Are Worth Airfare
JazzFest (April 29-May 8) This immense jazz and rock fest is still assisting in the reconstruction of Katrina-ravaged New Orleans with 10 days of the best and biggest-named musicians and bands. The list of 2011 headliners is crazy-good: Arcade Fire, Bon Jovi, Jimmy Buffett, Kid Rock, John Mellencamp, Wilco, Willie Nelson, the Strokes and John Legend & the Roots. Buy tix at NOJazzFest.com.
Bonnaroo (June 9-12) Check out this lineup for 2011! Eminem, Arcade Fire, the Black Keys, Neil Young, Lil Wayne, Robert Plant & Band of Joy, the Decemberists, and that’s just a small sampling of what’s going down in Manchester, Tenn. Whatever you do, don’t forget to peruse the website (Bonnaroo.com) for tickets. As of this writing, tickets in price level four ($250) are still available.
Pitchfork Music Festival (July 15-17) The Chicago-based Pitchfork.com launched its own fest in 2006, thereby introducing new and up-and-coming artists to a sizeable audience each and every year—and changing the landscape of indie-rock on an annual basis. This year’s headliners include Fleet Foxes, Deerhunter, Animal Collective, James Blake, Das Racist, TV on the Radio and Cut Copy. Three-day passes are already sold out, but individual day passes ($45) are still on sale as of this writing. Go to PitchForkMusicFestival.com for more info.