Coachella takes place a little less than a month from now, which means festival season is nearly underway. There are now more music festivals taking place in the United States than ever before. Thievery Corporation’s Rob Garza told us last year that there’s a huge festival-ization going on right now, and he isn’t wrong. Here at Grimy Goods we’ve compiled a comprehensive guide based on the spring festivals we’ve covered over the past few years. Take a look to find out what festival is right for you.
Coachella (April 15 to 17, April 22 to 24), Indio, California
Coachella has a lot going for it, mainly that it has the deepest lineup of any festival in America, bar none. What I mean by that, there’s so many genres that get billed at Coachella because they have over 200+ acts on the roster and can get away with some left-field bookings.
This year it boasts the reunions of two big-name acts, Guns N Roses and LCD Soundsystem. Though GnR has two Vegas shows to shake off the rust before Coachella, the desert festival is the first massive festival dates on their schedule. Axl Rose and Slash haven’t been on stage together in more than 20 years. It could either be a shitshow or epic, it’s a big gamble. LCD Soundsystem might be the most oversaturated headliner in 2016 with appearances at festivals all over, but it isn’t for no good reason. It’s been five years and they also are known for delivering some of the best live performances of any top-tier band. Calvin Harris is sort of an underwhelming third headliner, but it all depends on how his show is setup. It could be great if a bunch of special guests pop in, but that’s what we all thought was happening with Drake last year and we all known how well that went.
The undercard is insane, especially as you go lower down the bill. You have your mainstream appeal in acts like Halsey, Jack U, A$AP Rocky, Disclosure, and The 1975. Sia has performed very few full sets in the last handful of years and Coachella is her first big booking this year. The reunion of Lush is one of their better gets, as well as longtime acid jazz musician St. Germain. There’s too much goodness on the bill to discuss it in length but you’ll be seeing features on this site highlighting some of it.
The facilities are the worst part of the festival. If you’re camping, have fun with the portable toilets which are always disgusting and the shower situation is abysmal. Inside the festival it isn’t much better, though the toilets near the beer garden are always of a higher quality. There’s also charging stations placed in nice spots where you can still enjoy the music while making sure you have enough battery to meet up with your friends later on in the day. The fact that there’s music from noon to 1 AM pretty much every day is pretty fantastic.
The vibe is up and down. There’s a general sense that the second weekend shines above the first in being more laid back and people being there for the music. The first weekend is said to carry the better surprise appearances but that hasn’t rung true the past few years. The first weekend brings a lot of people there for the “scene” and to see celebrities and take pictures for their Instagram. However, the grass is much nicer the first weekend before it is ruined for the second one. What makes Coachella stand out though is that people from all over the world come to this festival, and in large numbers. It is one of the few truly international music fests in America and is probably the best known.
Levitation (formerly Austin Psych Fest), April 29 to May 1, Austin, Texas
Location: *** ½
Headliners: *** ½
Facilities: *** ½
Anne-Marie Schafer covered Levitation for us last year and described the festival as a place where “weird is okay and even welcomed in a world that is overwrought with sameness.”
This year’s lineup boasts a couple of pretty fine gets: Brian Wilson performing the album Pet Sounds in full, Ween in the early part of their 2016 reunion, Flying Lotus, Slowdive and Nicolas Jaar. It also features hot festival acts like Courtney Barnett, The Arcs and Animal Collective. The further down the bill you go, the closer to the festival’s psychedelic roots you get.
It’s a camping festival, but inside the gates it’s easy to move stage to stage and pretty much see every act on the bill, which isn’t the case with many of the larger fests. Despite it not being one of the top-tier festivals, it attracts people from all over the world, perhaps because of the demographic it caters to: burners, hippies, etc. But that demographic is what helps give the festival its laid-back and chill vibe.
According to Anne-Marie, it can be a pain to get in and out of this fest because it’s on a ranch. She also highly recommends rain boots and said she’s never seen so many pairs of shoes left behind at an event before. If you’re not camping, there’s an Uber pickup spot but it’s a bit of a hike to get in and out of it.
Shaky Knees, May 13 to 15, Atlanta, Georgia
Location: *** ½
Last year was the first time covering Shaky Knees, and it was very impressive for being early in the festival’s inception. Now in its fourth year, this rock ‘n’ roll festival has really hit its stride. The headliners don’t quite stack up to last year but are still pretty solid, with Jane’s Addiction (performing Ritual De Lo Habitual in full), My Morning Jacket and Florence + The Machine topping the bill.
Where this festival really gets strength is in the undercard. They have more than a number of good bookings that are mostly exclusive to them. They have Deftones, At the Drive-In, Huey Lewis and The News performing Sports in its entirety, Slowdive, Explosions in the Sky and Eagles of Death Metal among others. They’ve done a good job of finding talent that is about to blow up. Last year, Halsey was on this festival’s bottom two lines and is now massive. They do a great job.
The location has changed since last year to a different park in Atlanta. Last year it was excellent because there were so many trees that you could find shade under during a hot set. There was a baseball diamond far back from the stage and people were throwing a frisbee around while the main stage had music going. It was such a chill, laid-back vibe and it was awesome to escape the raver kids as this festival is pretty much all rock music.
The facilities were very good for a festival of this size. The toilets actually flushed and were well kept. The one disappointment was that the food lines were mismanaged. If you tried getting food at dinner time, the lines were so backed up that you missed a lot of the action. They need to at least double the amount of food trucks on site to make it more manageable. The demographic is very local, with people from neighboring states coming over but not much more than that. Still, a very enjoyable festival that you should go to if the lineup appeals to you.
Hangout Fest, May 20-22, Gulf Shores, Alabama
Location: **** ½
Undercard: *** ½
This festival boasts the one headlining appearance at a festival from The Weeknd in 2016. Aside from that, it has Calvin Harris and Florence + The Machine topping the bill. Florence is almost everywhere this year. There aren’t very many special bookings on this bill and it’s very mainstream leaning with Ellie Goulding, Alabama Shakes, HAIM, Cage the Elephant, Panic! At the Disco, Walk the Moon, and Fetty Wap on the bill. It’s not a bad thing but it isn’t as creative. The deep undercard has some gems in acts like Alison Wonderland, PHASES, Coasts, Bully and Meg Mac.
The location is what makes Hangout Fest so special. It takes place on the beach. Literally. The two main stages are in the sand of Gulf Shores with the 75 degree water right up to it, though there’s only one spot within the festival where they let you in the water. There are three other stages that are on the pavement, though they have sand brought over to part of it. The weather is very humid and you’ll sweat a lot, but there’s a lot of fun things to do, including a Drop Zone-type ride you can get on.
The facilities are top-notch. Good solid bathrooms and not long lines for food. The security was a bit too much as their hands traced inside my waistband while looking for contraband, which was a step too far. The vibe of the festival is pretty solid. Pro-tip: book a condo on the beach within walking distance of the festival with a group of friends. The beach becomes the perfect afterparty spot when the fest closes down each day at a reasonable hour. You’ll find a lot of cool people hanging out listening to tunes and reliving the weekend. The water is also amazing and I recommend getting in it. The demographic of people is all pretty much from the south, though there are a few that come from the west coast because of the beach vibe.
The VIP experience here is unlike at any other fest. There’s a pool built into the sand at the main stage and it’s super easy to get very close to the stage if you’re in the VIP part of the crowd. The higher-tier VIP even have hot tubs where they’ll serve you while you’re in them. Overall, Hangout is probably my favorite of the second-tier festivals in America that I’ve attended.
Sasquatch!, May 27 to 30, Gorge, Washington
Probably the most laid-back of the camping festivals I’ve attended. The weather is in the 70s to 80s rather than much hotter like at Coachella and Bonnaroo. They have a really good get with The Cure headlining the festival, but it’s rounded out by Florence + The Machine, Disclosure and Major Lazer. Sufjan Stevens, Jamie XX, Tycho, Kurt Vile, Digable Planets and Alina Baraz are some of the highlights of the bookings that aren’t on every lineup.
What can you say about the Gorge? It is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen live music, though admittedly I haven’t been to Red Rocks yet. When you first make it over that hill when you get in the gates the first day and you see the Gorge, you can’t help but be taken back by its beauty. It is just plain epic.
The facilities are like what you would expect from a camping fest. The portable toilets aren’t great. Inside the fest it’s similar. The demographic is mostly made up of college kids from nearby places like Portland, Univ. of Oregon and other spots close by. The younger vibe of the festival isn’t bad but there are definitely kids that are there more so to get fucked up than enjoy the music and everything the festival has to offer.
Bottle Rock, May 28 to 30, Napa, California
Location: *** ½
Headliners: *** ½
This is a festival that caters to the big money rather than the general admission. This is also a festival that caters mostly to families rather than people trying to go and get rowdy. Their platinum VIP is unlike any experience I’ve gotten at a festival. They have high-level chefs serving food every other hour and also a dope free wine and booze selection inside the lounge. You can also get backstage access where they let you watch the show from sidestage in rotations of 10 minutes at a time. The food aspect is also a bigger part of this festival than most others with live cooking happening in between the stages at any given time. Watching Snoop Dogg roll up some sushi like it was a blunt was a pretty funny thing.
The headliners this year are Stevie Wonder, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Florence + The Machine. Stevie is a great get for any festival, even though he’s made himself more available in recent years. The Chili Peppers haven’t put anything new out in years but are working on a new album. Maybe they’ll preview some of it here. And Florence is here because she’s everywhere. The undercard isn’t as deep here as at other festivals but they do have acts like Death Cab for Cutie, GROUPLOVE, Gogol Bordello, and the Joy Formidable booked, along with many others.
The vibe is very subdued. I was disappointed in how few people were into Courtney Barnett’s set last year even though she set the stage on fire. It’s mostly young kids and much, much older adults. It’s weird, but it fits the setting. Napa is known for being upper class and the demographic lives up to it. That said, the facilities here are better than at most festivals. The weather can be weird. Last year, it was super hot early in the day and then got so cold at night you needed to really layer up. This is a very local festival, not many people coming from anywhere but the west coast. But the organizers are doing a good job with things and are just catering to a different audience than most others.
Governors Ball, June 3 to 5, Randall’s Island, New York
Undercard: *** ½
This year’s headliners are very enticing with Kanye West and The Strokes two of the three, and The Killers rounding things out. The next lineup has Beck and Robyn, and those two are headliners at second-tier fests. De La Soul, Miguel, Catfish & the Bottlemen, Elle King, Torres, Bully and Black Pistol Fire are some of their better gets on the undercard that you don’t see on every other lineup.
The location is a pain in the ass to get to by most accounts and the festival has a very commercial feel. It will be interesting to see if Panorama can give it a run for its money in the same location.
Bonnaroo, June 9 to 12, Manchester, Tennessee
Facilities: ** ½
The price for Bonnaroo went up this year, but if it actually improves the site the way that they said, it will be money well spent. There are supposed to be permanent bathrooms and a better water setup than in years’ past, and those were two of the big drawbacks. But this is a festival known more for its vibe, a sort-of anti-Coachella despite a similarity in size as people preach “radiating positivity” and high-fives are traded like baseball cards used to be.
Pearl Jam, Dead & Co. and the everywhere LCD Soundsystem top the bill. The first two are very good gets. J. Cole is on the bill and Tame Impala is billed as being a late-night set, which is amazing and could be one of the best festival sets of the year. One of the things special about Bonnaroo is its Superjam, where artists from all different avenues join together and do a set. It’s always a major surprise. As far as the undercard, what other festival can say they have Mavis Staples, Lamb of God and Band of Horses all on one bill? None of them.
It is hot as balls at Bonnaroo with little to no shade. But you go for the experience and – like Coachella – people come from all over the world and it is a fest that retains a lot of people from year to year. You’ll meet dozens of people that are celebrating their third, fifth, 10th Bonnaroo and it is amazing because this is how deep connections are built. People really do bring nothing but positivity for the most part and it’s a very easy festival to make friends at. It’s the kind of fest I recommend doing at least once in your life.
Firefly, June 16 to 19, Dover, Delaware
Undercard: *** ½
We can only discuss the lineup part of this festival but it’s pretty solid and worth a trek if you’re from the surrounding area. Mainstream rock acts Mumford & Sons, Kings of Leon and Florence + The Machine headline, along with Deadmau5. Not a lot of creativity in those bookings, but it should draw well. The undercard has some pretty good standouts: Tame Impala, Earth, Wind & Fire; Ludacris, Porter Robinson, Flogging Molly and The Wombats are a couple standout bookings.
It’s a camping festival and the weather can be shit – last year they had to cancel a lot of the final day. Kings of Leon had their set rained out last year, which is why they are back.
This wraps up the Spring American Music Festival Guide. How many will you cross off your list in 2016?
Words: Mark Ortega