It’s that time of year, the time when some of the world’s most celebrated musicians — and the fans who want to celebrate them — are shedding their winter coats and preparing for the mega music festivals that will crisscross the country from March to September.
This year’s festival season is on, with organizers finding that the best way to sell out tickets is to offer a wide range of music, from Afropop to Zydeco, to inspire tapping feet from kids and grandparents alike.
Some of these music festivals are only a few years old; some have been around since the 1950s. They present a wide range of music to suit the ever-expanding tastes of American festival goers. From the deserts of California to the Eastern shore, here are eight of the most popular festivals, and what you need to know before you head out.
What: South by Southwest Music and Media Conference (SXSW)
Where: At more than 100 venues in downtown Austin, Texas
When: Now through March 20, 2016
Ticket prices: A $235 wristband guarantees no-cover access to all venues; check the website for more details.
Who: Headliners include Iggy Pop, Eliot Sumner (daughter of Sting), Jake Bugg, Erykah Badu, Loretta Lynn and Bloc Party, along with 2,000 acts, “from the unsigned to the iconic,” from 60 countries around the world.
What to expect: A towering Babel of music, from Bluegrass to Zimbabwe rap. If your clones’ clones cloned themselves, they wouldn’t be able to hear it all. SXSW demands strategy. Do your homework. Read up. Use Google Maps. Austin can be nice in the spring, but bring comfortable shoes because you are going to be walking and dancing. And drinking. And schmoozing.
A brief history: Founded in 1987 as a local music festival, SXSW branched into film and interactive in 1994, and SXSW is more about technology now, with a lot of music on the side from all around the world. In 1987, SXSW had 700 registrants. For 2016, the conference participant count was 28,000. What was local music is now international tech — with music.
What: Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival
Where: The Empire Polo Club, 125 miles southeast of Los Angeles
When: April 15-17 and April 22-24, Indio, California
Ticket prices: General admission pass: $399, but check the website.
Who: For 2016, Coachella headlines the much-anticipated reunion of original Guns N’ Roses members Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan, along with a reunion of LCD Soundsystem, and name acts including Calvin Harris, Ice Cube, Sia, Death Grips, Ellie Goulding, Disclosure, Sufjan Stevens and M83.
What to expect: It’s like James Brown said: “Gonna make you sweat!” Sweat from the heat, sweat from all the sexy, barely clad bodies, sweat from the variety and the intensity of the music. Coachella is the place to be when the wildflowers are blooming. The event draws hipsters and celebrities — and they aren’t all on stage. Don’t be surprised if the Katy Perry or Selena Gomez lookalike dancing next to you is Katy Perry or Selena Gomez. Temperatures range from 46 to 106, so dress for heat, cold, sand and wind. Think Lawrence of Arabia – sunscreen, bandanas, goggles and lots of water. Stay hydrated!
A brief history: In 1993, Pearl Jam drew 25,000 people to the Empire Polo Club as a show of resistance against Ticketmaster venues. Coachella grew from there into the most successful music festival in America, featuring everyone from AC/DC to Jay-Z. The 2015 festival sold 198,000 tickets and grossed $84.3 million, both world records.
What: Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival
Where: Great Stage Park, Manchester, Tennessee
When: June 9 – 12, 2016
Ticket prices: Somewhere in the neighborhood of $300; check the website.
Who: Pearl Jam will be headlining Bonnaroo 2016, backed up by Dead and Company, Ellie Goulding, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, Tame Impala and about four dozen other acts you may or may not have heard of, and may or may not hear of in the future.
What to expect: Bonnaroo is a Creole slang term that means “a really good time” and since 2002, this festival has lived up to that. You’re in the South, there is music, it’s hot, there is camping and there is booze. Do the math.
A brief history: Bonnaroo was inspired by the classic art/rock concerts of the late 1960s and early 1970s, such as Monterey and Woodstock, but also by modern festivals at Coachella and Glastonbury. The acts that have played Bonnaroo over the years reflect that combination of old and new: Arctic Monkeys, Elton John, Nine Inch Nails, Paul McCartney, Tool, The Beach Boys, Kanye West, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, Pearl Jam, Tom Petty, The Allman Brothers Band, James Brown, Willie Nelson, Jay Z, Bob Dylan, Buffalo Springfield, The Police, Jack Johnson, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bruce Springsteen, Beastie Boys, Kings of Leon, The Decemberists, ZZ Top and Billy Joel.
BottleRock Napa Valley
What: BottleRock Napa Valley
Where: Napa Valley Expo in downtown Napa
When: May 27-29, 2016
Ticket prices: $129.00, but check the website.
Who: Headliners for 2016 on four stages include Stevie Wonder, Florence and the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Lumineers, Death Cab for Cutie, Lenny Kravitz, Buddy Guy and a couple dozen other artists and bands.
What to expect: This is wine country, so expect to drink wine. Really good wine.
A brief history: The first BottleRock was a five-day music festival that took place in 2013 and featured 60 bands on three stages, including Jackson Browne, Train, The Black Crowes, Zac Brown Band, The Shins, Primus, Joan Jett, Cake, Jane’s Addiction, The Flaming Lips, Kings of Leon, The Black Keys, Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite. Claim of unpaid debts from the first event caused a bit of a scandal, but new promoters have taken over, and the event is thriving.
What: Burning Man
Where: Black Rock Desert, Black Rock, Nevada
When: The last Sunday in August to the first Monday in September. For 2016, that is Aug. 28 to Sept. 5.
Ticket prices: Seems to be $390 for the whole shebang, and they sell 25,000 of them, but check the website.
Who: Writing for Spin.com, David Sikorski explained: “The organizers behind Burning Man deny any affiliations of being a ‘music festival,’ but, for all intents and purposes, this is the wildest music festival in the world. The denial of their identity as a music festival lets Burning Man rely heavily on crowdsourcing the 24-hour, over-the-top productions, visuals, DJ booths, sound equipment, and world-class music performances to ticket holders.” EDM is the predominant music at Burning Man, but you will find just about everything as you wander about. You might find yourself in the Black Rock Roller Disco, Pink Mammoth, Jazz Cafe or the Soul Train — and give your ears a rest from the DJs and EDM.
What to expect: The greatest desert gathering since Moses and his crew. Burning Man brings together high and low tech, rich and poor, freaks and philanthropists, hippies and heiresses in a hot, sandy orgy of creativity, art, music, fashion, sex and welding. Impossible to sum up Burning Man in less than book form.
A brief history: What began as a semi-pagan summer solstice burning of a nine-foot wooden man figure in 1987 on Baker Beach in San Francisco by Larry Harvey and his friends has morphed into a uber-pagan late-summer arts orgy — very far from Baker Beach and the Pacific Ocean. The man who burns now is 40-feet tall and Burning Man is also big in every way: Big attendance, big money, big reputation, big resonations. When they did that first burn in 1987, 20 people came running up the beach. At 2014’s festival, there were 65,922 burners.
Newport Folk Festival
What: The Newport Folk Festival
Where: Fort Adams, Newport, Rhode Island
When: July 22-24, 2016
Ticket prices: Sold out for 2016. Check re-sale ticket sites.
Who: Flight of the Conchords (!), Norah Jones, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Ray Lamontagne and Father John Misty are the top-billed acts for the 2016 festival, along with a couple dozen others.
What to expect: Hipsters and history. Fresh air. Ocean views. The Newport Folk Festival is where Bob Dylan went electric, a fundamental detour in modern music. This is an open festival that encourages music and drinking, and discourages smoking and selfies and drones. It’s outside in the sun, there are four stages, and it’s a good vibe all the way around.
A brief history: What began in 1959 as an alternative to the Newport Jazz Festival has a long history of introducing legendary acts such as Joan Baez and Dylan. The festival ran from 1959 to 1971, then went on a long hiatus, and has run continuously from 1985 to now. It has been for-profit, non-profit, acoustic, electric. It has been many things and seen a long line of legendary acts on its stages.
Vans Warped Tour
What: The Vans Warped Tour
Where: Forty-five cities across the USA
When: Begins June 22 in Anchorage, Alaska, and ends Aug. 13, 2016 in Portland, Oregon
Ticket prices: Generally between $25 to $45
Who: The lineup for the 2016 Vans Warped Tour will be announced March 22.
What to expect: Youth. Music. Energy. Tattoos. Funny hair. Flesh. Dancing. Music lessons. Music education. Skateboarding. The Vans Warped Tour moves through a lot of venues in a couple of months, and every show has a distinct flavor. Almost all venues are outdoors, in the bright sunshine.
A brief history: Kevin Lyman started the Warped Tour in 1995 as an alternative rock festival. Vans Shoes signed on as a sponsor in 1996 and in the last 20 years, the Vans Warped Tour has morphed into the longest-running touring music festival in North America. Along the way, the Vans Warped Tour has adopted punk, hip hop and other musical styles. For better or worse, the Vans Warped Tour has launched the careers of Blink-182, My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, Cash Cash, MGK, Katy Perry and Yelawolf. In 1999, the Black Eyed Peas were the first non-punk band to play the Warped Tour.
New Orleans Jazz Fest
What: New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
Where: Fair Grounds Race Course, centrally located at 1751 Gentilly Boulevard, 10 minutes from the French Quarter. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
When: April 22 – May 1, 2016
Ticket prices: Advance single-day tickets are $65 from Feb. 3 through April 21. Tickets at the gate are $75.
Who: Headliners include no less than Stevie Wonder, Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Neil Young, Steely Dan, Michael McDonald, Buckwheat Zydeco, Van Morrison, Maxwell, Boz Scaggs, Nick Jonas, Herbie Hancock & Wayne Shorter Duo, Julio Iglesias, Jonny Lang, Better Than Ezra, Elle King, Elvis Costello & The Imposters, Paul Simon, My Morning Jacket, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Elvin Bishop, Los Lobos, Snoop Dogg, Beck, Buddy Guy, Neil Young and Promise of the Real, Bonnie Raitt, Arlo Guthrie for Alice’s Restaurant 50th Anniversary, Mavis Staples, The Isley Brothers featuring Ronald and Ernie lsley, Aaron Neville. All that and another 200 artists and bands, most of them playing zydeco and the music of Louisiana and the South.
What to expect: Music, music, music. Good times rolling. New Orleans hospitality and revelry. Arts, crafts, crawfish, parades. “No carnival food” is the official policy, and the 70 food vendors are carefully screened for quality. Truth is, the food is as epic as the music.
A brief history: Founded in 1970 by the New Orleans Hotel Motel Association, the first Jazz Fest in Congo Square cost $3 for admission and drew about 350 people. Acts included The Preservation Hall Band, Duke Ellington, Pete Fountain, Al Hirt, Clifton Chenier and Fats Domino. But the Jazz Fest grew from there. In 2001, Louis Armstrong’s centennial drew 650,000 people. The posters for the festival are coveted by investors.