20 years ago, Americans thought music festivals were something that would swing into town on a nationwide tour, the same bill in every city that it played in. Or, it was something their parents did in the ’60s. But how times have changed, with events taking a cue from European models, using the last couple decades to establish cultural events with their own identities.
So what makes a festival good? A great lineup is a big factor, as there are only a few events in which that takes a back seat to the lifestyle and communal aspects — something like Lightning In A Bottle or even Burning Man — but there is also so much else to be taken into account. Location is key, as the environment of a music festival is a huge element in its lasting effect and marketability. Art installations, food, beer, wine, and activities are are all factors that make or break some fests. The following are the 20 best festivals in the world that stand out when compared to the field, with a bit of an emphasis placed on the US, since that’s where we call home.
There’s a reason that Outside Lands sells out so quickly every year, and its stellar music lineup is only part of it. Set in San Francisco’s scenic Golden Gate Park, the event draws in locals from all over the Bay, with more seasoned festival goers able to enjoy the fest’s commitment to legacy acts along with things like Winelands, Beerlands, a comedy tent called The Barbary, Chocolands, and some of the best cuisine at any music festival.
For younger fans, though, it’s more about the music, with this year’s bill featuring top-tier acts like The Weeknd, Future, Odesza, and Bon Iver. After years of being criticized for a lack of female headliners, OSL came through this year as well, with Janet Jackson and Florence + The Machine booked. More information can be found here.
No festival in the world is quite as symbolic as Indio, California’s Coachella. Part of it comes with how the even leads off the festival season in the US, often times providing the first taste of what fans in other markets have to look forward to. Part of it is just the scene that it has created, with the fashionable and the beautiful flocking to the desert paradise that has become a rite of passage for many of the area’s youth. And a big part of it is in the execution. You’ll see quite a few Goldenvoice fests on this list, and they know how to throw an event better than anyone else. Coachella is stunning to look at, including massive art displays, colorfully lit palm trees, and gorgeous natural surroundings. From its installations to its “Best of LA” cuisine, all elements are accounted for.
What makes this year special? Beyonce, for one, in what promises to be a one-off for the ages to makes up for her having to cancel last year due to pregnancy. Eminem and The Weeknd are also launching their tours that will see them headline fests around the worlds, while Migos, Cardi B, SZA, and St. Vincent are just a few of the names who everyone will be watching to see their new festival sets. More information can be found here.
All Points East
You won’t find many new events on this list, since it is hard to determine if it will function as well as it looks, but the docket for London’s All Points East make it undeniable. Beginning with a more traditional weekend festival that will include the likes of LCD Soundsystem, Bjork, Lorde, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and The xx, the event will shift for the next weekend, with more curated “Headline” shows with Catfish And The Bottlemen, The National, and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. For a fan of indie music, it plays like a history-spanning look at the genre, where you can see legends like Patti Smith along with upstarts like The War On Drugs.
Adding to the draw, between these two-weekend events will be what is called In The Neighborhood, where Victoria Park will be open for free to the public to enjoy nightly films, street food, activities, local music, and pop-up bars. The entire program feels like a landmark moment for London music festivals, and makes us desperate to take a trip across the pond. More information can be found here.
Maybe the most amazing aspect of Lollapalooza is its mutability. After making a name for itself in the ’90s as a traveling rock festival, it put its roots down permanently in Chicago to become one of the most successful American music festivals to date. It sells out yearly, turning the massive Grant Park footprint into a wonderland for music lovers. Perhaps no other fest has learned how to work as well with brands to help their festival’s efficiency, and if you are upgrading to VIP, the experience at Lolla is second to none. And with other editions in Germany and Latin America, the Lolla brand might be the strongest global presence in the festival world.
This year’s headliners are strong, including Bruno Mars, The Weeknd, and Arctic Monkeys, while Latin America got the liked of Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and The Killers. The biggest knock has been the lack of women near the top of the American bill, which is a fair thing to call the fest out for. But better than anyone else this year, Lolla’s American lineup reflects what is current and what is to come in music, including nabbing Vampire Weekend ahead of its much anticipated new album. More information can be found here.