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Coachella? Over. Jazzfest? Done. But summer festival season is just getting ramped up, which is why we asked new TPG Contributor Jeff Miller—editor of Thrillist LA and a veteran of just about every major US festival—to give his picks for the best music fests worth traveling to this summer and beyond.
If you’re going, you gotta make your plans, like, now—but it’s worth the rush. Fly into Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL) for the fest this weekend, which has one of the most critic-proof lineups out there. The Pixies, The Strokes, Wilco, and The Avett Brothers make up the topline, but there’s a ton of deep stuff here, too: the New Orleans jazz of Trombone Shorty, country chanteuse Nikki Lane, and a performance from Songs For Kids, the anything-can-happen music-in-hospitals non-profit. The need to get there early is preordained.
Rock In Rio
Las Vegas, Nevada
May 8-9 and 15-16
The legendary South American fest touches down in the US this week, and the lineup is, frankly, absurd: over the course of two weekends, they’re promising full sets from a slew of major rock and pop acts, including Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran, and No Doubt. A flight to McCarran (LAS) is easy from just about anywhere (on carriers that include Southwest, Delta, American, Frontier, Spirit, Allegiant and JetBlue), and after the music’s done… you’re still in Vegas.
Gulf Shores, Alabama
The lineup for this fest’s totally killer, with a topline of major acts that includes Foo Fighters, Sam Smith, and Zac Brown Band, but the real draw’s the location: the entire festival’s right on the white-sand beach on the Gulf, just 45 minutes from Pensacola International Airport (PNS), where major carriers include American, Delta and United. If you’ve got a deep wallet, know that Hangout is one of the few fests where doling out for VIP is worthwhile: the upgraded experience includes access to a swimming pool from which to watch the main stage.
Bonnaroo’s become a right-of-passage fest for most major music fans, as in some ways, it’s a real slog. After flying into Nashville (BNA) on either Delta, Southwest, American or United, you’ve got to travel 66 miles to the cozy hamlet of Manchester (which has finally become a bit more developed, thanks to the festival’s success), then camp for four usually-rainy days in a sea of humanity that takes the word “party” to the next level. The good news? It’s worth it. The music runs nearly 24 hours and the highlights are plenty, thanks to nightly one-off Superjams that in the past have seen Ben Harper blast his way through Zeppelin classics and Alabama Shakes’ singer Brittany Howard sing the Rolling Stones “Satisfaction” backed by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James and John Oates. (Yeah, him.)
If you plan to linger in Music City before or after, take a look at Destination of the Week: Nashville for tips on what to do and where to stay.
The two biggest UK festivals, Glastonbury and Reading, are considered the forebears of the festival trend in the US, and just a glance at this year’s roster reveals why. Like the US’s best fests, this is a deep, deep lineup, featuring everything from mainstream controversies like Kanye West to soul great Mavis Staples, as well as a host of EDM acts like Porter Robinson and The Chemical Brothers, with the added bonus of a Funkadelic touchdown from George Clinton. Fly into Heathrow (LHR) on your pick of major carriers (including Delta) and take a festival shuttle to Glastonbury for the weekend—before heading back and taking a week off in London. Perfect.
San Francisco, California
Ooutside Lands is one of the most accessible fests in the US: you’ve got a choice of three easy-access airports —SJC, OAK or SFO—and the festival itself is held right in the heart of Golden Gate Park, which means you can walk or take public transit from nearly anywhere in the city. Not only is the vibe NorCal mellow, but the music—which this year includes Elton John, Kendrick Lamar, and next-big-thing Leon Bridges—is over early, which means there’s plenty of time to also hit a dinner in the city, if you’re not full from the fantastic food offerings at the festival, which include local favorites like Flour & Water.
See Destination of the Week: San Francisco to investigate what to do and where to stay in the rest of the City by the Bay.
Austin City Limits
October 2-4 and 9-11
Every year, it’s a safe bet that ACL’s going to be worth going to: as the sweep-up at the end of the US concert season, they’ve got access to the best acts on the road all summer without the gotcha-beat tone that ends up being set at the beginning of the summer. This year, they’ve rounded up Foo Fighters, The Strokes, and Drake—the latter of whom bombed at Coachella…which means more time for BBQ! Of course, you’re also in Austin, which means late-night shows are always killer—in the past, Arcade Fire, Beck, and many more have popped up at small clubs in the city when they’re done playing the main stage in the park.
Obviously, Reykjavík is already an out-there destination with an otherworldly vibe, but this festival—which takes place across multiple venues for nearly 24 hours a day through its run—has become a bragging-rights showstopper for anyone willing to make the trek. This year, though, they’re playing their trump card: Bjork. Headlining in her native Iceland. Yeah.
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