Get us in your inbox


The best regional music festivals for a road trip

Written by
Brent DiCrescenzo

Underwhelmed by the lineups of Chicago summer music festivals? Merely itching to hop in a car and drive to Iowa for a weekend getaway? Other cities in the Midwest are putting up a fight with our heavyweights like Lollapalooza and Pitchfork. In fact, a lot of acts we expected to see at Lolla popped up elsewhere—you'll have to fuel up to go see the Black Keys, Mumford & Sons, Passion Pit and Brandon Flowers. Well, as far as we know. They could still end up at North Coast or Riot Fest, which will announce within the next month. Regardless of whether those musicians are playing in Chicago, some of these festivals are just cool, set in beautiful urban and rural settings. We like that many of them last only two days, as well. 

Here are the top regional festivals of summer 2015, in order of distance.

Summer Camp Music Festival May 22–24 – Chillicothe, Illinois
Drive: 2.25 hours
Headliners: Moe., Umphrey's McGee, Steve Miller Band, Widespread Panic
Pygmalion Festival in Champaign is our favorite Downstate destination, but that late September fest has yet to announce. In the meantime, guitar solo fans can get their fill of the Land of Lincoln at this jam band summit. Quite a stink has been made about dubstep-pop act Krewella appearing on the bill, but rest assured, Hacky Sackers, it's the expected slate of Phish-alikes.

Electric Forest June 25–28 – Rothbury, Michigan
Drive: 3.3 hours
Headliners: String Cheese Incident, Bassnectar, Kaskade, Skrillex, Flume
Essentially Burning Man on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan, this happy-vibes psychedelic festival blends jam and dance a la our North Coast, but with a lot more trees and steampunk cosplay.

Forecastle July 17–19 – Louisville, Kentucky 
Drive: 4.5 hours
Headliners: My Morning Jacket, Sam Smith, Widespread Panic, Modest Mouse, Cage the Elephant, Tweedy
Louisville's premiere music festival is set in a downtown waterfront park on the banks of the Ohio River. Naturally, local boys My Morning Jacket are there, but we admire the one-for-all mix of indie, jam, hip-hop and electronic. Few others book RL Grime, Big K.R.I.T., Alvvays and John Medeski.

Mo Pop July 25, 26 – Detroit, Michigan
Drive: 4.25 hours
Headliners: Modest Mouse, Passion Pit, Iron & Wine, Brandon Flowers, Chromeo
Oh, so that's where all those people we predicted for Lolla went. Another downtown festival on the banks of a river, this great little underdog also delivers local craft beer and food trucks. Our top choice, if we have to go to just one.

Movement May 23–25 – Detroit, Michigan
Drive: 4.25 hours
Headliners: Hudson Mohawk, Squarepusher, Classixx, Dog Blood
Well, this iconic electronic music convention in the birthplace of techno has no true headliners, per se. It's just a boatload of killer DJs and producers. If you consider yourself a fan of dance music, you have to hit this Motown classic at least once.

Bunbury Music Festival June 5–7 – Cincinnati, Ohio
Drive: 4.5 hours
Headliners: The Black Keys, The Avett Brothers, Snoop Dogg, Tame Impala, The Decemberists
A somewhat generic hodgepodge also sits on the Ohio River, farther upstream. There's a little dash of country and a spike of hard rock here, with acts like Kacey Musgraves and Royal Blood.

Eaux Claires July 17, 18 – Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Drive: 5 hours
Headliners: Bon Iver, The National, Sufjan Stevens, Indigo Girls, Low, Sylvan Esso
Justin Vernon is such a homer, and we love that. He's proud to be from Eau Claire and delivers the western Wisconsin city its greatest music event ever. There's a refreshing focus on the region, with tons of bands from the nearby Twin Cities. Of course, the big draw is Vernon's own Bon Iver, a rare presence these days.

80/35 July 10, 11 – Des Moines, Iowa
Drive: 5 hours
Headliners: Weezer, Wilco, Jenny Lewis, Run the Jewels
This small festival in Iowa's biggest city nabbed some large fish for the top of its bill. A great way to catch these acts in a less claustrophobic setting, in the downtown Western Gateway Park.

Gentlemen of the Road: Waverly Stopover June 19, 20 – Waverly, Iowa
Drive: 5 hours
Headliners: My Morning Jacket, Mumford & Sons, The Flaming Lips, Jenny Lewis, Trampled by Turtles, Built to Spill
Mumford & Sons are taking their own show on the road. The small town of Waverly, in the northern part of the state, is going to swell with a lineup like this, a slate of the cooler end of the jammy spectrum. And, well, Mumford.

Nelsonville Music Festival May 28–31 – Nelsonville, Ohio
Drive: 6 hours
Headliners: The Flaming Lips, St. Vincent, Merle Haggard
Tucked in the Hocking Hills, this come-together has a cozy feel and a rare mix of indie rock and folk. Some performers play unplugged sets in a cabin. Where else can you see St. Vincent alongside Merle Haggard?

Latest news