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Photograph: Courtesy CoachellaJamie Foxx

The best music festivals in the US

Fests are officially back on! Get sweaty at the biggest and best music festivals in the USA.

Written by
Jen Woo
Contributor
Andrew Frisicano
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The live music industry makes its long-awaited comeback in 2021 with a series of major music festivals across the US that look and feel just like they did in 2019 (aka pre-Covid). Starting this summer, your favorite artists will return to large stages in Austin, New Orleans, Indio and more, alongside fun event activations, comedy tents, massive art installations and even spa services (seriously).

This year, fall and winter are the new summer with more fests taking place over Labor Day and Halloween weekends. Still, there’s no compromising when it comes to the music. Whether you've been longing for bass-thumping EDM and the chance to dress up in costume, soulful jazz ensembles and some of the best Southern food around, or big name headliners behind some of the best pop songs ever written — fests are back and ready to get you dancing in 2021. Here are the best festivals in the US over the next year, in chronological order. May they inspire the music-filled weekend of your dreams. 

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Best music festivals in the US

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When: August 28-29

Where: Columbus, OH

Founded in 2019 as a means to promote and raise funds for mental health initiatives at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, a share of revenue from this fest continues to help support the medical center’s programs. After skipping 2020, the festival returns for its second year this fall, with hitmakers including Kesha, Wilco, Grouplove, Black Pumas and AJR. The family-friendly event spanning 54 acres of outdoor space also includes a plethora of culinary options, a robust artisan village, and activities for children.

When: September 2-5

Where: Manchester, TN

Long-running Bonnaroo has a reputation as the funkiest of the modern major music festivals, from its backwoods Tennessee location and its hedonistic on-site camping to the slightly hippie-fied lineups and signature all-star 'superjam.' This year’s lineup has some decidedly non-jammy acts in the headlining slots—Foo Fighters, Lizzo, and Tyler the Creator—though it will be undeniably vibey with psychedelic rock (Tame Impala, My Morning Jacket), electro-pop (Glass Animals, Sylvan Esso, Big Wild), global psychedelia (Khruangbin), and neo soul (Brittany Howard) well represented.

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When: September 2-4, 9-11, 16-18

Where: Milwaukee, WI

When Summerfest revealed around 100 headliners in May, they were just getting started. Taking place over three consecutive weekends, the lineup features a whopping 800+ artists across 12 stages. Those who were anticipating the 2020 event can expect to see the majority of the same headliners this year, as well as a new comedy show headlined by Michael Winslow from Police Academy. The roster promises an eclectic range of genres and eras from Guns n’ Roses and Justin Bieber to Dave Matthews Band and Megan Thee Stallion, plus Twenty One Pilots and Blink 182. Wisconsin, too, will be represented with R&B artist Grace Weber, country musician Nora Collins, singer and rapper Klassik, and Beatles and Metallica mash-up band Beatallica.

When: September 3-5

Where: Napa, CA

It wouldn’t be a true Wine Country event without an abundance of vino, gourmet food, and a mid-fest massage (seriously). But BottleRock really sets itself apart by satiating both your flavor and sonic palettes – and the range of attractions don’t disappoint. Expect a celebrity culinary stage and an on-site spa, in addition to a lineup that combines time-honored classics (Stevie Nicks, Foo Fighters), with hip hop bangers (Digable Planets, Megan Thee Stallion, G-Eazy), soulful crooners (Jon Batiste, Black Pumas, Lawrence), and dreamy pop (Future Islands, Absofacto).

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When: September 3-5

Where: New York, NY

Get a little weird over Labor Day weekend. This year’s Electric Zoo presents a 'Supernaturals' theme, inviting “all cosmic creatures, astral aliens, intergalactic illusionists, supernatural wizards, shamans, witches, and extraterrestrial beings” to experience a spectrum of electronic music and its various sub genres. Electric Zoo has popped up in Mexico City, Tokyo, Shanghai and São Paulo, and this year's New York iteration boasts 100 artists including Alesso, Fisher, Tiesto, Duke Dumont, and Galantis. 

When: September 10-12

Where: Chicago, IL

The musical tastemakers of Pitchfork bring a painstakingly curated lineup of critically lauded indie rockers, hip-hop artists and forward-thinking musicians to Chicago’s Union Park each summer (though this year it's been pushed to fall). Since its inception in 2006, the festival has remained an ideal size, boasting reasonable crowds (about 20,000 people per day), three stages and plenty of room for lounging in the sun or shade. Trendy new-ish acts are the focus (such as Yaeji and Phoebe Bridgers, Georgia Anne Muldrow, and Kelly Lee Owens), but you’ll also find a legacy act or two (Erykah Badu, Cat Power, and Flying Lotus) in a headlining slot.

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When: September 17–19

Where: Chicago, IL

Forget about flower crowns and neon tank tops—Riot Fest is a place to show off your old high school jean jacket, plastered with patches and pins. Originally conceived as a punk-rock celebration, this three-day event has grown to welcome alternative rockers, hip-hop acts, electronic artists and more, with a focus on highly anticipated reunions (The Replacements, Jawbreaker and Misfits among them). You can also ride a Ferris wheel, eat funnel cake and see a sideshow – it’s kind of like a state fair with way better music. This year find headliners like The Smashing Pumpkins, Lupe Fiasco, NOFX, Run the Jewels, Nine Inch Nails, and the Pixies.

When: September 23-26

Where: Dover, DE

Nestled in the Woodlands of Dover, Delaware, this festival is an open-air, camping-friendly fest that presents 120 bands across seven stages as well as artisan boutiques, a silent disco, and fun, daily surprises like drag brunch and yoga. Campgrounds are set up along the stage with areas to recharge batteries between major headliners like Billie Eilish, Megan Thee Stallion, The Killers, Tame Impala, and Lizzo.

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When: September 24-26

Where: New York, NY

2021 marks the 10th anniversary of Governors Ball. What began as a few tents among abandoned buildings and military barracks is now a staple festival, occupying a unique place among summer concerts in NYC. This year, the annual Randalls Island festival is set in the fall and also moves to a new home. All stages will be nestled in the center of an astroturf-lined Citi Field, with a 360-degree layout to prevent sound bleed between stages and eliminate long walks for fest goers. It’s the one local fest where you can catch hip-hop chart-toppers, tastemaker-approved buzz bands, left-field pop heroes and, yes, dance-commanding EDM overlords. This year’s lineup is typically huge, with Billie Eilish, Post Malone, and A$AP Rocky headlining the three-day fest. Next year, the festival is set to return to its usual June date.

When: October 1–3, 8–10

Where: Austin, TX

ACL takes place over two weekends and it's easy to see why: Organizers need all the time in the world to stuff Zilker Park full of some of America’s biggest (and most eclectic) names. This year the talent runs the gamut from rap darling DaBaby to “King of Country” George Strait and dark pop queen Billie Eilish.

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When: October 22-24 

Where: Atlanta, GA

Rock enthusiasts flock to Atlanta’s Central Park to enjoy more than 60 bands across four stages, and they're greeted with a rather eclectic range of up-and -coming, trending, and world renowned musicians. This year presents Stevie Nicks, Run the Jewels, The Strokes, St. Vincent, Alice Cooper, Modest Mouse, and Phoebe Bridgers, alongside a deluge of food trucks ranging from southern BBQ to vegetarian-friendly corn dogs.

When: October 28-31

Where: Austin, TX

Formerly known as Austin Psych Fest, Levitation has become a big name on the Austin festival scene, celebrating the psychedelic sounds of the ’60s and the evolution of experimental rock. This weekend-long bacchanal is all about boundary-pushing and musical expression. This year welcomes psychedelic soul funk Chicano Batman, electronic neo-soul Thundercat, garage punk quartet Shannan and the Clams, and indie rock crooner Japanese Breakfast.

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When: October 29–31

Where: San Francisco, CA

In the years since its inaugural weekend back in 2008, Outside Lands has become a signature San Francisco event. Three days of dancing to dozens of bands and yucking it up with A-list comics are punctuated by drinking and dining experiences that put traditional festival food to shame (there is such a thing called 'Cheese Lands' here, as well as a 'Wine Lands' and Bubble Tea Party in a magical forest). To give you an idea of the eclectic billing, acts as varied as Tame Impala, Lizzo, Tyler the Creator, and Rufus du Sol play on the same stage. Do not forget to wear layers, and prepare to get dusty. The bands rock, the fog rolls in and it’s a long and awesome weekend.

When: March 11–20, 2022

Where: Austin, TX

The first SXSW was held in 1987 and since then the festival has grown both in terms of attendance—by some counts, 280,000 people attended the 10-day festival in 2019—and in terms of influence: SXSW is Austin’s biggest revenue-producing event and one of the most important gatherings on the nation's entertainment calendar. The event is broken down into SXSW Music (with 2,000-plus acts performing across the city); SXSW Film (with screenings of anticipated movies, panels and workshops); SXSW Comedy (a week of laugh-out-loud lineups inclulding established and emerging talent), and the increasingly popular SXSW Interactive, which features speakers, panels and a pitch competition, SXSW Accelerator.

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When: March 22–25, 2022

Where: Knoxville, TN

Named for the open-minded approach to listening it asks attendees to have, Big Ears regularly hosts contemporary classical music performances along with adventurous indie-rock, jazz, metal and electronic music. To list genres is almost antithetical to the spirit of the festival, which recognizes no such distinction in its omnivorous bookings. For four days, Big Ears transforms the city into a paradise for music of all kinds, taking over regal music halls, intimate clubs and hushed churches, all of which are centrally located and within walking distance. The 2022 lineup and ticketing information will be available in September or early October.

When: April 15-17, 22-24

Where: Indio, CA

More than 100,000 music lovers make a pilgrimage to the Empire Polo Club during each identical weekend of Coachella, whether bound for campgrounds or shuttling over from golf resorts and mid-century modern homes. Though its bespoke dining experiences and hotel party scene may try to steal headlines, Coachella remains about the relaxed desert air euphoria of a well-curated music festival. Those that purchased tickets for the canceled 2021 fest will automatically receive new wristbands for 2022. Rumors abound that previously confirmed 2020 artists like Rage Against the Machine, Travis Scott, Frank Ocean, Thom Yorke, Lana Del Rey, Calvin Harris, Run the Jewels, and FKA Twigs may fill the lineup next year. 

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When: May 20-22, 2022

Where: Gulf Shores, AL

One of the more unlikely success stories in the festival business, this fest right on the beach of the Gulf of Mexico had the bad luck to launch in the midst of 2010's Deepwater Horizon oil spill – but it hung in there and grew big enough to get bought up by the company that puts on Coachella. The Hangout lineup leans heavy on energetic indie, electronic and pop acts that fit the beach-party vibe.

When: October 28-30, 2022

Where: New Orleans, LA

Described as 'musical gumbo,' this festival brings together all that NOLA has to offer: music, art, and tasty eats over Halloween weekend. While the lineup is yet to be announced, previous years have hosted Kendrick Lamar, Foo Fighters, The Killers, and LCD Soundsystem. In addition to more than 65 bands over three days, food here takes precedence. Whether it’s at the Forked Up Food Court or the Feast Under the Stars the night before the event, some of the top chefs in town will be bringing the flavor. Think: shrimp po'boys and fried duck quesadillas with Tabasco. In between sets, take in some of the interactive and immersive installations, grab a brew at the beer hall, or partake in some retail therapy at the marketplace.

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When: 2022 dates TBA 

Where: Newport, RI

Best known as the place where Dylan went electric (before being cut off by angry folk traditionalists), Newport’s been showcasing the changing face of Americana for nearly half a century. While the lineup usually has a healthy dose of acts that reflect its history of traditionalism, it also features rockers, R&B singers and electronics-assisted performances. This year holds two three-day events with performances, storytelling, and workshops.

When: 2022 dates TBA 

Where: Chicago, IL

Founded as a touring festival by Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell in 1991, Lollapalooza has made Chicago its permanent home since 2005. The gargantuan event spans the entirety of Grant Park, subjecting more than 100,000 daily attendees to long walks between stages, porta-johns and beer tents. The reward for your sun-drenched slog? A veritable who’s-who of marquee festival acts, from hip hop to indie rock and everything in-between.

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When: 2022 dates TBA 

Where: Detroit, MI

Detroit’s Movement is the antithesis of the sprawling, sense-assualting EDM mega-raves like Electric Daisy Carnival that come to mind when you hear the phrase “electronic music festival.” Launched in 2000 as the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, and held downtown in the city that gave the world techno, the focus here is on music over spectacle, with a lineup that mixes pioneers with next-generation innovators.

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