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The best music festivals in the U.S.

Get sweaty (and muddy) with the kings and queens of country, EDM, rock and pop at the best music festivals in the U.S.

Photograph: Courtesy Bennett Sell-Kline

No matter your particular musical poison there is a music festival somewhere in America for you. Love bluegrass? You’re spending a fall weekend in San Francisco. Jazz fiend? It’s NOLA in spring. Into the big-name acts behind some of the best new songs out right now—and the mega crowds go along with it? Then get set to get sweaty in Coachella. Or Lolla. Or Governors Ball. Or many, many others. (And make a vacation of it—getting to some of these venues can be some of the best road trips you’ll take.) As the number of festivals on offer expands, so too do their lists of offerings. It’s no longer enough to have Kanye headline—festivalgoers now expect top comedy, food and craft beer with their big-name headliners. Here are the festivals who are killing it on all fronts right now: the best music festivals in the U.S. in chronological order.

Best music festivals in the U.S.

1

Ultra Music Festival

Mar 18–20, Bayfront Park, Miami, FL

Since 1999, Ultra Music Festival has grown from a handful of stoned, drum’n’bass-loving, hippie slackers standing barefoot in the sands of South Beach to bringing in something like 150,000 tweekers and candy ravers from around to world to Bayfront Park in Downtown Miami. This year mixed Ultra’s usual massive name DJs like Afrojack, Avicii and Carl Cox with newer stars like Purity Ring and Knife Party. Ultra has spread its bass-busting beats all over the world from Ibiza to Seoul, Korea, and just recently announced an expansion to Rio de Janeiro.

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2
Big Ears

Big Ears

Mar 31–Apr 2, Knoxville, TN

Named for the open-minded approach to listening it asks attendees to have, Big Ears regularly hosts marquee contemporary classical music performances along with adventurous indie-rock, jazz, metal and electronic music. To list genres is almost anti-thetical to the spirit of the festival, which recognizes no such distinction in its omnivorous bookings. For three 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 2015 edition included works by composer-in-residence John Luther Adams and sets by avant-jazz titan Anthony Braxton, indie-rock icons Yo La Tengo and folk singer Angel Olsen.

Photograph: Courtesy Big Ears/Andrew Gresham

3
Old Settler’s Music Festival

Old Settler’s Music Festival

Apr 14–17, Driftwood, TX

This four-day celebration of roots and Americana has grown to become one of the best camping music fests in Texas, if not the country. The downhome feel of Old Settler’s makes it an attractive destination for music fans, and don’t be surprised if you see some major artists jamming with fans in the campgrounds when the day is over. This year’s lineup includes folk favorites the Wood Brothers, L.A.’s Dawes and indie-folk duo the Milk Carton Kids.

Photograph: Courtesy Old Settler’s/John Grubbs

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4

Coachella

Apr 1517, 2224, Empire Polo Club, Indio, CA

Nearly 99,000 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. Coachella’s all-embracing three-day lineup consistently crafts the pool of performers from which all other summer music festivals borrow. Even in the face of an increasingly predictable pattern—the nostalgic critical bait (this year, Lush), the dug-up dinosaurs (Guns N’ Roses) and the high-profile reunion (LCD Soundsystem)—it’s hard to argue with a fest that finds room for Sia, Sufjan Stevens and Ice Cube atop its bill.

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By: Michael Juliano
5
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

Apr 22May 1, Fair Grounds Race Course, New Orleans, LA

One of the country’s longest-running music festivals, held annually since 1970, Jazz Fest is also one of the biggest. Nearly half a million people showed up last year to take in a massive bill of jazz, blues, rock and roots music, and while most festivals are content to book the same handful of reunited alt-rock bands making the rounds, Jazz Fest boasts hall of fame caliber names like Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Steely Dan and the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Photograph: Courtesy New Orleans CVB/Jay Combe

6
Levitation

Levitation

Apr 29May 1, Carson Creek Ranch, Austin, TX

Formerly known as Austin Psych Fest, Levitation has become one of the key components of the Austin festival scene. Curated by Austin’s the Reverberation Appreciation Society, Levitation celebrates 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 finds Beach Boy Brian Wilson performing Pet Sounds in its entirety, plus a set from the newly reunited Ween.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/John Lebkowsky

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7

Stagecoach

Apr 29May 1, Empire Polo Club, Indio, CA

America’s largest county music fest comes on the heels of Coachella, thrown in the same venue by the same production company just two weeks later and recycling its stages, structure and staff. But at Stagecoach, the vibe is more relaxed, the crowds are smaller and you can drink beer at the stages (yeehaw!). The festival caters to a surprisingly wide range of folks and books some pretty incredible talent: 2016 will see classic acts like Emmylou Harris and the Doobie Brothers as well as modern home-run headliners Carrie Underwood and Luke Bryan. The quality of live music at this fest is high, and almost everyone in attendance is actually there to see it (which, sadly, is pretty rare and pretty refreshing these days at music festivals).

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By: Kate Wertheimer
8
FORM Arcosanti

FORM Arcosanti

May 1315, Arcosanti, AZ

When the electropop group Hundred Waters decided to launch their own festival they looked to the cookie-cutter fests they’d spent years playing as inspiration for what not to do. FORM Arcosanti brings together acts that have influenced the band, from Skrillex to postrock veterans Tortoise to funk bassist Thundercat, to play at an experimental “urban laboratory” in central Arizona surrounded by surreal, retro-futurist architecture. And instead of charging money, they have potential attendees submit applications for free admission.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Cody Raskin

9
Moogfest

Moogfest

May 1922, Durham, NC

The late engineer and inventor Bob Moog did more than any other single person to put electronic synthesizers into artists’ hands and listeners’ ears, and in the process he helped to reshape the entire language of modern music. Held near the headquarters of the instrument company that still bears his name, this annual tribute to his legacy shows off the range of uses people have come up with for his instruments, from the crowd-pleasing (Grimes, GZA, Gary Numan) to the more challengingly experimental (Sunn O))), Oneohtrix Point Never).

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Gina Collecchia

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10
Hangout Music Festival

Hangout Music Festival

May 2022, Gulf Shores, AL

One of the more unlikely success stories in the festival business, this festival 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.

Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Megan Morris

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Comments

2 comments
Kimberly C
Kimberly C

Man - no Pickathon or Treefort? Y'all need to get out more. 

Zoe M
Zoe M

I think you forgot about Summerfest in Milwaukee.