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Your guide to best music festivals in the U.S.

Get sweaty (and muddy) at the biggest, best music festivals in the USA

By Andrew Frisicano and Time Out editors |
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No matter your particular musical poison there is a music festival somewhere in America for you. Love reunited punk band? You’re spending a fall weekend in Chicago. 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 that are killing it on all fronts right now: the best music festivals in the U.S. in chronological order.

Best U.S. Music Festivals

Governors Ball 2017
Photograph: Lauren Spinelli

Governors Ball

June 3–5, Randalls Island Park, New York, NY

Governors Ball occupies a unique place among summer concerts in NYC. Central Park Summer Stage blankets all five boroughs with a mix of well-curated niche acts; Celebrate Brooklyn! carries out a similarly eclectic mission from its Prospect Park home base. Gov Ball, on the other hand, has been the city’s only bona fide big-tent pop fest for a while now (though that looks to change in 2016). The annual Randalls Island event is 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 Kanye West, the Strokes, Beck and the Killers headlining the three-day fest.

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Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival - 6/12/14
Photograph: Courtesy Bonnaroo/Tom Tomkinson

Bonnaroo

June 710, Great Stage Park, Manchester, TN

Long-running Bonnaroo has a reputation as the funkiest of the modern major music festivals, from its backwoods Tennessee location to its hedonistic on-site camping and slightly hippie-fied lineups (and signature all-star "superjam"). This year’s lineup has some decidedly non-jammy acts in the headlining slots—Eminem, The Killers and Muse—but the vibe will be dancey overall, with disco (Nile Rodgers & Chic, Chromeo), trendy tropical pop (Dua Lipa, Sylvan Esso) and dubstep (Bassnectar) well represented.

Photograph: Courtesy Bonnaroo/Tom Tomkinson

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2017, Neal O'Bryan
Photograph: Neal O'Bryan

Pitchfork Music Festival

July 20–22, Union Park, 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. 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 Vince Staples and Angel Olsen last year), but you’ll usually find a legacy act or two (A Tribe Called Question, LCD Soundsystem and George Clinton all visited in 2017) in a headlining slot.

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Newport Folk Festival
Photograph: Virginia Rollison

Newport Folk Festival

July 2729, Fort Adams State Park, 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 acts.

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Lollapalooza 2017
Photograph: Neal O'Bryan

Lollapalooza

August 2–5, Grand Park, 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 pop divas to premiere EDM DJs and everything in-between.

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Outside Lands 2015, day 1
Photograph: Kate Wertheimer

Outside Lands

August 11–13, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA

In the few short 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-themed mini golf course). To give you an idea of the eclectic billing, acts as varied as Gorillaz, Metallica and The Who rocked the eucalyptus from four stages in 2017. Do not forget to wear layers, and prepare to get dusty. The bands rock, the fog rolls and it’s a long and awesome weekend.

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Photograph: Hannah Mattix

Eaux Claires

July 6, 7, Foster Farms, Eau Claire, WI

A lot of the mythology surrounding Grammy-winning indie singer-songwriter Justin Vernon (a.k.a. Bon Iver) centers around the fact that he recorded his first album in a cabin in rural Wisconsin, so booking his own festival with the National’s Aaron Dessner outside tiny Eau Claire is right on brand. Vernon’s also got a reputation as a sad sack, but the presence of poppy sing-along-able acts on the lineup (2017 sported Paul Simon and Chance the Rapper) suggests that he might secretly know how to have fun.

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riot fest 2017
Photograph: Neal O'Bryan

Riot Fest

September 14–16, Douglas Park, 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.

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Vince Staples performed on day two of Austin City Limits Music Festival 2015.
Photograph: Zach Long

Austin City Limits

October 5–7, 12–14, Zilker Park, Austin, TX

ACL takes place over two weekends and you can 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. Last year alone the talent ran the gamut from rap hero Jay-Z to British rock duo Royal Blood and dreamy pop crew the xx. The lineup for 2018 is yet to be announced, but expect it to be headline-grabbingly huge.

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See the best music festivals across America

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Best music festivals in Florida this spring: Ultra Music Festival
Photograph: Courtesy Ultra
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Florida spring music festivals

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Austin City Limits
Photograph: Courtesy Austin CVB/Andy Forde
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Texas summer music festivals

Our guide to the best spring and summer music festivals in Texas, kicking off with SXSW and closing with ACL
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