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It’s festival season and there is plenty of music to be enjoyed all across the country.
For many music lovers, summertime is the best time of year. Why? Because music festivals are in full bloom! From neighborhood jam sessions to major events around the world, summertime is festival season. No matter your musical affinity, there is a festival out there for you. Folk fiends to metalheads all have a unique place in the realm of festivals.
Plus, the United States is home to many of the biggest and best music festivals in the world. So here are ten of the best ones you can find right here in the U.S. that you can add to your bucket list!
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Affectionately referred to as Lolla, Lollapalooza began in 1991 as part of a farewell tour for the band Jane’s Addiction. What began as a way to say goodbye to one band evolved into one of the biggest music festivals in the country before springing up all over the world as well. Lolla is a weekend-long summertime festival held in downtown Chicago since 2005. Hundreds of thousands of people (to the tune of 300,000 on average) will come together for this one weekend of musical glory.
Some of the most iconic headliners at Lolla have been Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against the Machine, Metallica, Lady Gaga, Daft Punk, and Florence & the Machine. Clearly, there is a range of musical genres here!
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Another iconic American music festival is Coachella. This desert-based festival comes to life each spring (rightfully so given its desert locale) with a huge variety of music. From EDM to pop, Coachella is a mashup of some of the biggest artists across numerous genres. First born in 1999 (before being canceled in 2000 and resurrected in 2001), Coachella has gone from being more affordable to being an expensive festival vacation. Even so, it’s commonplace now for the festival to sell out quickly and see hundreds of thousands of festival-goers over its two weekends.
Performers such as Ariana Grande, The Flaming Lips, Childish Gambino, and Snoop Dogg have performed at Coachella. And, thanks to social media, the festival has become a huge aesthetic goal.
Likened to the historic Woodstock, Bonnaroo is a festival with hippie roots. Don’t let that fool you though, this isn’t a folksy kind of event. Although you’re more likely to hear from bands like Phish or The Grateful Dead here than at other fests, you’ll also see Chance the Rapper and Jay Z too. Even Lizzo was supposed to headline in 2020 and 2021–except both fests were canceled. Bonnaroo might be smaller in size (with less than 100,000 goers during the weekend) than Lolla and Coachella, but it continues to be a favorite since it began in 2002.
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Not to be confused with Austin City Limits the tv music series, ACL is a huge festival not just in the south, but in the country as a whole. This two weekend-long festival draws just under half a million visitors each year to Austin in the autumn. Unlike some of the other festivals listed here, however, ACL also incorporates other elements into its event as well. For example, the ACL Art Market and Austin Eats help bolster the event’s attendance beyond concert aficionados. Some of the major headliners from ACL have been Guns N’ Roses, Foo Fighters, Muse, Paul McCartney, and Billie Eilish.
Not to be outdone by Lollapalooza, Chicago is also home to another major festival: Pitchfork Music Festival. Launched in 2006, Pitchfork gives Lolla a run for its money each summer. With about 60,000 attendees annually, Pitchfork is a chance for up-and-comers, as well as fan favorites to take the stage. It’s not just for music though, they have a comedy stage where comics like Wyatt Cenac performed before he got big. Largely an indie, experimental, and hip-hop festival, Pitchfork launched in Paris as well. Some big names headlined here include Vampire Weekend, Kendrick Lamar, Grimes, and St. Vincent.
With 800,000 attendees over several weekends in the summer, The World’s Largest Music Festival really lives up to its name. Summerfest has been a huge undertaking for the city of Milwaukee each year since its inception in 1968. This enormous festival has stages across the festival grounds dedicated to different kinds of performances. From Weird Al to P!nk, you never know who is going to be performing here. Local bands take the stage during the weekends as well, so there is often a chance to see folks just starting out alongside performers who have garnered success for decades.
Unsurprisingly, Electric Zoo is a festival dedicated to electronic music. One of the biggest festivals in NYC, this early autumn event brings tens of thousands of fans each year since it launched in 2009. There have even been international iterations of the festival as well, in places such as Mexico City, Tokyo, Shanghai, and São Paulo. A wide variety of sub-genres within the electronic music genre are represented at the festival as well. Previous headliners at Electric Zoo have included Diplo, AC Slater, David Guetta, and Deadmau5.
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Created by the same organizers who made Coachella, Stagecoach became the country’s biggest country music festival after it was established in 2007. Like Coachella, Stagecoach often sells out, though its attendance is usually under 100,000. This festival also takes place in the springtime for folks who are hesitant to venture to the desert in the hotter months. Stagecoach, like many other festivals, is a place where visitors can encounter newer acts in addition to seeing veterans from the country music industry. The first year included acts like George Strait and Alan Jackson while some of the latest headliners included Yola, Luke Combs, and Lainey Wilson.
Here is another Chicago music festival that has a big reputation. Riot Fest, a fall festival favorite, began its raucous history in 2005. This festival celebrates punk, rock, alternative, metal, and hip-hop as its genres de jure. Additionally, Riot Fest has carnival rides, food vendors, and sideshow performers to add to the diversity of the experience. Some of their major previous headliners included Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer, Death Cab for Cutie, Blondie, and Elvis Costello.
Produced by the same company that produces Coachella, Firefly Music Festival brings in roughly 50,000 fans over the course of its summer weekend. The first festival launched in 2012 with the likes of Jack White and The Killers and continues now with folks like Lizzo and Billie Eilish. The Killers have been a headliner for Firefly for several years now, so if you’re a big fan of this band this is a great festival option for you. It’s also still newer and on the smaller side for attendance, if that’s important for you.
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