Music Festival Guide: Top 10 Mega-Festivals (United States)

Bumbershoot

Do you hate making decisions, enjoy all you can eat buffets, and have the stamina to make it through three to four days of the wildest parties on the planet? The massive fests of the US offer a smorgasbord of artists for one price. From the sun streaked desert plains of California to Tennessee farmland to the heart of downtown Chicago, here are the picks for the “Ultimate Music Festival Experience” of the summer.

As always, leave us a note in the comments section telling us where we went frightfully wrong and where we tickled your fancy. Before we dive in festival fans, note that this humble listing is only our first foray into the festival season. More installments will be released over the next few weeks featuring (hopefully) your favorite festivals.

1. Coachella
When: April 12-14 and April 19-21, 2013
Where: Indio, California

Like a barometer always reading a temperature of awesome, the traditional kickoff to the the summer festival season is dominated by Coachella. With a ridiculously close proximity to Los Angeles, Coachella is the one festival littered with visitors from abroad seeking out their first US festival experience. Think of Coachella as our official Ambassador of Music Festivals. Coachella transformed industry by doubling up for two weekends of tunes of the desert. Other major festivals are already following suit (see Ultra, Austin City Limits).

2. Sasquatch!
When: May 24-27, 2013
Where: The Gorge, Washington

Much like its namesake, the Sasqutach festival resides in the northwest, is completely legendary, and sought after by fans from all over the world. The Memorial Weekend powerhouse now stretches over four days in a trippy Washington wasteland that would be considered desolate if The Gorge didn’t provide one of the greatest natural stages known to man. The lineup is already out in order to give you plenty of time to prepare.

3. Lollapalooza
When: August 2-4, 2013
Where: Chicago, Illinois

You got to hand it Perry Farrell, the bizarre and quirky visionary who reinvented the American music festival with Lollapalooza. It was the first time that a lineup was worth quitting your job over — which I did and destroyed my future at the video arcade. It’s been dialed back in this decade, but that doesn’t make the Chicago show one of the must-see stops of the summer. Or for those of you still craving a roadtrip, head to Brazil or Chile for some southern hemisphere action.

4. Bonnaroo
When: June 13-16, 2013
Where: Manchester, Tennessee

Over the last decade, no other US music festival has captured the spirit of large greenfield gatherings like the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. Bonnaroo burst onto the scene grabbing headlines along with our hearts as we’ve watched it grow from scrappy newcomer to a full fledged bastion of the season. It may not be the oldest or the largest, but Bonnaroo is the spirit of the quintessential  American music festival. Long live The Roo.

5. South by Southwest
When: March 12-17, 2013
Where: Austin, Texas

It’s not that South by Southwest takes over Austin — downtown Austin becomes SXSW for nine days in March. Music, art, interactive, panels, comedy, and movies all vie for your attention span. With over 500 artists, SXSW has become so big that mini-festivals have sprouted up to take advantage of travelling artists. Let’s put it this way. You could skip media for a year, come to Austin for the week, and still come out ahead on pop culture.

6. Austin City Limits
When: October 4-6 and 11-13, 2013
Where: Austin, Texas

Yeah, Austin kicks ass when it comes to music festivals which is why we’re covering a second Texas concert. Named after the venerable PBS series,  the Austin City Limits Festival heads into its second decade, cementing its reputation as a cultural touchstone of the US. The traditional lineup announcement leads to a flurry of praise and criticism from hipsters, but there’s never any doubt that ACL will not sell out. Taking a page from the Coachella playbook, this year ACL will double down on weekends.

7. Ultra Music Festival
When: March 15-17 and 22-24, 2013
Where: Miami, Florida

The largest electronic music festival in the States and one of the most well known in the world, it’s no surprise that Ultra doubled up this year. While most of the country is shivering in parkas, Ultra fans are dancing their asses off in sunny Miami. The lineup is enormous, the girls are beautiful, and you should already be on Kayak searching for a flight.

8. Wakarusa
When: May 30-June 3, 2013
Where: Ozark, Arkansas

We had to pull Wakarusa off the list of the Top 10 Best Camping Festivals to add it this one. Coco, our resident festival expert, fought to include it calling Wakarusa “a large festival with an intimate feel.”  The central location in the rolling Ozark mountains of Arkansas places Wakarusa squarely as an easy festival weekend roadtrip.

9. Outside Lands
When: August 9-11, 2013
Where: San Francisco, California

A bike valet, wine tasting tent, and local organic food vendors are just a couple of signs that you’re in San Francisco at Outside Lands, a relative newcomer to the large scale music festival scene.  That hasn’t stopped mascot Ranger Dave and OL from quickly becoming a signature event in the City on the Bay. The cozy venue of Golden Gate Park allows plenty of options for those of you that need a breather from large crowds.

10. Bumbershoot
When: August 31-September 2, 2013
Where: Seattle, Washington

Now in it’s 43rd year, Bumbershoot (a oldie time word for umbrella) is more of an institution than a music festival. There’s so much happening here that you’ll need all three days to sort through all the live music, art shows, speakers, and exhibitions happening under the Bumbershoot. With budget friendly (and children under ten are FREE), this fest is one of the most affordable and family friendly of the season.