The second wave of summer festivals unofficially kicks off this weekend at Lollapalooza in Chicago’s Grant Park, which the onetime touring festival has called home since 2005. As usual, Lolla is a Live Nation-produced behemoth held on humid, sticky grounds that can take more than 20 minutes to traverse on foot. The lineup is big but distinctive only in a “what a weird combination of artists” type of way: Metallica, Dua Lipa, Machine Gun Kelly, J. Cole, Green Day and The Kid Laroi are the top names. They get high marks for elevating rising stars like Billy Strings, IDLES, Glass Animals and Charli XCX to top billing, but unless you’re a real glutton for punishment, this time of year in Chicago is probably better spent indoors.
The season’s biggest country festival is WE Fest in Detroit Lakes, Minn., a camping-centric event where VIPs can fill up at the lunch buffet and regular folks can compete in cornhole competitions and Minnesota-themed trivia. Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert and Luke Bryan are tried-and-true headliners sure to bring their proverbial A-games, and if you run into emcee Cowboy Troy, ask him if he still rocks out to “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy.”
Like Lollapalooza, Outside Lands in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is a massive happening in one of the country’s most well-known outdoor spaces, but beyond headliners Green Day, Post Malone and SZA, the lineup is more geared to adventurous listeners, with appearances by Phoebe Bridgers, Mitski, Disclosure, Mac DeMarco, The Linda Lindas, Hiatus Kaiyote, Amber Mark and Wet Leg. Don’t miss the cannabis lovers’ Grass Lands experience and non-stop house music in the SOMA Tent.
Golden Gate Park is also the site of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass from Sept. 30-Oct. 2, and for once, no corporate overlords are selling anything at an event like this — not even a ticket. That’s right: This Americana-leaning festival is completely free, which is one of the reasons its lineup won’t be announced until much closer to its kickoff.
If you prefer your rock ’n’ roll with a harder edge, head to Pryor, Okla., for Rocklahoma over Labor Day weekend or Louisville, Ky., for Louder Than Life Sept. 22-25. Rocklahoma is going heavy this year on bands that peaked in the early to mid-2000s (Korn, Evanescence, Five Finger Death Punch), while Louder Than Life has a much broader selection led by Red Hot Chili Peppers, Slipknot, Kiss and Nine Inch Nails.
Louder Than Life’s sister festival, Bourbon and Beyond, takes place in Louisville the prior weekend and is, as the name would imply, a brown liquor aficionado’s dream come true. Beyond numerous tasting experiences and food from the city’s criminally underappreciated culinary scene, enjoy performances by Pearl Jam, Kings of Leon and Jack White, plus one of the first opportunities to see the cast of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” tape their beloved podcast live in front of an audience (their new whiskey ain’t too bad, either).
Las Vegas was once known as the playground for aging crooners, but thanks to Life Is Beautiful, the city finally has a music festival worthy of the 21st century. The lineup is young, hip and edgy, from Gorillaz, Lorde, Arctic Monkeys and Jack Harlow to Jungle, Sylvan Esso, Marc Rebillet and Migos. Vegas-averse festival-goers will probably want to sit this one out, but for those who like their live music with a side of blackjack, strip clubs and strip steaks, there’s no better destination.
The grounds at Chicago’s Riot Fest may not be much to look at, but the lineup has Big Pitchfork Energy, perhaps even more than Pitchfork’s own branded festival does at this point. Second-wave emo, post-punk and post-hardcore are exquisitely represented here, led by the reunited Sunny Day Real Estate, The Original Misfits, My Chemical Romance and, um, Ice Cube, because today was a good day.
On the other hand, those who surf down to Eddie Vedder’s Ohana Festival in Dana Point, Calif., the last weekend of September may have a hard time focusing on the music due to the absolutely picturesque beachfront scenery. This event can only host 15,000 and is intimate in a way very few current festivals can be, and Vedder’s curation ensures a satisfying blend of superstars (Stevie Nicks, P!nk) and indie rock favorites (St. Vincent, Khruangbin, Broken Social Scene, Brittany Howard).
Held over two October weekends at Zilker Park, Austin City Limits is the Lollapalooza of the south — huge, hot and a hell of a party. Lil Nas X, Kacey Musgraves and Paramore are the most interesting acts atop the bill, which has a lot of bands you’ve never heard of and a few that are just peculiar enough (Culture Club, Carly Rae Jepsen, Purple Disco Machine) to draw in curious onlookers. If you can somehow talk your way into the ultra-exclusive friends-and-family backstage area, you’ll think you died and went to Texas barbecue heaven while sipping free drinks all day long.
By mid-November, it’s too chilly for an outdoor festival experience on the East Coast except in Florida — enter EDC Orlando, which combines amusement-park-style rides, art and the best dance music the world has to offer for a very vibe-y weekend indeed. Pop whatever chemical enhancement you might need so as not to miss sunset performances by Kaskade, Said The Sky, Above & Beyond and Dom Dolla as well as appearances by stalwarts such as Martin Garrix, Tiësto, Zeds Dead, Ferry Corsten and Green Velvet.