Aside from the $10 bottles of water, 100-degree middle-of-the-desert heat and the worst ‘bathrooms’ on the planet; music festivals are hands-down amazing. You can catch all your favorite artists in the same place, hang out on blankets with old friends, make new friends, and drink a lot!
There are approximately thirty music festivals that will be showcasing music’s best and brightest talent around the USA this year. Leveraging my extensive experience as a music festival attendee, I’ve put together a survival guide to this year’s biggest: SXSW, Bonnaroo, Coachella, Lilith Fair, Lollapalooza, and Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.
Whether you’re a first timer who’s popping your festival cherry or a festival crusader, this guide will help you navigate the music fest’s muddy waters and tip you off to some of the artists that we think you should really check out this year.
South By Southwest
March 17 – 22 // Austin, TX
I’ve been attending SxSW since 2004. It’s one of the largest music festivals in the world and follows a Film and Interactive Festival. Fun fact: Twitter was invented for SXSW indie hipsters to keep in touch with each other during the festival! Neat huh?
Literally thousands of bands descend on Austin each year to showcase. For musicians, it’s the holy grail of festivals, the place where new artists are scouted out and signed up to record labels. Austin’s famous 6th Street closes down to accommodate the unimaginable number of fans and music industry folks rushing from venue to venue ’til 4am. The weather is temperate and the venues are all small so you really get up close with bands you wouldn’t be able to in other places. This festival is for the fans.
Next weekend our SxSW warrior Stef will be start bringing us daily reports from the festival. To get a taste, check out her highly entertaining SxSW Captain’s Log from last year.
Also check out Uh Huh… Her?, the winning film from the 2008 Uh Huh Her SXSW Video Contest which just so happens to feature Autostraddle’s Riese and Crystal.
MUST-SEE BANDS & ARTISTS
Wednesday, March 17th:Jenny Owens Young, Melissa Ferrick, Melissa Auf Der Maur, Hesta Prynn, Das Racist, Abe Vigoda, Andrew WK, Fitz and The Tantrums, Paul Wall & Chamillionaire, Suzanne Vega, Spoon
Thursday, March 18th: Chris Pureka, Eisley, Nico Stai, Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings, Grace Potter and The Nocturnals, Stone Temple Pilots, MEN, She & Him, Marina & The Diamonds, The xx, Tom Freund, The Soft Pack, Sondre Leche, The Crystal Method, Rogue Wave, Melissa Ferrick, First Aid Kit, Broken Social Scene, DJ Taryn Manning.
Friday, March 19th: Cheap Trick, Smokey Robinson, Band Of Skulls, Girl In A Coma, Holly Miranda, Ra Ra Riot, Theophilus London, Hole, Sum 41, Dengue Fever, An Horse, Broken Social Scene, Metric, Dum Dum Girls, Rye Rye.
Saturday, March 20th: Daedelus, Bowling For Soup, The Watson Twins, Margaret Cho, Japandroids, The Laughing, Macy Gray, The Drums.
Sunday, March 21st: Set Aflame and Silver Starling.
Plan, plan plan: timetables are time consuming and also a little nerdy, but for SXSW a schedule is a must. There is so much happening at the one time and so if you’re across it, you’re going to miss your favorite acts.
Location: THE place to stay in Austin is along South Congress [SOCO]. I recommend Hotel San Jose, which has a great location and reasonable rates, and is comfortably alluring without being pretentious.
April 16th-18th // Indio, CA (a.k.a. The Desert)
Coachella is best known for three things: the music, the mud and the unbearable heat of the So Cal desert. Portopoddies and endless pools of mud are endured by thousands who want to catch the latest hype acts all in the same weekend. Coachella isn’t so much a festival as it is a music experience, a mini-Woodstock, three full days of camping the desert, laying under the stars with your closest friends and the world’s best musicians. It’s best enjoyed with a big group of people, mostly so you can set up an tent city.
MUST-SEE BANDS & ARTISTS
Friday, April 16th: As Tall As Lions, Grizzly Bear, Imogean Heap, Jay-Z, La Roux, Passion Pit, Ra Ra Riot, She & Him, The Specials, Vampire Weekend.
Saturday, April 17th: Band Of Skulls, Corinne Bailey Rae, GOSSIP, Hot Chip, MGMT, Sia, The Dead Weather, Tiesto, Tokyo Police Club, The xx.
Sunday, April 18th: Florence & The Machine, Julian Casablancas, Little Boots, Matt & Kim, Phoenix, Spoon, The Middle East, The Soft Pack, Yo La Tengo.
Sunscreen: the first time I went, I forgot sunscreen. That’s a huge mistake when you’re about to spend three days in the middle of the desert.
Water: before you leave for Coachella, stock up your car with as much water as possible. Hydration is key, and your own bottles will save you from paying $10 a pop at the festival.
Excess Baggage: carrying a bag is a pain, however while at Coachella it’s crucial to keep essential items like bottles of water, cash and the emergency TP roll with you at ALL times.
Porto-what: the portable outhouses are quite literally full of s*&% by the end of the first day. To avoid horrible lines and even more horrible smells, visit first thing in the morning. Always carry TP in your bag, sometimes your only option is an impromptu squat.
June 10th-13th // Manchester, Tennessee
Started in 2003 and dubbed the “Ultimate Over-The-Top Summer Festival” by Rolling Stone, Bonnaroo is technically a music & arts festival with emphasis on music – indie rock, world music, hip hop, jazz, americana, bluegrass, country music, folk, gospel, reggae, electronica, and other alternative music.
Camping and themed tents play a big part. When I went last year, a mural wall was a popular theme — festivalgoers wrote on a large piece of paper that’d be used as a stage backdrop on the last day. Music aside, Bonnaroo serves up some great art work from contemporary artists and screenings of the latest independent films. Our Tech Editor Taylor loves it and will hopefully be there this year.
MUST-SEE BANDS & ARTISTS
Dave Matthews Band, Kings Of Leon, The xx, Stevie Wonder, Jay-Z, The Dead Weather, Damian Marley and Nas, LCD Soundsystem, Regina Spektor, Zac Brown Band, The National, She & Him, Kid Cudi, Brandi Carlile, The Gossip, Ok Go, Ingrid Michaelson, and Neon Indian.
Rain Rain Go Away: rain during festivals is not uncommon. Check out suggestions for wet weather festival battle gear in Style Editor Becky’s Festival Style Guide.
Take earplugs: when you’ve watched super loud bands all day, at night-time silence is golden. Protect your ears from the hundreds of drunk festival goers you’ll have to fall to sleep beside.
August 6th-8th // Grant Park, Chicago, IL
Since its inception in 1991 as a sort of new Woodstock for the grunge-rock generation, Lollapalooza has been a great music festival featuring alternative rock, hip-hop and punk rock bands as well as dance and comedy performance, craft booths and non-profit/political activism. Past bands featured have included Jane’s Addiction, Nine Inch Nails, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Green Day. I first heard Smashing Pumpkins when I attended the festival in 1996.
Lollapalooza has been a great music festival for discovering new and exciting bands and artists, from rock to rap, who fall just outside of the mainstream. The first time I attended Lollapalooza was in 1996, and it was there that I discovered a little rock band called The Smashing Pumpkins.
Lollapalooza used to tour the country, but now it’s taken up a permanent annual residency in Chicago’s Grant Park. There’s no camping here. There’s a lot of nice hotels nearby, many located within a five-minute walk to Grant Park. The festival lineup will be announced in late April!
Definitely Will Be there: The Strokes
RUMORED BANDS & ARTISTS
Lady Gaga, Green Day, Soundgarden, Arcade Fire, and The Strokes.
Hotel On The Fringe: good accommodation sells out fast, so make sure you reserve your hotel at the same time you buy your festival tickets. We even recommend doing reserving before.
Bring A Blanket: chairs are prohibited from the festival.
Summer 2010 // US & European cities
With multiple stages featuring female musicians or female-fronted groups, you can’t throw a stone at Lilith Fair without hitting a lesbian, or at least a girl who has a strong appreciation for other girls. From ’97 to ’99, Lilith was The Festival for women to attend and it introduced this young lesbian to Ani DiFranco and Melissa Ferrick, among others. When I heard the festival was returning this summer after a decade-long hiatus, I shrieked with excitement. I think you did too.
This isn’t an overnight event, just an all-day concert.
Some cities have been confirmed, however the dates and lineup are still tightly under wraps. There are a few hints to be found on musicians’ myspace pages.
MUST-SEE BANDS (Varies In Each City)
Sarah Mclachlan, Brandi Carlile, Tegan and Sara, The Gossip, Grace Potter and The Nocturnals, Metric, Heart, Jill Scott, Norah Jones, Sheryl Crow, Missy Higgins, La Roux, Marina and The Diamonds, Lissie, Kate Nash.
Study the Lineup: the headlining acts aside, the Lilith artist line up will vary from city to city. Don’t assume your favorite artists will be performing in your city – you may need to travel or just whine about how tegan & sara aren’t coming to your city.
Attire Matters: If you’re a girl who likes girls who probs like Tegan & Sara, Lilith Fair is where you’re going to meet them. Read our What Should I Wear To A Music Festival? Style Guide for some recommendations for cute attire.
Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival
August 3rd-8th // Hart, Michigan
Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is the lesbian’s right of passage, as covered in Autostraddle’s Girl-on-World article, “How the Michigan Womyn’s Festival Topless Women Changed My Lesbian Life Forever.”
As the title implies, it’s all about womyn and you have to be one, or identify as one, to get through the gates. For six days in August, MichFest’s makeshift town is run by womyn — they set up tents, manage the camp, and work as stagehands and entertainers. It features great female musicians as well as comedians and theatre groups.
This festival means more to me than most. It’s fascinating to exist in a world of only womyn. MichFest even changes the name of “Portopotties” to “Portojanes” in line with its elimination of words catering to a male-oriented world.
MUST-SEE BANDS & ARTISTS
Chris Pureka, MEN, Indigo Girls, Bitch, Toshi Reagon, The Butchies, Erin Mckeown.
Sleeping Beauty: Bring a padded sleeping bag or air mattress, the grounds at MitchFest can get very rocky.
Arrival: Get in early on the first day so you can set up your tent before it gets dark.
It’s An Experience: Be prepared to have your eyes opened and your horizons broadened!
Where are you going, where have you been?
Look at all these good bands! I really hope I can make it to Lolla and Lilith Fair this year. I’d also love to go to Bonnaroo! We’ll see how it all pans out. Thanks for the helpful tips, Corey!
>When I heard the festival was returning this summer after a decade-long hiatus, I shrieked with excitement. I think you did too.<
I will not admit to shrieking…but an exuberant happy-dance may — or MAY NOT — have been involved. "About damn time…" was the exact phrase, I believe. Wish they'd never stopped. I am grateful that I got to go two out of the three years that it existed back in those heady days of the late 90's.
See, Lilith Fair was my first real concert experience and the first time I went was the summer after my freshman year at university…right when I was starting to realize that I might be gay (looking back on it now). It has become SO IMPORTANT TO ME!
*memories flooding back* :)
Chantal Kreviazuk covered "Leaving on a Jet Plane," and Natalie Merchant sang a raw and beautiful cover of Oasis' "Wonderwall," and I'm convinced that these sparked my obsession with cross-covers.
I was handed a sampler disc at the entrance gate that introduced me to some amazing artists. that I still listen to to this day (think what you will).
A openly gay woman friend flirted with me and called me beautiful. OMG! What the hell was I thinking and why didn't she just tell me that I was gay, if she could tell?! 'Cause obviously I had NO CLUE yet. :/
Still, she thought I was beautiful.
So thank you, Lilith Fair. I look forward to making more
memories…and now, I'm out. :)
Walk the entire grounds of Lollapalooza in 5 minutes??? Are you on a segway or something? It can take a good 10-15 minutes to get from the north end to the south end.
Great place to see a lot of bands if the scheduling gods work in your favor and don’t leave you having to pick and choose which band to see or half a set here, and bust a run to catch then end of a set there.
You can’t walk the grounds of the festival in five minutes but you can find a great hotel less than five minutes from Grant Park.
My fault! Corey originally said that you could get to a hotel in 5 minutes, but then I made a typo while editing it. Fixed.
I went to Lilith Fair in the 90s. I’d always listened to Sarah McLachlan A LOT but wasn’t necessarily that pumped about hearing her live ’cause I didn’t think it would be much different from listening to the album. But she was AWESOME. When the night closed and she was performing and everyone was #stoned and we’d had a lot of hummus and the indigo girls had played, it was all really lovely. Defo going this year. Our lineup wasn’t the greatest b/c who wants to play Detroit/Pine Knob? (not that many people)
I also went to SXSW in 2008 and only saw Uh Huh Her for reasons I could not begin to really explain, besides that it seemed like a funny joke to do. But it seemed really rad!
I wish I could go to Bonaroo that looks fun
I went to Lilith Fair in ’98 at Pine Knob I MEAN DTE ENERGY MUSIC THEATER, and it was the first time I realized I was not the only girl in history to be attracted to other girls. I was 13 and it blew my mind. So excited for this year.
IT IS NOT NOW AND NEVER WILL BE THE DTE ENERGY MUSIC THEATER
The summer of Lilith we went to a few concerts there; maybe also ani? jewel? indigo girls? i can’t remember… and so they all blur together in my mind… driving out there in my mom’s old mini-van with the same three girls and one boyfriend, stopping at whole foods for snacks… getting stuck in the clusterfuck of a “parking lot” and all being really pissy about it (and wondering why they didn’t try to make it more efficient)… listening to mixtapes on the way home! i liked that place though cuz the lawn seating was so much better, and also cheaper, than the actual seats!
That sounds like a real good summer. And that parking lot is BAD NEWS. Apparently their three dollar ‘traffic control’ fee isn’t helping.
Ohhh, the lawn seats! So wonderful. We smoked at least an ounce on that grassy hill. #exaggeration #icanrememberithoweverichooseto
Great guide Corey!
I’m so jealous that you and Stef are heading to SxSW this year and I am not. I used to go every year, it’s my all time favourite festival.
Riese – That whole Uh Huh Her thing was a really funny joke to do. At least that’s what I told everyone to protect my rep.
i wish i had the money and means to go to these festivals! except for lilith fair which is coming to me in montreal. holler.
I’m going to Michfest and Lilith Fair in Detroit this year. This is my first Michfest experience and I’m way way way excited. However, I’m going myself so I’m sort of nervous. Is anyone here going? Will you talk to me? AM I PRETTY?
MichFest can be a bit overwhelming the first time but there is no reason to be nervous. It is great fun and a chance to meet a lot of great womyn.
That’s what I keep hearing.
Living in the woods for an entire week with a bunch o’ lesbians while my favorite musicians perform has been the primary goal of my existence thus far. (I don’t aim too high.)
That is a great goal.
My primary goal is to attend Burning Man this year, will have to see if camping in a trailer in the desert with others tripping on acid is possible but hey you have to have a goal!
Mud at Coachella? This is my sixth year and I’ve never seen mud. Your credibility is gone, Sir.
That is Maam to you. Good day.
Oh man, that’s unnecessarily harsh. There’s mud everywhere, even if it’s dry and not in a pit filled with girls.
Is Autostraddle going to be at Coachella this weekend??