At first glance, the idea of a summer music festival can seem pretty obvious. It’s an all-in-one concert series, taking place over multiple days. A wealth of musical acts perform in an outdoor venue, suitable for tens of thousands of listeners. People sweat, drink, smoke, listen.

But there are some lesser-known advantages to hearing your favorite bands in this setting. The energy of a crowd can bring out the best in performers, and when it’s a festival-sized crowd, there are bound to be some transcendent musical moments. On a more practical note, you can also expand your listening tastes, as most festival lineups are padded with many lesser-known acts. Whether you’re clapping along to an acoustic anthem, sitting in a daze through a jam session or singing a chorus in unison with 50,000 other voices, you’ll be getting an ephemeral experience, unequaled by any home theater system. So, check out our favorite summer music festivals, and brave the crowds, for a concert experience both nuanced and practical.

GP’s 12 Favorite Summer Music Festivals

Bonnaroo – Manchester, TN
Bumbershoot – Seattle, WA
Coachella – Indio, CA
Governors Ball – New York, NY
Hangout – Gulf Shores, AL
Lollapalooza – Chicago, IL
MerleFest – Wilkesboro, NC
Montreal Jazz Festival – Montreal, QC
Newport Folk Festival – Newport, RI
Ottawa Bluesfest – Ottawa, ON
Outside Lands – San Francisco, CA
Sasquatch – George, WA

Additional contribution by Ted Jamison.


Location: Manchester, TN
Dates: June 9 – 12
Notable Performers: Dead & Company, LCD Soundsystem, Tame Impala, Jason Isbell
In Brief: Since its inception in 2002, this four-day festival at the Great Stage Park, 65 miles southeast of Nashville, has brought together a diverse array artists who play long into the night. Though originally focused on jam bands, more recent lineups have included everyone from Bob Dylan to Jay Z.


Location: Seattle, WA
Dates: September 2 – 4
Notable Performers: TBA
In Brief: Held downtown at the Seattle Center, this festival has been an annual event since 1971. Bumbershoot programs a wide range of acts — including comedy, theater and film — but the musical lineup is where it’s at (2015 featured The Weeknd, Chance the Rapper, Faith No More, Ellie Goulding and Bassnectar, among others).




Location: Indio, CA
Dates: April 15 – 24
Notable Performers: A$AP Rocky, Kamasi Washington, Major Lazer, The Last Shadow Puppets
In Brief: Founded in 1999, Coachella is one of the largest festivals in America (Coachella 2015 had a record-breaking attendance of 198,000). But be prepared. It takes place in the Colorado Desert, and temperatures during the festival have ranged from 43 degrees to 106 degrees Fahrenheit.

Governors Ball

Location: New York, NY
Dates: June 3 – 5
Notable Performers: Kanye West, The Strokes, The Killers, De La Soul
In Brief: This three-day festival, started in 2011, presents concerts ranging from hip-hop to rock to electronica on Randall’s Island just off the coast of Manhattan. Previous headliners include Lana Del Rey, Björk, Deadmau5 and Kendrick Lamar. While you’re there, check out the food offered by prominent NYC restaurants and food trucks, and an array of art installations and lawn games.


Location: Gulf Shores, AL
Dates: May 20 – 22
Notable Performers: The Weeknd, Alabama Shakes, Florence + the Machine, Calvin Harris
In Brief: Hangout fest takes its name seriously. Taking place on Alabama’s Gulf Shores, the beachfront festival is designed to accommodate all things chill. After all, it takes a unbeatable arsenal of good vibes to combat the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which coincided with the festival’s inaugural weekend. Six years later, Hangout is still going strong, with a lineup spanning all genres.


Location: Chicago, IL
Dates: July 28 – 31
Notable Performers: Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lana Del Rey, Future
In Brief: The strange, singsong name “Lollapalooza” is derived from a word that refers to anything that is exceptional and impressive — a bold but fitting title, seeing as the Chicago festival has arguably been the paradigm of music festivals since it started back in 1991. This year (its 25th anniversary) the massive event gets bigger, spanning four days with more than 170 artists.


Location: Wilkesboro, NC
Dates: April 28 – May 1
Notable Performers: John Prine, Jerry Douglass, Tim O’Brien, Peter Rowan
In Brief: Named after its founder, Eddy Merle Watson (son of folk music legend Doc Watson), Merlefest takes place on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. Since 1988 the music festival has distinguished itself with its self-described “traditional-plus” music lineup focused on including a host of roots, Americana, bluegrass and even more traditional old-time Appalachian musicians.

Montreal Jazz Festival



Location: Montreal, QC
Dates: June 29 – July 9
Notable Performers: Rufus Wainwright, Wynton Marsalis, Diana Ross, Avishai Cohen
In Brief: Since its start back in the 1970s, the Montreal Jazz Festival, situated in downtown’s Quartier des spectacles, quickly developed an illustrious history of performers from Ray Charles and Chick Corea in 1980 to Brubeck and Cab Calloway in 1991. Its current lineup pairs living legends (Erykah Badu and Wynton Marsalis) with the young and cutting edge (Kamasi Washington).

Newport Folk Festival

Location: Newport, RI
Dates: July 22 -24
Notable Performers: Norah Jones, Father John Misty, Ray Lamontagne, Edward Sharpe
In Brief: As if in the spirit of the infamous 1965 Newport Electric Dylan controversy, in which Bob Dylan committed the high treason of playing with a rock band behind him, the Newport Folk Festival now features an eclectic lineup of folk-informed artists (some acoustic, others not). It all happens on four stages at Fort Adams State Park, against scenic panoramas of the surrounding Newport Bridge and East Passage.

Ottawa Bluesfest

Location: Ottawa, ON
Dates: July 7- 17
Notable Performers: John Fogerty, The Decemberists, The Lumineers, Wolf Parade
In Brief: Canada’s largest blues festival has widened its scope to include various flavors of rock, folk and EDM as well as some of the heavier hitters of hip-hop (this year brings Earl Sweatshirt, Future and Schoolboy Q to name a few). As opposed to cramming it all into one fevered weekend, Bluesfest spreads itself over 10 days, meaning potentially fewer overlapping artists (and stressful decision-making).

Outside Lands

Location: San Francisco, CA
Dates: August 5 – 7
Notable Performers: Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem, Lionel Richie, Lana Del Rey
In Brief: If you’re looking to beat the heat at your music festival of choice, then the shady, leafy environs and perennially misty climate of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, home to Outside Lands, is for you. Of particular note is the return of the festival’s comedy and improv tent as well as the headlining presence of Radiohead, who headlined the very first Outside Lands back in 2008.


Location: George, WA
Dates: May 27 – 30
Notable Performers: The Cure, Mac DeMarco, Chet Faker, Kurt Vile and the Violators
In Brief: Aside from its impressive lineup of bands and musicians, Sasquatch is likely the most scenic music festival in America. The three-day festival takes as its natural stage the mighty Columbia River Gorge, a breathtaking backdrop and an understandable nine-time winner of Pollstar Magazine’s award for Best Outdoor Music Venue.