Arguably the biggest U.S. festival, Coachella, goes down this weekend. It’s about to be the talk of the music world for the next two weeks or so, but if you’re not going, try not to have too much FOMO. Not only is the livestream basically an international event of its own, Coachella usually sells out before the lineup is even announced. (There are actually some weekend two tickets back on sale, but weekend one — which always has the biggest surprises — is long sold out.) It’s kinda like that Yogi Berra quote, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” Coachella is still gigantic and still books tons of great music, but serious music fans are understandably distancing themselves from actually attending — it’s often not worth the hassle.
The landscape of major and semi-major U.S. festivals is also more homozygous than ever. Competing festival Lollapalooza has the exact same headliners as Coachella this year (Ariana Grande, Childish Gambino, Tame Impala). Tame Impala are also headlining Boston Calling, Shaky Knees, Mo Pop, and Osheaga (which is in Montreal, but still). Childish Gambino headlines Osheaga, Outside Lands, and Bonnaroo. Twenty One Pilots headline Lollapalooza, Outside Lands, and Boston Calling. Travis Scott headlines Boston Calling, Hangout, and Firefly (as well as hip hop festivals Rolling Loud and Made In America). The Strokes headline Lollapalooza, Ohana, and Governors Ball. Post Malone headlines Firefly and Bonnaroo. The Lumineers headline Bonnaroo, Hangout, Outside Lands, and Osheaga. It’s like the number of major festivals happening is larger than the bank of headliners who are being chosen to play them.
But before you start fully mourning the state of U.S. festivals, there are plenty of great ones happening in slightly smaller environments, and often with a more niche or genre-specific lineup. There’s a lot of appeal to seeing a multi-genre festival, but the festivals with a more specific focus can go deeper into the music their attendees love rather than just scratching the surface of several genres. And a lot of the more genre-specific festivals are beginning to expand, much in the way Lollapalooza did when it branched out from being an alternative rock festival, or the way Bonnaroo did when it branched out from being a jam band festival.
There are lots of great comparatively under-the-radar festivals happening in the United States this year, and I’ve highlighted ten that we recommend seeking out if you’re looking for a festival that Travis Scott and/or Tame Impala isn’t headlining. Read on for our list below. What festivals are you excited about this year?
PSYCHO LAS VEGAS
August 16-18 in Las Vegas with Megadeth, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Beach House, Mogwai, Glassjaw, Bad Religion and more (tickets)
Not to sound too hyperbolic, but Psycho Las Vegas just may have the most stacked lineup from top to bottom of an US festival this year. It doesn’t take place on a big open field (which may be a negative or a positive depending on your point of view), and there’s no headliner as currently popular as Ariana Grande or Childish Gambino, but the quality of the acts are overall so high and there’s almost nobody playing that we don’t genuinely recommend. Psycho Las Vegas started out as more of a strictly metal festival (on the psychedelic/stoner side), but this year they booked their most musically diverse lineup yet, without losing the identity and tone that the festival established over the past few years. The non-metal acts all still appeal to anyone whose taste leans dark, psychedelic, and/or heavy (like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Beach House, Bad Religion, Mogwai, The Black Angels, Mark Lanegan, Glassjaw, The Faint, Cold Cave, Dead Meadow, Black Mountain, Nothing, Grails, Have A Nice Life, Candy, and more), and most of the metal acts all have plenty of crossover with non-metal rock fanbases (like headliners Megadeth, Opeth, and Electric Wizard, as well as Clutch, High on Fire, Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, Graveyard, Deafheaven, Fu Manchu, Hellhammer offshoot Triumph of Death, Carcass, Power Trip, Old Man Gloom, Oranssi Pazuzu, YOB, Full of Hell, Goatwhore, The Obsessed, Amenra, Vio-lence, Royal Thunder, Ilsa, Devil Master, and Tomb Mold). Not to mention, Psycho has always been a place to see cool proto-metal veterans, and this year with The Crazy World of Arthur Brown is no exception. If these names aren’t ringing a bell to you and the festival still seems too metal or too obscure, it’s worth considering that a lot of these “metal” bands lean more in the direction of Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath or Pink Floyd. If you need proof that rock music in the traditional sense is alive and well in 2019, and want the surreal experience of a music festival happening in a casino in the world’s most famous desert gambling town, Psycho Las Vegas has got you covered.
September 13-15 in Chicago with blink-182 & more TBA (tickets)
Riot Fest’s 2019 lineup hasn’t been announced yet (except for blink-182, who were rescheduled to headline after needing to cancel their 2018 appearance), but going by past years, it feels safe to assume that Riot Fest will have more greatness in store for this year, which is also the festival’s 15th anniversary. Riot Fest started as a punk festival but expanded to include several other genres of music, and it did so without ever losing its roots. Even as they book bigger not-really-punk bands like Weezer, Beck, Run the Jewels, Nine Inch Nails, Interpol, Father John Misty, and Queens of the Stone Age, they still make sure to have plenty of stuff like Fear, Face to Face, Hot Water Music and Dillinger Four, punk bands you can’t usually expect to see on a fest that has Beck or Father John Misty on the lineup. And while a lot of the big festivals seem to be less focused on booking “rare” acts, Riot Fest continues to land huge reunions, like The Replacements, Jawbreaker and Misfits with Glenn Danzig. They also always get a handful of veteran bands to perform classic albums in full at the festival. They really do things different than other current festivals (RIP ATP and Fun Fun Fun Fest), and their lineups rarely mirror any other fests happening the same year, which makes the price of a flight to Chicago and hotel especially worth it. Stay tuned for the 2019 lineup. Other artists from the past few years include Elvis Costello, Blondie, Taking Back Sunday, Liz Phair, Cat Power, The Jesus Lizard, Cap’n Jazz, At the Drive In, Hot Snakes, Digable Planets, Superchunk, Dinosaur Jr, Built to Spill, GWAR, Paramore, New Order, M.I.A., Wu-Tang Clan, Bad Brains, Buzzcocks, Morrissey, The Flaming Lips, Nas, The Specials, Deftones, Descendents, Refused, Thursday, Sleater-Kinney, No Doubt, System of a Down, Rancid, Run-DMC, Motorhead, Iggy & the Stooges, Drive Like Jehu, L7, The Cure, The National, Slayer, Patti Smith, Pixies, Public Enemy, (Black) FLAG, Guided by Voices, Rocket From the Crypt, Joan Jett, The Dismemberment Plan, X, and so many others.
August 24-24 in Brooklyn with Jill Scott, Kamasi Washington, Santigold, FKA twigs, Death Grips, Danny Brown, and more (tickets)
Afropunk now also happens in Atlanta (and London, Paris, and Johannesburg), but it started in Brooklyn and we at BrooklynVegan cover our hometown edition of Afropunk year after year so this is the one we recommend. It’s a truly unique festival, and as David Byrne can tell you, the attendees and the fashion of Afropunk are just as big a part of the experience as the music. (It’s a very communal event, including the option to volunteer at the festival in exchange for a ticket.) The location is easy to get to via public transportation, and is just a short distance from many NYC neighborhoods you’ll want to explore if you’re coming from out of town. The 2019 lineup is stacked with great artists across various genres of music, all of whom stay true to the Afropunk name. The organizers define Afropunk like this: “Afro: as in, born of African spirit and heritage; see also black (not always), see also rhythm and color, see also other, see also underdog. Punk: as in, rebel, opposing the simple route, imbued with a DIY ethic, looking forward with simplicity, rawness and open curiosity; see also other, see also underdog.” That’s very well represented across this year’s lineup, which includes big names like soul singers Jill Scott and Leon Bridges, industrial-tinged rappers Danny Brown and Death Grips, jazz master Kamasi Washington, blues shredder Gary Clark Jr, alt-popsters Nao and Toro y Moi, the undefinable Santigold and FKA twigs, and more. There’s great stuff lower down on the lineup as well, including some rising rappers who are changing the game as we speak like Tierra Whack, Leikeli47, Rico Nasty, J.I.D, and Ho99o9. It’s an awesome mix of established faves and today’s best new artists, with really well-focused curation.
August 22-25 in Arrington, Virginia with Bob Weir, Trey Anastasio, Jason Isbell, Gary Clark Jr, and more (tickets)
If you miss when Bonnaroo was more of a jam festival, you might find that Lockn’ fills that void well, and there’s always some great non-jam stuff at Lockn’ too. If you like jam bands at all, you of course like the Grateful Dead, and Lockn’ is almost always heavy on special Dead-related sets. One year, I saw Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, and Mickey Hart play “Not Fade Away” together, and just as they stopped, it segued immediately into Phil Lesh playing the same song on the adjacent stage, joined by Carlos Santana on lead guitar and Warren Haynes on vocals. That’s just the kind of thing you see at Lockn’, and this year is sure to have its own Dead-related surprises too. Not only is Bob Weir playing two sets with his new trio Wolf Bros (one of which will have him joined by Susan Tedeschi), he’s joining Dead & Company bassist Oteil Burbridge for an Oteil & Friends set too. Plus, Dead tribute band Joe Russo’s Almost Dead are playing two headlining sets, and if Bob Weir joins them on stage, it wouldn’t be the first time he did that at Lockn’. If you’re a Phish fan, you’re in luck because Trey Anastasio Band are playing two sets (one with Derek Trucks), and Trey is sitting in with the Tedeschi Trucks Band during one of their two sets. If you’re jam-curious, this lineup is an excellent place to start. The headliners are all Dead, Phish, and/or Allman Brothers related, and there are a few well-matched, non-jam acts to catch too, like Jason Isbell’s Americana-tinged rock or Gary Clark Jr’s blues rock or The Soul Rebels’ brass attack. And even if you’re on the fence about attending a mostly-jam festival, the overall vibe of Lockn’ is pretty undeniable. It’s a very laid-back festival in the middle of the woods in Arrington, Virginia with unexpected surprises and collaborations, plus dance parties and late-night sets and cool shops that you won’t find in many other places. It’s a unique, memorable weekend, whether or not you’re a Deadhead.
JUST LIKE HEAVEN
May 3 & 4 in Long Beach, CA with Phoenix, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, MGMT, Beach House, Grizzly Bear, and more (tickets)
The inaugural Long Beach festival Just Like Heaven is presented by the same people as Coachella (Goldenvoice), and almost every single artist playing Just Like Heaven has played Coachella before, but Just Like Heaven’s focus on one particular niche makes it more appealing than seeing these same artists spread out across multiple fests. The niche is poppy mid/late 2000s indie, and they booked one of the most perfect selections of bands from that sound and era. The Rapture are reuniting for it, Passion Pit are celebrating the 10th anniversary of their debut Manners at it, and the fest also has Phoenix, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, MGMT, Beach House, Grizzly Bear, Miike Snow, STRFKR, The Faint, She Wants Revenge, Peter Bjorn and John, Tokyo Police Club, Neon Indian, Washed Out, Shiny Toy Guns, Ra Ra Riot, and more. If you listened to poppy indie a decade ago, this lineup probably mirrors your exact iTunes library circa 2009. There’s nothing wrong with a little nostalgia, and maybe you’ve got a strong attachment to this era of music but you feel a little too old for a festival headlined by Travis Scott and Twenty One Pilots. If you do, you’re not alone. Just Like Heaven sold out very quickly, and a second day with the same lineup was added (you can still get tickets for May 3).
November 7-10 in Austin, lineup TBA (ticket info TBA)
Levitation used to be known as Austin Psych Fest, and its former name tells you everything you need to know: it happens in Austin and it focuses on psychedelic music. Levitation also has a very wide definition of psychedelic music, which makes it extra appealing, and they’ve had legendary moments like the first 13th Floor Elevators show since 1968 and The Jesus and Mary Chain performing Psychocandy (and they almost had Brian Wilson performing Pet Sounds until it was rained out), as well as tons of other great bands across the psych spectrum like Tame Impala, The War On Drugs, Animal Collective, Spiritualized, Primal Scream, Slowdive, Sleep, Electric Wizard, and so much more. It’s great to see a festival that can unite everything from a Beach Boy to an iconic metal band to one of 2019’s Coachella headliners all under the umbrella of psychedelia, and Levitation is that festival. It used to take place during the spring at the Carson Creek Ranch, but after dealing with rough weather for a few years in a row, it will now happen in various Austin venues this fall. The old location was gorgeous when the weather was good, but the Austin venues it does take place in are all partially outdoors, Austin is a great city to visit (and eat tacos in) and see live music in, and lineups like the ones Levitation always book can’t be beat.
May 17-19 in Ohio with System Of A Down, Foo Fighters, The Hives, Refused, The Distillers, Ghost, Joan Jett, and more (tickets)
Ohio festival Sonic Temple is Danny Wimmer Presents’ new replacement for Rock on the Range. The name change may have been necessary for legal reasons, but maybe Wimmer went with the much cooler-sounding Sonic Temple because the old name was too limiting. RotR was very much a “rawk!” festival, and while Sonic Temple still heavily favors guitars, it’s got a wider scope of rock bands. The 2019 lineup is more likeminded with Riot Fest or Psycho Las Vegas than RotR used to be. Two of the three headliners, Foo Fighters and System Of A Down, are a lot more wide-reaching than the headliners of these “hard rock festivals” tend to be (the third headliner, Disturbed, is more exclusively in this niche), and the lineup includes a lot of other cool stuff like The Hives and Refused (who are doing a much-anticipated tour together this year), the reunited Distillers, Ghost, Lamb of God, Joan Jett, The Cult, Gojira, Meshuggah, Action Bronson, Killswitch Engage, The Interrupters, Tom Morello, Pussy Riot, Mark Lanegan, Ho99o9, Zeal & Ardor, Basement, The Black Dahlia Murder, and more, as well as a comedy and spoken word tent with Henry Rollins, Tom Morello, Nadya from Pussy Riot, and more. There’s still some stuff we can’t really recommend (like Chevelle and Papa Roach), but it’s overall a great lineup of punk, metal, hard rock, indie rock, and more.
PUNK ROCK BOWLING
May 25-27 in Las Vegas with Rancid, Descendents, The Specials, FLAG, The Damned, Fear, The Hives, Refused, Fucked Up, and more (tickets)
I’ve mentioned how a lot of the festivals on this list started out in one genre and expanded. Well, this festival with punk rock in the name is not one of those festivals, but it’s got such a strong selection of punk bands year after year that we recommend it whether or not you’ve got a Black Flag tattoo. Now in its 21st year, the 2019 lineup includes legends like Descendents, The Specials, Black Flag offshoot FLAG, The Stranglers, The Damned, Fear, The Undertones, Adolescents, Dead Boys, and more. Like Psycho Las Vegas, you could sneak out to gamble between shows. Like Sonic Temple, it’s a stop on Swedish bands The Hives and Refused’s tour, and it’s also got another long-running Swedish band, Perkele, who have never played the US before. ’90s-era lifers Rancid are one of the headliners, and they’re always great, and there are some “indie rock” approved punk bands playing this year like Fucked Up, Shame, and Drug Church. In addition to the main festival, which goes down Memorial Day Weekend at the Downtown Las Vegas Events Center, there are club shows, pool parties, and more. If your taste leans punk, it’s worth the trip to see four generations of great punk bands descend upon Las Vegas during a holiday weekend.
May 26 in Minneapolis with Run The Jewels, Black Star, DMX, Beast Coast, SZA, and more (tickets)
Another great Memorial Day Weekend festival is Minneapolis’ Soundset, which is presented by the Rhymesayers label and now in its 11th year. It started out as mostly an “indie rap” fest, but it’s expanded and now has huge names like Lil Wayne and G-Eazy, who are both playing this year. (Last year had Migos, the year before had Travis Scott, etc.) It’s also still got plenty of representation from the indie-rap world (Atmosphere play every year, and this year also has deM atlaS, Dessa, Tech N9ne, Epic Beard Men [aka Sage Francis & B. Dolan], B.A.G [aka Blimes & Gifted Gab], Sa-Roc, and more), plus great stuff like a rare set from Black Star (Yasiin Bey & Talib Kweli) (which is now even rarer since they cancelled their Boston Calling appearance), DMX (who’s in the midst of celebrating the 20th anniversary of It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot this year), Beast Coast (the new supergroup from Flatbush Zombies, The Underachievers, Joey Bada$$, and other Pro Era members), SZA, Doja Cat, Buddy, YBN Cordae, Tierra Whack, and more. And this year’s got Run the Jewels, who may actually be the biggest act on the fest but whose El-P goes way back with Soundset (he performed the second year). Soundset tears down the lines between indie rap and pop rap, between veterans and newcomers, and the result is one of the most appealing hip hop fests this year.
May 10-12 in Arizona with Florence + the Machine, Anderson .Paak, Skrillex, American Football, Japanese Breakfast, and more (tickets)
Indie band Hundred Waters started FORM at Arizona’s “urban laboratory” Arcosanti in 2014. Initially a small, free festival, it has grown into something that rivals the major festivals. This year has at least one name big enough to headline a major fest (Florence + the Machine) and a couple that aren’t far behind (Anderson .Paak and Skrillex), but FORM really keeps its lineup to a very specific vibe. It’s a multi-genre fest, with everything from rapper JPEGMAFIA to folk singer Julie Byrne to cult artist Lonnie Holley to emo vets American Football, but everything tends to fall under a somewhat more “experimental” or “high brow” umbrella than Coachella or Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza. They promise intimate performances, no overlapping sets, no VIP sections, and “immersive art and activities.” It may be in this unique, gorgeous location (see pictures), but they clearly do it for the experience, not for the gram. And the lineup is great. In addition to the aforementioned names, this year also has Kaytranada, Bonobo (DJ), DJ Koze, Japanese Breakfast, Destroyer (solo), Mary Lattimore, MorMor, Pussy Riot, serpentwithfeet, Snail Mail, Tim Hecker w/ Gagaku Ensemble, Tirzah, and more.
See pictures of FORM Arcosanti 2017 in this gallery…