Visiting America’s Ten Best Summer Music Festivals

Camping out at multi-day music festivals is a classic summertime tradition. Here we take a look at the top 10 summer music festivals in the United States.

Hopper Editors - Oct. 26, 2017

Every summer, music fans make their specific pilgrimages: there’s the peace loving Bonnaroo in Tennessee, painfully hipsterish Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, the LED-bathed all-night EDM party of Electric Daisy Carnival, and glamping with Beck at the Firefly Festival, full-out soul-seeking in the desert at Burning Man and way, way more – anything that fits your niche, actually. There’s EDM, the golden oldies, rap and hip hop, jam bands, metal, folk, and Skrillex is guaranteed to be at pretty much every one of these festivals. So what are you waiting for? Grab your pals, load up the van with PBR and turn the speakers up to 11. You’re goin’ camping.

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10. Hip and hop over to Summer Jam in New Jersey

Hip hop and rap fans can jam out this summer at Summer Jam, a 20-year old festival in Rutherford, New Jersey, that gets the top-billed performers in the industry. Recent lineups included the Wu-Tang Clan, Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky, plus Nicki Minaj, Lil’ Kim, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. Sponsored by iconic New York radio station Hot 97, the definitive deciders of hip hop, the festival features the biggest names and the most promising up and comers. Those who are sick of the summer fests and down to summer jam will love it.

9. You won’t want to miss the insane lineup at Firefly in Dover, Delaware

East Coasters who don’t want to schlep it to Bonnaroo for an the overnight open-air camping and music experience pack into The Woodlands of Dover International Speedway. They make it easy: campers have a range of accommodation options including general tent camping, premier tent camping with closer access to both festival entrances, RV camping and even "glamping", which provides a private air-conditioned tent, twin beds with full linen, access to the private Glamping Lounge and private restrooms and more. But more exciting are the bands: Foo Fighters, Outkast, Beck and Weezer will play to bro-packed audiences; while on smaller stages, the indie-set can hang out with Sky Ferreira, Typhoon, Phosphorescent, Washed Out, Son Lux and a ton of local bands.

8. Burning man in the Nevada desert is a spiritual journey

Burning Man is not a music festival; it’s a way of life and a philosophy, but it is certain to have some homemade jams and music pumping. Some of their attendees (or "participants") have been wandering around the Black Rock Desert for years, maybe since the first Burning Man in 1986, giving each other free tattoos, "expressing" themselves through drugs and neon art, yoga, nudity, and however else they feel. They build a wooden effigy of a man, and nowadays it hits 50 feet on a 50 foot tall pavillion and on the last day, they set it on fire, that’s the Burning Man. They also build a temple and burn it down at the end. During the five days of the festival, the desert ground is littered with elaborate art installation, performance venues, art cars and costumed participants. Money ceases to exist once you enter the gates (save for purchasing merch) – all commodities are gifted or bartered. For a totally new and totally indescribable experience that relies on radical self-expression, decommodification and radical inclusion, go to Burning Man.

7. Lollapalooza, also in Chicago, is a music festival classic

Lollapalooza was created in 1991 by Jane’s Addiction singer Perry Farrell as a grand farewell to the band, but it actually ended up running until 1997, showcasing the scene’s first alt rock, punk, heavy metal, nü rock and some rap. After some gaps in times, a revival and rebirth and an international expansion into South America and Tel Aviv, it’s one of the largest musical traditions in the world. Since the nü rock days, Lollapalooza has grown to include the likes of Eminem, Outkast, Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys, Skrillex, Calvin Harris, Lorde and more. Indyish fans will be glad to see the presence of Lykke Li, Chance the Rapper, Glen Hansard, and even country-pop queen, Jenny Lewis. Around Grant Park, local retailers and popular brands set up shop and tons of free swag is given around, as well as a sweet food festival curated by celebrity chef Graham Elliot. First time music festivaling? Go see Lolla and she’ll give you a good time.

See 6 tips, like when to book your ticket, from the Hopper research team that can save travelers hundreds on their flights to Chicago.

6. Be a hippy again at Outside Lands in San Francisco

Not only does San Francisco’s Outside Lands festival have an enormous lineup of bands (2013’s roster included Paul McCartney, Willie Nelson, Hall and Oates, for boomer barefooters, plus Ms MR, Yeasayer, Grizzly Bear, A Trak and Kurt Vile for the hip set), the festival also features a lineup of NorCal wine suppliers that would make any local oenophile excited. The beer list is hot too, pouring pints from 21st Amendment Brewery, Anchor, Almanac and more. As is the Frisco way, the festival tries to be as eco-friendly as possible, working with local waste and recycling services to achieve the highest possible waste diversion rates (all compostable and biodegradable utensils and plates help) and rocking out on a solar stage which is completely powered by alternative and solar energy. San Francisco is proving to be a fine 21st century hippy, and that’s a great thing.

5. Go nuts in the woods with Lauryn Hill at Electric Forest in Rothbury, Michigan

Hang out between the trees with the best underrated EDM and Jam performers in the country. Fans can dance in the mystical neon-lit forest with the likes of Lauryn Hill, Zeds Dead, Flying Lotus, Schoolboy Q, Moby and more. But the coolest thing about this festival is the experience: at night it is illuminated with light shows and glowing installations, while campers can hit the water park during the day or dine at a pop-up restaurant by a Top Chef-winning chef, take a horseback riding course, hit the links on the golf course or splash around in the lakes. Those who prefer to lounge and sleep the day away can spend some time swingin’ on the hammocks tied up between the trees.

4. Don’t forget your glowsticks before heading to Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas

Photo by Party Stuff by CS/Flickr.

The traveling carnival has gotten a neon makeover in the last few years – or at least as long as Electric Daisy Carnival has been going on. EDC takes its show through Mexico, New York, London, Puerto Rico, and Orlando before finally culminating into a three day electrifying festival at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in late June. EDM-fueled night owls can dance from dusk till dawn all weekend. The 2014 lineup hasn’t even been announced but the festival sold out in record time: that’s nuts. Speculations on who’s spinning include Avicii, Major Lazer, Eric Prydz and Above & Beyond. Certainly it’s going to be an insane weekend, just don’t forget to hydrate up.

See 7 tips, like when to book your ticket, from the Hopper research team that can save travelers hundreds on their flights to Las Vegas.

3. Chicago's Pitchfork Music Festival, the golden god of indie, descends once more

Everybody who is indie cool will be at this thing. Like, understated cool, not Jay-Z cool (although GZA was there in 2007, that’s pretty damn cool); more Beck cool and Kendrick cool; bands from Montreal you’ve never heard of and probably some you have, synth-pop and indie darlings like Grimes and Our Lady of Art Pop, St. Vincent; there’s the noisy lo-fi shoegaze ‘80s-esque temptresses the Dum Dum Girls; Earl Sweatshirt, Pusha T, Danny Brown…. the list continues but the point is, Pitchfork has done a lot for a lot of musicians’ careers and this three-day festival in Union Park in Chicago is a grand celebration of it. The city will celebrate Pitchfork with the festival: there’s a huge crafts fair, record fair, and poster-print shop. Looking for a music festival to be part of? If you can pull of tight denim, Urban Outfitters bandannas and neon glasses, Pitchfork’s calling.

2. Party in New York at the Governors Ball

For a relatively new music festival, the Governors Ball has taken the music industry by storm – in the case of GovBall 2013, almost literally. However, the party keeps going on Randall’s Island, and on a weekend in June, three days of rocking will ensue with cool bands like Outkast, Jack White, Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, La Roux, Tyler the Creator, J. Cole and Broken Bells. There will also be other cool activities: photo booths, art installations, lawn games, face and body painting, and free water refill stations and events, pop-up shops and shows all over New York in partnership with the Governors Ball.

1. Bonnaroo in Tennessee loves all and all love Bonnaroo

Bonnaroo might have started out pretty folk and jam band-heavy, with a shorter but admirable line-up of Bela Fleck, Jack Johnson, Norah Jones, Les Claypool, the John Butler Trio and other similar acts, but as the years wore on, it has expanded to become one of the biggest musical festivals of its kind, having lent stage time to the likes of everyone from The Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, and Buffalo Springfield to the Beastie Boys, Jay-Z, Radiohead, and more. Set in a 700-acre patch of farmland in Manchester, Tennessee, Bonnaroo hosts tons of summertime fun activities like a ride on their 40ft Big Ass Water Slide in Splash-A-Roo and group yoga classes; they’ve got a food truck oasis, a healthy and environmentally friendly café, a beer festival and more. Love camping next to hippies while Kanye blows your eardrums sideways? Hit Bonnaroo and just see where you go from there.

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