In 2020, it’s hard to find a truly unique music festival. As top tier promoters, like Live Nation, continue to scoop up local events, the lineup posters continue to bleed together while the cultures that used to set them apart continue to meld. It can make it hard to find a weekend where you’ll be able to frolic in fields with your own particular brand of weirdos, but don’t lose hope. There are still campgrounds and billings where you can find your tribe.
Below, we’re highlighting the outposts still clinging to their freewheelin’ roots. (Oh, and Coachella.)
April 10-12 & 17-19
Listen, it’s pretty ridiculous to recommend Coachella at this point. It sells out every single year—before the lineup is revealed—and, if I am being honest, the run of show doesn’t really matter out in Indio. The polo fields are fashioned for inevitable fun, from the art installations, to the food, to the art house stages (like the Do Lab), to the impossibly attractive crowd, to the always perfect weather. People love to hate on the fest for all of those reasons, but you should know that anyone who has something negative to say hasn’t actually been. In 2020, though, that entire preamble is a non-factor because the lineup actually rules. Headliners include Rage Against the Machine (!), Travis Scott, and Frank Ocean, while smaller font surprises include a mix of current tastemasters and throwback fun, like FKA twigs, Run the Jewels, Danny Elfman (!!!), Black Coffee, Fatboy Slim, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, and so many more.
Napa Valley, Calif.
All you really need to know about BottleRock festival this year is that it features a headlining slot from Red Hot Chili Peppers which will witness their reunion with founding guitarist and funk-master John Frusciante. If that doesn’t somehow entice you, maybe the fact that they’re joined by a truly wide swath of a-listers from other genres will. Stevie Nicks and Dave Matthews Band helm the other two days of acts and they’re joined be Brandi Carlile, Janelle Monae, Miley Cyrus, Khalid, The Avett Brothers, Anderson .Paak, Maren Morris, and more. If that still isn’t doing it for you, I might suggest that you do not seem to be much of a music person, but I would point out that this whole shindig is in Napa Valley, a.k.a. wine capital U.S.A, and the related offerings are Grade A. The other thing Napa is great at? Food—and the fest brings it in by the truckload. The culinary stages and set-up at this event are just about impossible to beat.
New York, New York
To pretend like Governors Ball hasn’t had a hard run with weather in recent years would be disingenuous. (The nickname #MudBall is founded on extremely squishy ground.) But they’re doing it big in 2020 for the fest’s 10th anniversary. Stevie Nicks and Miley Cyrus can also be found on this billing, but they’re joined by Tame Impala, Vampire Weekend, Missy Elliott, Solange, Portugal. the Man, Foals, and more. Something that hasn’t gotten perhaps as much attention as it should is the way the event, which takes place on Randall’s Island, bleeds into downtown Manhattan with #GovBallAfterDark programming. When the fairgrounds close, the acts take over local clubs and concert halls. Welcome to the Big Apple, the city that never sleeps.
Put simply, there’s no place like Bonnaroo anywhere else in America. Set on a 700-acre, privately owned farm just about an hour outside of Nashville, the four days of programming wrap all the way around the clock at this annual pilgrimage for the weird and wild. Honoring nearby Music City, 2020 will mark the second year that Thursday’s schedule is curated by the Grand Ole Opry but after that, it’s a smattering of ambassadors from every genre. Tool, Lizzo, and Tame Impala will headline, while Miley Cyrus continues her mission to be everywhere. But after that, you’ll also find pop acts like the 1975 and Lana Del Rey, rockers like Brittany Howard, Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, and Grace Potter, plus jam kings like Oysterhead (a Trey Anastatsio team-up with Les Claypool of Primus, who is also billed), Turkuaz, and King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard. There’s also some extremely fun throwbacks—Tenacious D and Nelly, who will perform his debut LP, Country Grammar in full, are also listed—and plenty of electro for the late night ravers (Bassnectar, Ganja White Night).
Hunter Mountain, NY
It’s hard to beat the vibe of a massive country concert, unless, of course, you’ve got a country festival on your hands. There are many around the county, but 2020 will witness the birth of a brand new event: Trailblazer in upstate New York, at the former grounds of the Taste of Country Festival. Headlined by Dierks Bentley, Thomas Rhett, and Luke Bryan, the top-tier isn’t exactly staffed by hard-to-find acts, but a welcome sleaze arrives with The Cadillac Three and Hardy, while Kelsea Ballerini promises a pop-crossover punch.
If there’s no event in America like Bonnaroo, there’s no town like Telluride. The outpost in Colorado will host the 47th iteration of its bluegrass fest, and the lineup is as string-laden as ever. Alison Krauss, Sam Bush Band, Del McCoury Band, folk-jam purveyors Greensky Bluegrass, and prog-infused Infamous Stringdusters will helm the main stage this summer. Like Gov Ball, this is a festival that continues after the main stage wraps. NightGrass events book shows all over town, like at the fabled Opera House at the New Sheridan Hotel, with billed artists as well as local favorites.
Are you looking for somewhere to jam out and celebrate Phil Lesh’s 80th birthday this summer? How convenient! Lockn’ has become the premiere jam band event each summer and the A-list is all making the trip in 2020 to see the Grateful Dead bassist welcome a new decade. Lesh will helm each evening, joined by a mix that includes Warren Haynes, David Crosby, Joe Russo, and John Mayer. And elsewhere, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, Bruce Hornsby, Yola, and more will be bringing the shred. If that isn’t weird enough, consider the unique set-up: the fest’s main stage is dual-sided, so as one band wraps up, it begins to rotate, until it reveals the next band, making for an endless loop of mind-bending music.