The Best Music Festival for Every Fan, from Diehard Rockers to Foodies
The West’s festival circuit delivers great musical performances, along with amazing food, wine, alternative healing, and art. Find the perfect festival for every concertgoer
For the Relaxed Showgoer: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, San Francisco, CA
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass used to be called Strictly Bluegrass. These days, it isn’t even mostly bluegrass. But what was born in 2001 as the bluegrass baby of venture capitalist and banjo player Warren Hellman has evolved into a free large-scale fest that takes over Golden Gate Park every October, hosting acts that would otherwise cost you $40 apiece. Hardly Strictly is powerful enough to attract stars like Alison Krauss, M. Ward, Ani DiFranco, Deer Tick, Vetiver, Roky Erikson, Mavis Staples, Emmylou Harris, and T-Bone Burnett, but it doesn’t overlook smaller acts on its more modest stages. Hardly Strictly is also a family-friendly and fairly chill experience. Though much of your time is spent wading through crowds to get to the next stage, you can’t beat the $0 price tag and the lush surroundings of eucalyptus trees and Monterey cypresses framing your picnic blanket and 10 of your best friends.
For Rockers with Tots in Tow: Arroyo Seco, Pasadena, CA
It’s been called “The Rock Festival for Families,” and Arroyo Seco doesn’t disappoint when it comes to admission, which is free for kids 10 and under. The reason? Promoter Goldenvoice is aiming its fest squarely at older Millennials, Xennials, and Gen X’ers, many of whom have kids. While its other fest, Coachella, might not be the best event for fams, Arroyo Seco boasts a Kidspace tent with an instrument petting zoo to occupy the kids while fancy cocktails relieve parents’ headaches. The idea? The ‘rents go home happy, stomachs full of pastrami from Curtis Stone’s Gwen stand and ears still reverberating with the howls of Jack White and the Alabama Shakes, and the kids get as much enjoyment as on any average Saturday.
For the New New-Ager: Lightning in a Bottle, Bakersfield, CA
There’s a bit of a Burning Man vibe at Lightning in a Bottle, the experiential fest in Bakersfield that offers not only music but meditation, sound baths, healing, and wellness. It’s often hot in Bakersfield in spring, when the event is held, and the answer is jumping in Kern Lake, so swimsuits and semi-nudity reign. From a trading post called The Grand Artique that swaps batik clothes and rawhide vests to a culinary tent called The Learning Kitchen where fermentation workshops infuse the audience with gut health, there’s more than music, but at night, tunes and partying reign. Electronic acts like Flying Lotus, Khruangbin, and Masego have crowds swaying and pulsing passionately, and not everyone is under the influence—a tent called “Lightning Without the Bottle” discusses not being under any influence except the music and fun. Sustainability and a zero-tolerance sexual harassment policy aim to keep the fest a safe and healthy experience for all.
For the Desert Sun Worshipper: Joshua Tree Music Festival, Joshua Tree, CA
It’s a little bit R&B, a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, and a little bit … sweat lodge? The Joshua Tree Music Festival isn’t going to pretend that you won’t sweat—it’s hot in the desert. Thankfully, the fest offers 35,000 square feet of shade and skips the worst of summer, sticking to spring and fall, but who are we kidding? It can get to 100 degrees in May here. Still, it’s worth it to see the likes of The North Mississippi All-Stars, The California Honeydrops, Vintage Trouble, and other top-notch acts. Yoga, visual art, healers, and talks round out this exceedingly chill desert festival. It’s also kid-friendly—Kidsville at JTMF is almost as active as the music stages, with aerial silks, giant puppets, yoga, and storytelling, plus families can camp at a quieter designated area.
For the World Music Fan: Stern Grove Festival, San Francisco, CA
The Stern Grove Festival is that rare Venn diagram of both free and fantastic, so something’s gotta give, right? Well, you’ve got to get to this weekly summer Sunday fest on the early side. Even though the show starts at 2 p.m., taking public transit to the Grove or getting there early to claim a parking spot—not to mention staking your claim on the grass with your picnic blanket—is imperative. Besides, yoga starts at 12 p.m. on the West Meadow! All-ages audiences come out for performances that span the global gamut, from Ladysmith Black Mambazo to Femi Kuti. This year, Digable Planets, Mitski, Pink Martini, Toots & the Maytals, and The Psychedelic Furs are among the headliners, along with the annual offerings of the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Ballet. The daytime-only and limited-space format keeps things from getting too wild, and coolers and picnic baskets are permitted, though food trucks sling tacos and sandwiches for concertgoers.
For the Indie Rocker: All Summer’s Eve, Twentynine Palms, CA
All Summer’s Eve Desert Rendezvous is a small, independent festival in the artsy Wonder Valley near Joshua Tree that features beloved indie rock bands from Portland to SoCal. The Rendezvous takes place at The Palms, a local desert watering hole with so much country character, you might think you’ve seen it in a Coen Brothers film. So few commercial establishments decorate this deserted country road that the bar, restaurant, and concert venue may seem like a mirage until you get close. After you step inside this roadside saloon and immerse yourself in the frosty air conditioning, sweet iced tea, and mellow tunes courtesy of the indoor musical set, head out back to the outdoor stage for the bigger acts. Recent years have featured The Blank Tapes, The Clouds, Earth Girl Helen Brown, and The Sibleys.
For the Country Lover: Stagecoach, Indio, CA
Stagecoach is a great opportunity to catch country stars like Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean on massive stages in a large festival setting. RVs are welcome for camping, and you won’t go hungry with Shake Shack burgers and Salt & Straw cones, but get this—Postmates delivery is also available at various spots around the festival grounds. A sizable selection of great craft and domestic beers is available, and Guy Fieri runs a barbecue joint called Stagecoach Smokehouse onsite where he serves up brisket, ribs, and sandwiches and hosts demonstrations with pit masters. At night, DJs like Diplo keep crowds on their feet and dancing.
For the Foodie: Outside Lands, San Francisco, CA
Mainstream party acts hit the big stage at Outside Lands, a three-day fest featuring Childish Gambino, The Lumineers, Anderson .Paak, blink-182, Lil Wayne, Paul Simon, and Kacey Musgraves. As expected of a San Francisco festival, edibles of both the cannabinoid and non-cannabinoid varieties are gourmet, with CBD truffles at Grass Lands, and everything from poke to Nepalese lamb dumplings for meals. Beer, cocktails, and wine abound, chef demos happen at the fest’s fabled GastroMagic, and Golden Gate Park provides the perfect setting for a summer concert that’s not too hot (but can often be frigid at night, so pack them layers).
For Gothy Daydreamers: Pasadena Daydream, Pasadena, CA
Sharpen your best eyeliner, because new festival Pasadena Daydream is the result of The Cure curating a pensive, retro, somewhat gothy lineup that can still rock out. Bands include Mogwai, Throwing Muses, Pixies, Deftones, The Twilight Sad, Emma Ruth Rundle, Chelsea Wolfe, The Joy Formidable, and Kælan Mikla—and The Cure themselves, of course. The festival takes place at The Rose Bowl, an epic setting for a show, with food and drink vendors set up outside around the perimeter. Visibility may be somewhat limited if your seat is gads away from the stage, but seeing Robert Smith onstage should bring all your teenage daydreams flooding back. Tickets are free for 10 and unders, and all tickets include a $1 donation to local music and arts education organizations, including Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, Little Kids Rock, Free Arts for Abused Children, Inner-City Arts, and The Painted Turtle.https://www.instagram.com/p/BxkVMk5gwaJ/
For Elder Millennials: Just Like Heaven, Long Beach, CA
Though it may be named after one of Robert Smith’s band’s most well-known songs, Just Like Heaven doesn’t feature The Cure. Instead, a lineup hearkening back to the late-2000s appeals to older and mid-Millennials with festival circuit faves and a host of East Coast bands playing the West, including the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beach House, Phoenix, MGMT, Passion Pit, Grizzly Bear, The Rapture, Miike Snow, The Faint, Peter Bjorn & John, Neon Indian, Washed Out, Tennis, Ra Ra Riot, and Tokyo Police Club. The venue, Queen Mary Park, offers a variety of food stands for the fest including vegan tacos (natch!), pizza, and fried chicken, but it’s the music that’s the centerpiece here, not drum circles or food.
For the Genre-Defying Next Gen: Boiler Room Festival, Los Angeles, CA
The Boiler Room Festival is put on by liquor brand Pernod Ricard, so don’t expect below-the-board cocktails—but do expect a festival that proudly claims to be multi-continental and limited by no genre. In fact, there are no headliners at this festival, only equal moving parts. This event is for a generation that loves jazz, rap, bass, and club music alike, and has no issues mashing up their day with lounging, dancing, and head-bobbing. Though this year’s lineup hasn’t been revealed yet, it’s worth betting that a host of your Resident Advisor underground electronic faves will hit the three stages in Los Angeles, London, and Johannesburg. This is a fest to keep your eye on (subscribe to their email newsletter on the main page).
For the No-Fuss Commute: Treasure Island Music Festival, Oakland, CAThe Treasure Island Music Festival isn’t held on Treasure Island anymore, but West Oakland is an improvement due to easier access via BART (rather than the festival shuttle bus employed in the past). Tame Impala headlined last year, rounded out by A$AP Rocky, Santigold, Courtney Barnett, Pusha T, Sharon Van Etten, and more acts. Crafts, painting, carnival rides, stilt walkers, and circus performers have augmented the ambience in the past, but this celebration is low on the Burning Man quotient. The key here is really getting swept away in the (typically twentysomething) crowd’s enthusiasm for the bands. However, the food has certainly gotten better since the move to Oakland, with its host of gourmet options.
For the Oenophile: BottleRock Napa Valley, Napa, CA
You wouldn’t expect to swirl a highly-rated Sauv Blanc and nosh on Morimoto maki rolls anywhere on the festival circuit except at BottleRock, Napa’s music extravaganza cementing wine’s place at the Millennial party. Performers are on the mainstream side, with Bruno Mars, Lenny Kravitz, Maroon 5, Foo Fighters, The Killers, and Red Hot Chili Peppers in recent years, but the programmers manage to slip in more underground sensations like Tank and the Bangas too. The fest is notably organized and clean compared to others, and for many fans, this party is such a cut above the rest that it’s the only one they’ll attend. What else would we expect from Napa?
For the Glamper: Desert Daze, Perris, CA
This fall fest goes down at Moreno Beach at Lake Perris when the blazing temps chill out a little bit in October, and thank god for that lake. The Inland Empire isn’t completely cool in October, and the lake is a fine place to soak your hot and tired bum come 2 p.m. Climb into an inflatable raft with a few of your friends and chill the day away, but don’t miss the headliners at night. The lineup at Desert Daze is solidly entertaining and on the #ElderMillennial side, including the likes of Stereolab, Animal Collective, The Flaming Lips, The Black Angels, Lightning Bolt, and Parquet Courts. The visuals are also transformative at this blowout, ranging from trippy VJ backdrops to large-scale immersive art installations. Desert Daze is another festival that recognizes the Millennial desire for having it all in one fest, with a healers’ center of shamans and mystics coexisting with luxury VIP safari tents that ring in at over $1,800 for the weekend.
For the Weirdos: Burger Boogaloo, Oakland, CA
A festival hosted by John Waters? Yes, please. It’s a joy whenever the Baltimore icon chooses to pop up out West to bless us with his eccentricities, and this dirt-cheap, DIY-spirited, eccentrically-named shindig is no exception. The Jesus and Mary Chain headlines a quirky collection of stage stars, including Scientists, Dead Boys, Shannon & The Clams, Nobunny, and The Dwarves. Yes, John Waters really gets onstage and introduces the bands, with his ahem … colorful illustrations. The tagline at this fest might as well be #WeirdosWelcome, because anything goes at this colorful, beach ball-strewn, papier-mâché-decorated stage, featuring cameos by performers in gorilla costumes and divas to rival Divine.
For the Festie Newbie: Life is Beautiful, Las Vegas, NV
Could the Life is Beautiful schedule be more packed? This easy, well-organized downtown Vegas fest features almost 80 headliners, and the caliber is high — Chance the Rapper and Janelle Monae high. It’s not all music here either, with big funny mouths like Desus & Mero and Jonathan Van Ness in the mix. It’s hot as sin in Sin City during September, but the shelter of downtown shade is relatively easy to find, and you’ll be walking around the festival’s allotted 20-or-so blocks in the hipper-than-the-Strip downtown area. Finding a cheap hotel is, as ever in Vegas, fairly easy, especially if you’re flexible on location and taking Lyfts. The focus may be the music, but the food ain’t too shabby either, with most of it from locals, including pizza from Good Pie and lumpia from Oming Kitchen. The clear maps, easy mobile app, and lack of preparation needed make this a great first-timer fest.
For the EDM Devotee: Electric Daisy Carnival, Las Vegas, NV
EDM fans, don’t despair at the glut of rock festivals that barely get your body moving. This one’s for you, of course—Electric Daisy has been the central festival for dancing to electronic music since the ’90s, when it was started as a warehouse party in L.A. Now in Vegas at the Motor Speedway, this bright celebration of all things glow stick hearkens back to the era when rave culture gripped cities across America. The visuals aren’t just stage projections here, but glow-in-the-dark LED structures created specifically for the event, and the fireworks display is enough to have you saying “Eh” to the Fourth of July. Hula hoops, fire performances, carnival rides—this shindig is professional. Huge acts like Tiesto, Armin van Buuren, and Calvin Harris are featured, but there are also smaller stages to sate your more indie appetites. And of course, everyone’s dancing—no wallflowers in this field of daisies.
For the Rockabilly Cats: Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend, Las Vegas, NV
This long-running fest attracts not only Stateside fans, but also an international audience of folks from Mexico to Japan who love rockabilly music. From top-notch burlesque (think Dita von Teese) and impressive car shows to dressed-to-the-nines pinup contests and tiki pool parties, over 20,000 fans descend upon the faded, off-the-Strip Orleans Hotel every year to celebrate the biggest annual gathering of rockabilly fans in the world. Ornamented in pinup dresses and bowling shirts and ready to swing dance and pluck an upright bass, these fans and performers groove to the sounds of groups like The Stray Cats, Roy Wilson & The Buzzards, and Ryuichi & The Dicetones.
For the Prettiest Vacation Spot: Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Telluride, CO
Hightail it onto the lawn with your chairs and blankets to grab prime space for one of the most relaxed music fests in the West. The land grab will be your most stressful moment during the whole fest, as you laze about watching bluegrass, rock, country, jam band, and more acts. Kacey Musgraves, Brandi Carlile, Gregory Alan Isakov, Jim James, Greensky Bluegrass, Sam Bush Band, Yonder Mountain String Band, Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, Leftover Salmon, Railroad Earth, and the Tim O’Brien Band are just a few of the luminaries who hit this stage. Rent a house with a big group of family or friends and make sure to visit some swimming holes and lots of ice cream shops in between performances. Did we mention that Telluride is one of the most beautiful festival towns on this list? The San Juan Mountains provide quite a jaw-dropping backdrop.
For the Dignified Concertgoer: Jazz Aspen Snowmass, Aspen, CO
You’re probably not going to slide through any Woodstock-style mud baths at this low-key concert for the older crowd in Aspen. The festival fills the renowned mountain town with a variety of performers, including popular jazz, rock, and soul. With three annual events—a fest in June, another in September, and a summer JAS Cafe—it draws tourists throughout the season. While JAS Cafe hews more closely to the original jazzy roots, the June fest is soul-oriented, with the Taj Mahal Quartet and Booker T. Jones, while the Labor Day fest features rock names like Weezer, John Mayer, Portugal. The Man, and Sting. As the event itself is surprisingly affordable (and popular), it’s best to secure your Aspen accommodations well in advance.
For the Crunchy Crew: High Sierra Music Festival, Quincy, CA
Jam band, newgrass, and funk never went away, you say? Then High Sierra is for you, with bands including Michael Franti & Spearhead, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, The String Cheese Incident, Widespread Panic, Nickel Creek, The Black Crowes, Gov’t Mule, and Bob Weir and RatDog. A chilled-out, friendly, and cannabis-loving crowd fills this event with their giant puppets, hackysacks, families, and Grateful Dead and Phish tattoos, in a town that resembles Burlington, Vermont due to its mountainous backdrop and hippie vibe.