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When Memorial Day arrives, summer unofficially starts — and with it, so too does festival season. Music festivals, at which attendees bounce among many stages seeing artist after artist for close to 12 hours per day, happen more frequently during the summer than at any other time of year. Most of the best U.S. festivals take place outside, so save the threat of thunderstorms, what better time of year for an outdoor party full of drinks, food, music, and other arts?
The summer can get so crowded with music festivals that deciding which ones to try can be a fun, albeit possibly stressful, challenge. Plus, with festivals, there’s often travel and all the logistics accompanying it to consider. Any of these four festivals, though, is all but certain to be worth all the time, money, and energy poured into them.
Location: New York, NY
Dates: Friday, May 31 – Sunday, June 2
Governor’s Ball was first held in 2011, and since then, it has grown rapidly into one of the most highly-regarded festivals in the U.S. Although the festival’s founders gave it its title to honor its inaugural location of Governor’s Island, Governor’s Ball has taken place on Randall’s Island since its second year. The festival’s lineup often runs the gamut of mainstream pop, longstanding arena icons, and indie favorites. This year’s Sunday lineup is particularly ambitious, with SZA and The Strokes among the headliners and a Charli XCX set in the mix as well.
Location: Manchester, TN
Dates: Thursday, June 13 – Sunday, June 16
Bonnaroo is renowned as a combined arts and camping experience, set on a huge farm an hour and a half southeast of Nashville. Its lineups have tended to highlight artists popular on Top 40 radio, thriving indie musicians, and long-running bands whose association with the “jam band” scene span decades, such as Dead & Company’s headlining set in 2016. This year’s lineup proves no exception to the jam band rule, as Phish, perhaps the ultimate jam band, will play a whopping three sets in three days (two of them on June 16th).
Location: Chicago, IL
Dates: Thursday, August 1 – Sunday, August 4
Despite its completely made-up name, Lollapalooza isn’t terribly fantastical. For all the escapism that can accompany a festival, Lollapalooza actually takes place in a supremely urban, modern setting. Grant Park, at most times of the year, is like any other huge park situated right in a major city’s downtown area (in this case, Chicago’s Loop district). It’s the same park where Chicago’s signature tourist attraction Cloud Gate is located, but when Lollapalooza comes to town, the park becomes an easily-accessible space where the biggest names in music play alongside tomorrow’s mainstream sensations.
Location: San Francisco, CA
Dates: Friday, August 9 – Sunday, August 11
As with Lollapalooza, Outside Lands takes place in a large, oft-trodden public park. Golden Gate Park is San Francisco’s equivalent of Central Park, but unlike Grant Park, it’s not directly next to the city’s downtown, giving Outside Lands a more remote feeling. San Francisco’s summer climate also differs dramatically from most other festival cities, as temperatures rarely rise above 70 degrees, and cloud cover can be abundant. This year’s lineup leans strongly in a pop and rock direction, though Childish Gambino will headline Saturday.