WORDS: Brett Fillmore
LEAD IMAGE: Eric Pàmies
You may be aware of most of the really big festivals and all your local ones, but here’s a little collection of some killer music festivals you may have never heard of to add to your bucket list.
Location: Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Size: 20,000 attendees per day
This Year’s Edition: Feist performed her only US festival set of the summer, Chance the Rapper was joined onstage by both Francis Starlite and Justin Vernon, and Paul Simon performed with classical chamber group yMusic as his backing band. Jenny Lewis appeared as an “Artist In Residence”, roving the festival grounds performing spontaneously offstage, and joining other artists onstage.
Sound Bite: “One of the ‘Top 10 Music Festivals in North America.’” – Consequence of Sound
The festival was founded by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and Aaron Dessner of The National, who personally curate the lineup each year (and usually perform as well). As you can see by the lineup poster with artists listed alphabetically instead of ranked and font-sized by popularity, the festival is geared as a type of “anti-music-festival festival”, with no corporate branding or VIP areas and minimal scheduling overlap between stages. Artists show up the week before to write and rehearse in the surrounding woods, and on-stage collaboration is very common.
Location: Barcelona, Spain
Size: 200,000 total attendance
This Year’s Edition: This one had it all: a secret Arcade Fire set, Grace Jones hula hooping an entire song, and Sue Jorge (this guy) playing the entire David Bowie catalogue from The Life Aquatic in Portuguese and in costume.
Sound Bite: “I first attended Prima in 2012 and have since been convinced it is the best music festival in the world. Because (yes) it is extremely Grammable (#nofilter) but also impeccably curated. In my experience, Primavera has catered to those of us who want to hop from one corner of our disparate musical identities to the other until the sun comes out, by which I mean see metal and noise and rock and pop, and then get sucked into the Boiler Room dome for hours at a time.” – Jenn Pelly, Pitchfork
This one is a world-beater. It makes people speak about Coachella like it has some growing up to do. The festival is enormous and sets go past sunrise, which is super impressive for an urban venue; where other festivals of this size have to take place in the countryside to accommodate, Primavera’s 14-stage site is in the very centre of a major world city. Attendees are about half Spanish and half foreigners from elsewhere in Europe.
Location: Reykjavik, Iceland
Size: 9,000 attendees per day
This Year’s Edition: The lineup for this one is still in the process of being announced. The bill so far features a few names you may recognise (Fleet Foxes, Billy Bragg, Arab Strap), and a whole bunch that you likely haven’t. Don’t let that bother you, though. Searching out artists that are playing this festival is a fantastic way to discover your new favourite band.
Sound Bite: “The hippest long weekend on the annual music-festival calendar.” – David Fricke, Rolling Stone
This ultra-trendy autumn festival features a bill split between local Icelandic bands and international acts from around the globe. The festival has a reputation for booking only the freshest, most current performers, with a track record of featuring acts before they break into the big time. Some of the stages are on outdoor hot pools and hot springs.
Location: Dover, Delaware
Size: 90,000 total attendees
This Year’s Edition: Jared Leto passed out popsicles from the stage, Maggie Rogers made her very first festival appearance, and, um, a human skeleton.
Sound Bite: “Firefly is a contender when it comes to endearing locations for a festival. Instead of the rectangular sprawl of Lollapalooza or the mudpocalypse-prone Randall’s Island of Governors Ball, you get the beauty of Dover’s Woodlands … At night, when you’re moving amidst LED lights and the shadows of trees, it can have a transportive effect.” – Ryan Leas, Stereogum
This is a forest-setting camping festival, and the only thing more massive than the grounds (7 stages!) are the lineups. I’s a bigtime festival, but they seem to find ways to insert some folksiness whenever possible. Take, for instance, the music in the campgrounds, which are technically outside of the official music venue area: there is more than one silent disco in the camping areas, as well as special camping area stages with their own lineups and schedules. There’s a Chuck E. Cheese style arcade tent, multiple hammock stations, and hilarious sounding signup tournaments for things like kickball and capture the flag. Maybe the best aspect of all is that attendees can vote on the festival’s website to choose over 40 aspects of the event, including the merchandise designs, food and booze options, and campground amenities.