Although most of us don’t always realize it, music festivals are an ancient phenomenon. Immersing yourself in a combination of music, alcohol, community, and often other activities too, has always held a strong appeal for human beings in diverse cultures around the world. The modern music festival, although it seems on the surface to be far away from something that may have happened in the 10th century, is probably similar at its core in more ways than we realize.Of course, not all music festivals are equal – some can be dull, others can be exciting but difficult to get to. In addition, there’s the matter of personal tastes and preferences. There are people who have been to Glastonbury multiple times and still want more, and there are others for whom one Glastonbury experience was more than enough.
Nonetheless, as we near the end of winter, and the music festival season starts to draw closer, let’s have a look at ten music festivals that almost every music fan absolutely must visit, if not this year then some time in their lives.
Beale Street Music Festival – Memphis, United States of America
The Beale Street Music Festival is just one part of Memphis in May, a month-long festival that is held annually in Memphis, Tennessee. The other two parts are International Week, which is a series of events focusing on a different country each year, and the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest, which is one of the biggest and most popular barbecue contests in the US. However, the most popular part of Memphis in May is probably the part that kicks it off, the Beale Street Music Festival.
The festival is a mix of massively popular international acts, somewhat popular mid-level acts, and local acts that are relatively unknown. It draws huge crowds, especially on the last day, which is when you can catch most of the major performances. This year’s big names are Neil Young and Paul Simon, along with Beck, Modest Mouse, Weezer, and plenty of other names you might recognize. For many people however, the more exciting part of the festival is the exploration and discovery of new music, especially in the historic environs of Beale Street, Memphis.
Festival Internacional de Benicàssim – Benicàssim, Spain
The Festival Internacional de Benicàssim, often known simply as FIB or Benicàssim, is one of many festivals that includes diverse arts such as film, fashion, and painting It’s set in the town of Benicàssim, which is a wonderful beach resort in Valencia. The access to beaches and the ubiquity of tourism and beach culture give this festival a rather unique feel, which is instantly driven home when you see most of the attendees wandering around in their best beachwear.
Another unique feature of Benicàssim is its schedule – the performances begin only in the evening, and continue until dawn, leaving you free to enjoy the beaches all through the day (and perhaps catch up on a bit of sleep). This year the festival takes place from 14th to 17th July, and the major acts include Kendrick Lamar, Muse, The Chemical Brothers, Massive Attack, Bloc Party, and Major Lazer.
The Great Escape – Brighton, United Kingdom
The Great Escape is unique in that it’s not just focused on massive venues and on the audience, but is spread across roughly 40 venues in the city of Brighton and includes a music convention element, which draws a large number of musicians and music industry delegates to it. The festival also has a decidedly non-commercial feel, with a focus on showcasing acts that are promising and exciting but are almost entirely unknown to at least half the festival-goers.
And that’s the fun of The Great Escape – wandering around Brighton each day with no plan, figuring out which venue to go to next, sampling new music, not liking some of it, but then completely falling in love with a new artist. The festival dates for 2016 are 19th to 21st May, and some of the highlights include Craig David’s TS5, local acts such as Makeness and Haiku Salut, Porches from the US, Fatoumata Diawara from Mali, and Nadine Carina from Switzerland. More performers will be added to the line-up as the year progresses.
Lake of Stars Festival – Mangochi, Malawi
The Lake of Stars Festival is more than a music festival – it’s described as a “three-day arts extravaganza”, with poetry, theatre, comedy, dance, and even science and technology displays in addition to the music. What makes the festival especially magical is the exceptional location – Lake Malawi is the third largest lake in Africa, and has been described by Time Out magazine as the most beautiful festival location in the world.
Some of the other great things about the festival are the support provided to local charities, including visits to local orphanages, the major boost that the festival gives tourism and the local economy, and the fact that the majority of the staff are unpaid local volunteers and most of the artists also perform for a minimal fee. The focus is on local artists, but past international favorites have included acts like Foals, Young Fathers, and The Maccabees. The festival dates for 2016 have been announced as 30th September to 2nd October.
Fuji Rock Festival – Niigata Prefecture, Japan
If you’re making a list of festivals to attend across the world, you have to include at least one in Japan. Our choice is the Fuji Rock Festival, for multiple reasons, including its scale, location, the huge and enthusiastic crowds, and the exceptional line-up that includes international superstars like the Foo Fighters, Muse, Arcade Fire, and Jack Johnson, and local greats like Ringo Sheena, Gen Hoshino, Motoharu Sano, and The Cro-Magnons.
The festival started off rather disastrously in 1997, when the organizers were unprepared for the bad weather on Mount Fuji (which is where the festival gets its name). However, since moving to the Naeba Ski Resort in 1999, Fuji Rock has been running smoothly and increasingly successfully. The current venue is once again on a mountain, and getting from one stage to the next (there are seven) over the hilly, mountainous terrain can be a bit challenging. However, it’s part of the fun, and the organizers are particular about cleaning up and recycling, which means that you don’t have to worry about harming your beautiful surroundings. This year’s dates are 22nd to 24th July, and the line-up includes the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sigur Rós, and Beck.
Vive Latino – Mexico City, Mexico
Vive Latino – Festival Iberoamericano de Cultura Musical is Mexico’s biggest music festival and one of the most important Spanish music festivals in the world. The focus is on “rock en español”, but the festival has expanded to include non-rock Spanish acts, such as Café Tacuba and Los Amigos Invisibles, as well as popular non-Spanish acts, such as The Chemical Brothers, Jane’s Addiction, and The National. The Spanish acts themselves come from all over the world, and span genres ranging from rock ‘n’ roll and indie rock to punk and metal, and even pop and hip-hop, with many of the artists incorporating their own local influences too. For people who are unfamiliar with Spanish music, the diversity at Vive Latino can be pretty mind-boggling.
There’s also a lot to explore besides the music, including a documentary film festival, poetry, street theatre, and dance. This massive, two- or three-day festival takes place between March and May, and this year’s dates are 23rd and 24th April.
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival – New Orleans, United States of America
This is one festival that’s been around for a long time, going all the way back to 1970. Since then, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival – or simply Jazz Fest, as it’s fondly known to the locals – has only gotten bigger and better. New Orleans is a great city for music and for food at any time of the year, but during the two Jazz Fest weekends (the last weekend of April and the first weekend of May), it reaches another level entirely.
There are the twelve or so music stages at the actual festival, along with two food stages that are probably worthy of just as much attention, and in addition, the local clubs and bars put on even more music than they usually do, along with even better culinary spreads. Even the street food seems better and more abundant than it usually is. You won’t find trashy, overpriced festival food at Jazz Fest – it’s all authentic New Orleans delicacies. As for the music, if you’re upset about the mainstream pop and rock acts on the main stage, just walk around – the other stages, and in fact the entire city, remains pretty much dedicated to jazz, blues, gospel, Cajun, and other local styles.
Golden Plains Festival – Victoria, Australia
The Golden Plains Festival is exceptional for a number of reasons – one is the fact that there’s only one stage, so you don’t have to be torn between two different acts and you don’t have to tramp from one stage to the next. The other is the fact that the farmland that is the venue for the festival makes a beautiful natural amphitheatre. Anywhere you sit, you have a great view of the stage, which is nestled against a eucalyptus grove, and looking outwards, you can also get a great view of the surrounding landscape.
Also very important is the fact that the festival has no commercial sponsors, and is proud of its no-logo status. What this means in practical terms is that attendees are allowed to bring almost anything they want to the festival, including food and alcohol. There’s a wonderful sense of community at Golden Plains, which you rarely find at other festivals. As for the music, you’ll find a wonderful range of big names and small, old and new, and everything from folk to funk to indie to rock.
Sziget Festival – Budapest, Hungary
If you’ve ever been to Budapest, you’ll probably be surprised to hear that the city is home to one of Europe’s largest music and cultural festivals, but that is in fact where the Sziget Festival is held – Óbudai-sziget, an island on the Danube in the northern part of Budapest. The fact that it’s held on an island is part of its charm, and it has also led to people trying to gatecrash by swimming or rafting across the river. We recommend that you don’t try this, but we highly recommend buying a ticket and attending.
There’s an incredible amount of music, ranging from jazz to folk to metal to electronica, as well as other arts and activities that the organizers manage to pack into the 250-acre island, such as theatre, poetry, dance, art exhibitions, circus acts, film screenings, tattoo stalls, and even sports. This year the festival takes place from 10th to 17th August, and includes artists like Bastille, David Guetta, Sum 41, Chvrches, and Sigúr Ros.
St Jerome’s Laneway Festival – Australia, Singapore
The St Jerome’s Laneway Festival started out as a small indie music festival in Melbourne in 2005, and has now expanded to become not just one of Australia’s biggest music festivals but a major international festival – it is now in five Australian cities, as well as New Zealand, Singapore, and the US.
In spite of its expansion, the festival has managed to retain its indie vibe. Highlights of last year’s lineup included FKA Twigs, Belle & Sebastian, St. Vincent, Royal Bloods, and Angus & Julia Stone; this year’s highlights included Chvrches, Grimes, Thundercat, Beach House, and Flume. The festival takes place in January and February each year, which means that it’s too late to catch this year’s edition, but we highly recommend keeping an eye out for the announcement of next year’s dates and lineup.
What are your favourite music festivals? Let us know in the comments!