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Summer Takeover: Your Guide to Epic Summer Music Festivals

By Lance Trebesch May 23, 2013

How to Make the Most Out of Big Summer Music Festivals

Summer is coming up fast, and music lovers of all ages are making plans to attend their favorite summer music festivals. But with so many festivals in existence nowadays, how do you figure out which festival to attend? Location can certainly play a part, and minimizing travel can help you save money, which can give you more to spend at the actual festival.

Another factor that plays into choosing a summer music festival is, of course, the lineup. While many of the biggest festivals have some of the same headliners, each music festival has a distinct and unique ‘vibe,’ whether it’s electronic, bluegrass, jam band, or a mash-up of all that combined.

To assist you in your endeavor of choosing which music fest to attend this summer, we’ve compiled a list of the biggest and best festivals in the country and the pros and cons of each one.

2013 Guide to Summer Music Festivals

Lollapalooza 2013 – Grant Park, Chicago, IL – August 2nd, 3rd & 4th

The 22nd anniversary of Lollapalooza will take place this year, and the incredible lineup is enough to make you squirm with excitement. Set up next to Lake Michigan at the infamous 150-acre Grant Park in downtown Chicago, this music festival boasts headliners like Nine Inch Nails, The Killers, Mumford and Sons, Postal Service, and The Cure, just to name a few.

Pros:

  • 147 bands, 8 different stages, 3 days
  • Downtown Chicago location, which means easy transportation, hotel rooms, hot showers, and amazing choices for food and after-party nightlife
  • Choose from Single Day Tickets or 3-Day Passes
  • Option to sign-up for email list to get news & updates
  • You can listen to Lolla Radio and get to know the artists who’ll be performing

Cons:

  • 3-Day Passes and Single Day Tickets are both officially sold out, which means you’ll have to find tickets from a 3rd party vendor like StubHub (and they will likely be heavily marked up)
  • No camping, and downtown hotel room prices can be pretty expensive
  • Chicago weather is often unreliable – past years have seen very high temperatures due to heat waves and muddy festival grounds after massive rainstorms
  • No unauthorized vendors allowed, which means if you want to sell anything, you must have a permit

Outside Lands 2013 – Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA – August 9th, 10th & 11th

Not just your average summer music festival, Outside Lands incorporates art, gourmet food, wine & beer to celebrate the best of what the Bay Area is known for. Set in the beautiful Golden Gate Park, this festival has booked some of the biggest headliners in music, with Paul McCartney, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, D’Angelo, and Jurassic 5 scheduled to perform, among many others.

Pros:

  • Enhance your music experience and choose from the incredible selection of 120 different wines from 36 winemakers on display at the festival
  • Tantalize your taste buds with the 2013 Taste of the Bay Area food tour
  • Local and regional craft beer will be available for the 2nd year in a row
  • Choose from regular 3-Day Tickets or 3-Day VIP Tickets
  • 66 bands, 3 days

Cons:

  • No camping, and San Francisco hotel room prices often aren’t cheap
  • VERY limited parking, so you’ll have to pay for transportation as well
  • Large backpacks, chairs, and umbrellas are prohibited
  • Not as many bands as other music festivals

Electric Forest 2013 – Double JJ Ranch & Resort, Rothbury, MI – June 27th, 28th, 29th & 30th

Electric Forest is considered by some to still be in the early stages of blooming as this is only the third year of the festival’s existence. However, this festival has more to offer than some festivals that have been around for decades. Listing headliners like String Cheese Incident, Pretty Lights, Dispatch, Lotus, and Beats Antique, this music festival is likely to give you an experience you’ll never forget.

Pros:

  • The Sherwood Forest – located in the center of the festival, the pulse of Electric Forest gives you a spot to relax in a hammock while viewing works of art, and comes to life at night with an incredible light display
  • Gold Rush Water Park – a permanent feature at Double JJ Ranch, you can gain admission for only $10 on Thursday and $20 on Friday, Saturday or Sunday
  • Access to Big Wildcat Lake, glow in the dark disc golf and horseback riding
  • General Admission Weekend Tickets & The Good Life VIP Tickets available
  • 104 bands, 4 days, & Weekend Ticket price includes on-site camping

Cons:

  • Remote location with limited public transportation
  • Not located near any large cities which limits hotel and food choices
  • No Single Day Tickets available for purchase
  • Unauthorized solicitation prohibited, meaning you can’t pass out Flyers

Bonnaroo 2013 – Manchester, TN – June 13th, 14th, 15th & 16th

One of the biggest modern summer music festivals our country has ever seen, Bonnaroo has been going strong since 2002, and takes place on 700 acres of beautiful Tennessee scenery. Expect to join about 80,000 campers and catch headliners like Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Wilco, Wu-Tang Clan, Billy Idol, ZZ Top, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, and Gov’t Mule.

Pros:

  • 150 performances, 10+ stages, 4 days
  • General Admission Tickets include parking and camping for one car
  • Features not only musicians, but also dozens of famous comedians like Daniel Tosh and David Cross
  • Enjoy extras like art & activities, goods & trading, and even a mini-film fest

Cons:

  • Remote location with limited access from highways or public transportation
  • VIP Packages, on-site RV and tent rentals all sold out
  • Closest big city is at least an hour away (Nashville)
  • Limited hotel and food choices due to location

Telluride Bluegrass 2013 – Telluride, CO – June 20th, 21st, 22nd & 23rd

Telluride Bluegrass Festival celebrates their 40th anniversary this year. A festival that has done THIS well for the past few decades almost needs no introduction, but for those of you who’ve never heard of it, this is what you can expect at Telluride: mountain views more beautiful than you ever thought possible, a town that’s well-prepared for the festival crowd, and headliners like Punch Brothers, Sam Bush Band, Yonder Mountain String Band, Jackson Browne, Bela Fleck & Leftover Salmon, to name a few.

Pros:

  • Bonafide bluegrass festival – this means the majority of the music you’ll hear is tried and true bluegrass music
  • Incredible scenery that includes Bridal Veil Falls and steep, forested mountains that top off at about 13,000 feet
  • Nature trails and a gondola with terrific views of the town and surrounding mountains
  • The town of Telluride has many bars, restaurants and stores so you can grab anything you need just steps away from the festival grounds
  • 34 bands, 3 stages, 4 days

Cons:

  • VERY remote location – difficult to access without a car (but well-worth the journey)
  • 4-Day Passes and Single Day Tickets sold out back in December, so you’ll have to buy tickets from a third party vendor
  • Camping passes sold separately and campgrounds located anywhere between 0 and 7 miles from the festival grounds
  • Extreme temperature changes – can go from 90 degrees during the day to 30 degrees at night

Wakarusa 2013 – Mulberry Mountain, Ozark, AR – May 30th, 31st, June 1st, & 2nd

Wakarusa is a festival that brings you a bit of the best of everything you could want – electronica, jam bands, southern rock, and some of the best funk you’ll find. Set on top of Mulberry Mountain and miles away from any semblance of a town, this festival has the feeling of a world within itself in many ways. With headliners like Widespread Panic, STS9, The Black Crowes, Umphrey’s McGee, RJD2, Galactic, and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Wakarusa promises to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Pros:

  • Full Event Tickets are priced lower than many other 4-day music festivals
  • Produced and promoted locally with an authentic grassroots vibe, meaning there’s no corporate take-over happening any time soon
  • Extras like great places to fish, canoe and raft rentals, a ferris wheel, water slide, workshops, daily yoga, and the Friday night costume contest and parade
  • 132 performers, 5 stages, 4 days
  • Gorgeous Ozark mountain scenery

Cons:

  • Extremely remote – one would be hard-pressed to find public transportation to the area
  • No big cities nearby, meaning hotels and food options are rather limited
  • Camping passes sold separately and many campgrounds are already sold out
  • No fires allowed in the Primitive Campgrounds

Gathering of the Vibes 2013 – Seaside Park, Bridgeport, CT – July 25th, 26th, 27th & 28th

Returning for the 18th year, Gathering of the Vibes is an East Coast music festival that attracts some 20,000 people each year. Originally started as a 1995 memorial party for Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead, Gathering of the Vibes has grown to host some of the most famous names in music along with many up-and-coming artists. This year’s lineup includes  Phil Lesh & Friends, Tedeschi Trucks Band, The Roots, Dark Star Orchestra, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, and many more.

Pros:

  • Single Day Tickets, Weekend Passes, and VIP Weekend Passes available for purchase
  • Weekend Passes include camping fees
  • A family-friendly music festival – children ages 12 and under get in FREE
  • Conveniently located off of interstate 95 in Bridgeport, CT
  • Seafarers welcome – boating and sailing to the festival is allowed and vessels can dock or anchor at specific locations
  • 43 performers, 2 stages, 4 days

Cons:

  • Must have pre-registered vending license to sell anything, a rule that’s strictly enforced
  • Lost/stolen tickets cannot be replaced
  • RV re-entry is prohibited, so if you come to the festival in an RV, you’re in to stay!
  • Every person, vehicle and possession will be searched upon entry – make sure to leave prohibited items at home