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A Guide to Planning Summer Music Festival Season 2018

Life is about choices. But none of them will ever matter as much as deciding what to do come festival season, when every weekend is loaded with awesome opportunities to see live music. Okay maybe that’s a bit much, but if you want to have an epic summer music experience you’re gonna have to make some sacrifices. For each festival you attend, there are two or three you’re forced to pass up, and that can be a real bummer. But with a little research, you don’t have to compromise and miss any of your favorite artists. Check out this handy guide to navigating some of the next three months of festival action.

The weekend of June 1-3 presents your first big-decision of the summer. You’ve got Governors Ball in New York City, Bunbury in Cincinnati, Upstream in Seattle, and Roots Picnic in Philly. While it’s hard to pass up Gov. Ball’s ridiculously stacked lineup, you catch headliners like Jack White, Eminem, N.E.R.D., and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at numerous other festivals. Bunbury is your only shot to see Blink-182 at a festival this summer, so pop-punk diehards and nostalgic ‘90s kids who refuse to get rid of their Vans no matter how many holes they get, should consider a trip to Ohio. Upstream, meanwhile, features Swedish genre-bending electro-pop greats Little Dragon, who’ll make this Seattle shindig their one and only summer festival stop. Hip-hop heads might hightail it to Roots Picnic to check out the reunited Diplomats—this is their lone fest of the season—plus ‘90s R&B icon Brandy, who’s only playing a handful of summer dates.

There are more tough choices to be made on June 14-17. Those who opt for Mountain Jam in Hunter, New York, will miss some amazing headliners at Firefly in Dover, Delaware, including Arctic Monkeys, Kendrick Lamar, and The Killers. Luckily, the Monkeys play Lollapalooza on August 2, Kendrick does Grandoozy in Denver on September 14, and The Killers rock Panorama on July 27. Mountain Jam is especially cool if you’re into the chilliest vibes of perennial festival fave Jack Johnson, who’s spending most of his summer overseas. Erykah Badu and Miguel make Smoking Grooves in Long Beach an attractive proposition. But if you decide to stay on the East Coast this weekend, rest easy knowing you can catch Badu at ESSENCE (July 5) or Afropunk (August 25) and Miguel at both of those, plus Grandoozy. 

If you’re a hardcore hip-hop or R&B fan, the July 5-8 weekend is tricky. Summerfest in Milwaukee ends strong with Janelle Monae and The Weeknd, while Essence in New Orleans has Janet Jackson, Miguel, and Erykah Badu. All of those artists play other festivals later in the summer, but Essence is your one opportunity to worship at the feet of the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, Mary J. Blige. Plus, you can kick it old-school with Blackstreet, MC Lyte, SWV, and Doug E Fresh. This same weekend brings 80/35 in Des Moines, which shares one headliner with Summerfest: Kesha. Those are the only fests she’s doing, so if you’re looking to feel lifted by this resolute singer’s empowering pop, consider trekking to Wisconsin or Iowa. 

The unfortunate cancellation of FYF Fest makes July 20-22 an easier weekend to manage. But you’ve still got Pitchfork in Chicago and Float Fest in Martindale, Texas, to choose between. Don’t pick Pitchfork solely for Courtney Barnett or Fleet Foxes, or all the hipster cred—you can catch up with the former at Newport and the latter at Panorama. Tame Impala rocks both Float and Pitchfork, so you’ll get your fix of Aussie psych-rock either way. Float is your final chance of the season to “Float On” with ‘00s indie heroes Modest Mouse and vibe with topical rhymers Run the Jewels. The Texas get-together also features Lil’ Wayne, who’s only doing one other fest, Bumbershoot in Seattle in late August. Pitchfork brings Ms. Lauryn Hill’s only festival appearance) and the idiosyncratic synth-pop stylings of Blood Orange, whose only other fest is Osheaga, across the border in Montreal. 

The weekend that will leave you cursing the Music Festival Gods may well be July 27-29. There’s Panorama in NYC, MO POP in Detroit, the Newport Folk Festival on the scenic Rhode Island coast, and XPoNential in Camden, New Jersey. The main reasons to pick Panorama may be Atlanta trap all-stars Migos, who won’t play another American fest this summer, and UK indie heroes The xx, who have nothing booked beyond July 29. Newport has the summer exclusive on stoner-comedy icons Cheech & Chong, plus the always-delightful country-leaning indie songstress Jenny Lewis, who won’t play another U.S. fest this summer. It’s possible to catch XPoNential headliners The War on Drugs and Sturgill Simpson later in the summer, so don’t worry if you motor to MO POP to see Canadian indie-posters Alvvays. Their next American fest is this fall.

This main draw on the weekend of August 2-5 obviously Lollapalooza, where Camila Cabello takes a break from opening for Taylor Swift to play her only summer festival and Bruno Mars steps away from his arena tour to play a super-rare festival date. The Chi-Town throwdown also features Vampire Weekend, whose only other fest gigs are in Japan and the UK. If you’re all about Americana, though, you might skip Lolla and mosey out to Hinterland in St. Charles, Iowa. Band of Horses and Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats will justify the trip with their lone festival dates. Should you select Travelers Rest’ in Missoula, Montana, know that (a) you can see many of the Lolla A-listers elsewhere and (b) you’ll catch the second and final summer ’18 fest gig by the indelible indie singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield, a.k.a. Waxahatchee.  

While planning your summer calendar, don’t let yourself get too stressed out. With so many fantastic festivals to choose from, the only mistake you can really make is staying home. 

Festivals 2018