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A Guide to Summer Music Festival Season 2019

Festival season is a confusing time. From now through autumn, dozens of events across the country will compete for your time and hard-earned money. Because you’re only one person with a finite amount of cash to spend on tickets, you’ll have to make some hard choices. That’s why Billboard teamed up with SOLO to break down 10 of the best fests on the 2019 calendar. Read on for lineup highlights, beverage suggestions, tips on which artists to check out, and more.

 

Willie Nelson’s 4th of July Picnic 2019 (July 4)

Few artists symbolize life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness better than outlaw country icon Willie Nelson. So it’s only fitting to celebrate Independence Day by joining Nelson and a star-studded lineup of Americana artists for this daylong Austin festival. Following performances by roots heavyweights like country star Luke Combs, soulful blues-rockers Nathaniel Rateliff & the Hot Sweats, and bluegrass legend Alison Krauss—not to mention Willie Nelson & Family—the party ends with a big ol’ fireworks display.

Claim to Fame: Nelson threw his first 4th of July Picnic all the way back in 1973, and he’s still knows how to throw America one heck of a birthday bash.

Must-See Set: Alt-country faves Steve Earle & The Dukes always bring the goods, and given that Earle is touring behind GUY, his recently released tribute to late Texas singer-songwriter Guy Clark, you’re likely to hear classics like “Dublin Blues” and “Texas 1947.”

Coolest Emerging Act: The Raelyn Nelson band is led by Willie’s granddaughter, a ukulele-wielding hellraiser whose sound blends country, punk, and garage rock.

What to Drink: Do as the Willie Nelson song says and drink some champagne!

 

Super Mega Ultra Giant Mad Decent Block Party Festival (July 20–21)

Genre-hopping beatmaker Diplo has assembled a who’s-who of streaming-era hip-hop, pop, and EDM giants for this two-day bash at Gillette Stadium. There’ll be dark angsty vibes from Billie Eilish, radio-ready rhyming from G-Eazy, hard-hitting South Florida mumble-trap from Kodak Black, psychedelic new-school R&B from Miguel, and much more. The fest also promises paintball, go-karts, and “the world’s largest bounce house,” so dress accordingly.

Claim to Fame: Diplo has been throwing Mad Decent parties—named for his record label—since 2008. This is the only such event he’s throwing in North America this year.

Must-See Set: Is Billie Eilish really the second coming of Lana Del Rey or even Marilyn Manson? Catch the buzzworthy 17-year-old’s headlining performance and make up your own mind.

Coolest Emerging Act: Rising rapper YBN Cordae went viral by remixing Eminem’s “My Name Is” and issuing a response to J. Cole’s “1985 (Intro to the Fall Off).” He’s even better on gimmick-free originals like “Have Mercy” and “Kung Fu,” which showcase his sharp wordplay and lively flow.

What to Drink: “I'm more like whiskey neat, and you're more like vodka punch,” raps G-Eazy on 2014’s “I Mean It,” one of many songs where the Bay Area rhymer name-checks his favorite brown liquor. Sip one from a SOLO cup during his headline set, but remember to drink responsibly.

 

Mo Pop (July 27–28)

Indie rock meets cutting-edge hip-hop and R&B at Mo Pop, a two-dayer staged at West Riverfront Park in Detroit. Aussie psychedelic globetrotters Tame Impala headline alongside smarty-pants rockers Vampire Weekend, R&B risers Kali Uchis and Ella Mai, and acclaimed singer-rapper Lizzo. Attendees who need a break from the action can slip into the Mo Arcade, an air-conditioned tent filled with classic arcade games.

Claim to Fame: Established in 2013, Mo Pop is known for its diverse lineups, focus on local food, and support of Michigan artists. Organizers generally try to book four homegrown bands each year.

Must-See Set: Vampire Weekend just debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 with their fourth album, Father of the Bride, so all eyes will definitely be on them. Another essential pick is British R&B stunner Ella Mai, who’s only blessing America with a handful of dates this summer.

Coolest Emerging Act: The Messenger Birds are a Detroit duo with a brawny, bluesy garage-rock sound that’s earned them millions of streams. Give “Phantom Limb” a listen and plan to arrive early.

What to Drink: A special feature of Mo Pop is the Mo Brews area, home to not craft beer, but first-rate Michigan coffee. Guzzle some early and stay alert through those killer opening acts.

 

Lollapalooza (August 1–4)

You know it’s a strong lineup when the reigning Grammy winner for Album of the Year isn’t listed until the third line on the poster. Indeed, the prospect of hearing Kacey Musgraves play songs off Golden Hour is just one reason to experience Lollapalooza 2019. Headliners represent the current pinnacles of pop (Ariana Grande), rap (Childish Gambino), rock (21 Pilots), electronic (Flume), and Latin trap (J Balvin).

Claim to Fame: Lollapalooza birthed the modern American festival scene when it launched as a traveling alt-rock circus in 1991. Since rebranding as a Chicago destination fest in 2005, Lollapalooza has attracted fans year after year with its wealth and diversity of talent.

Must-See Set: One of the big questions is how Ariana Grande will top herself after rocking with NSYNC at Coachella earlier this year. Another artist who’s sure to bring his A game is rapper Saba, a Chi-Town hero whose sophomore album, Care for Me, dazzled critics last year.

Coolest Emerging Act: Chicago upstarts Beach Bunny make yearning, effervescent indie-pop filled with jangling guitars and earneset 20-something emotion. Their song “Prom Queen” is a self-acceptance anthem everyone needs to hear.

What to Drink: Lolla’s Chow Town food court will feature Dark Matter Coffee, a local java brewery promising “the most intellectually honest coffee you will experience.” Drink without guilt and don’t miss a second of the action.

 

Outside Lands (August 9–11)

Conceptual alt-rockers Twenty One Pilots, funky R&B genre-masher Anderson .Paak, and legendary singer-songwriter Paul Simon, who returns to the stage nearly a year after wrapping his farewell tour, are among the headliners at this three-day fest in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

Claim to Fame: Outside Lands isn’t just for music lovers. It’s also a foodie paradise, with special areas devoted to locally sourced wine, cheese, clams, and more. Plus, Bay Area artists will gussy up the grounds with murals, sculptures, and stage designs.

Must-See Set: The return of Paul Simon is a no-brainer, but Outside Lands features another ‘60s survivor well worth your time: Mavis Staples. Hot on the heels of her acclaimed 2019 album We Get By, the gospel-soul icon is sure to lift the park’s collective spirit with her performance.

Coolest Emerging Act: Wonderfully outrageous Chicago rapper CupCakKe isn’t for the prudish or easily offended. But she’s perfect for hip-hop fans happy to see a sex-positive woman challenging societal double standards one wild rhyme at a time.

What to Drink: In between trips to Beer Lands and Cocktail Magic, head to the Bubble Tea Party area and knock back a boba tea while sitting under a giant mushroom. Seriously.

 

Real Street (August 10–11)

Billed as an “immersive hip-hop lifestyle event,” the inaugural Real Street brings together the biggest names in the game: Cardi B, A$AP Rocky, Future, Migos, 2 Chainz, Meek Mill, Big Sean, Miguel, Rae Sremmured, and many more.

Claim to Fame: The fest takes place outside the Honda Center. The arena itself will become “Big Boy’s Neighborhood,” named for local radio personality Kurt “Big Boy” Alexander. Pop inside the building to check out the West Coast Customs car show, freshen up at the nail salon and barbershop, and use real bathrooms—a luxury you won’t find at many other fests.

Must-See Set: Real Street is one of four summer American festival dates for Meek Mill, a man on a mission since being released from prison last April. Don’t miss this chance to catch some “Uptown Vibes” in person.

Coolest Emerging Act: The Internet went bonkers for Blueface last year, and the 22-year-old Los Angeles native is still going strong. He’s got a Benjamin Franklin tatt on his face, a distinctive offbeat flow, and a bunch of songs (“Thotiana,” “Bleed It,” “Respect My Cryppin’”) with eight- or even nine-digit streaming numbers.

What to Drink: On the chorus of headliner A$AP Rocky’s 2015 track “Everyday,” fellow Real Street performer Miguel sings, “So everyday I spend my time / Drinking wine, feeling fine.” Whether or not they perform the song, why not sip a little red or white as the sun goes down?

 

Electric Zoo (August 30–September 1)

The 11th installment of this NYC EDM bash is called “Electric Zoo: Evolved,” and its lineup definitely shows how electronic music continues to mutate and adapt. Fans who head to Randalls Island this year will get dubstep from Flux Pavilion, trance from Above & Beyond, house from Kaskade, and a little bit of everything from Diplo. Plus, Swedish progressive house DJ Eric Prydz will perform on both Friday and Saturday.

Claim to Fame: Founded in 2009, Electric Zoo is among the world’s premier electronic music festivals. It attracts more than 100,000 people each year with lineups featuring the top artists artists from across the globe.

Must-See Set: Earlier this year, American EDM star Skrillex and German DJ Boys Noize reactivated Dogs Blood, the joint side project last heard from in 2013. “Turn Off the Lights,” their recently released bass-house comeback jam, will fit nicely with the pair’s older material when they rock the stage on Sunday.

Coolest Emerging Act: Midnight Kids make nostalgic, uplifting EDM dedicated to the idea of preserving youth. The duo features Dylan Lee, son of Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson, but there was buzz building even before the pair revealed their true identities.

What to Drink: Fill that SOLO cup with water, water, and more water. This is three days of dancing in the summer heat.

 

Afropunk Brooklyn (August 24–25)

Afropunk celebrates black musical innovators across genres and styles. This year’s headliners include neo-soul songstress Jill Scott, experimental U.K. pop beguiler FKA Twigs, 21st century bluesman Gary Clark Jr., improvisational jazz torchbearer Kamasi Washington, eccentric hip-hop wordsmith Danny Brown, and many more.

Claim to Fame: Launched in Brooklyn in 2005, Afropunk initially focused on black creators in punk rock. It’s since expanded to include other types of music, and it’s branched out to other cities, including Paris, London, and Johannesburg.

Must-See Set: This is the only American summer tour date for FKA Twigs, who’s back in the news with “Cellophane,” her first single in three years. It’s another stunner from an artist who always keeps fans guessing.

Coolest Emerging Act: The Atlanta five-piece Upchuck kicks incendiary garage-punk jams with shades of psychedelia and doom rock. On their anthem “Boss Up,” lead singer Kalia Thompson gives us the perfect 2019 call to action: “Don’t Complain / Man you know you need to boss up.”

What to Drink: “Drinking water, eatin’ fruits, takin' care of my body,” Tierra Whack raps on “Fruit Salad,” one of many memorable one-minute songs on her 2018 debut Whack World. Rarely has proper hydration sounded so damn cool.

 

Made In America (August 31–September 1)

Travis Scott and Cardi B headline the eighth edition of this late-summer Philly favorite. They’re joined by hip-hop and R&B heavyweights like Blueface, Anderson .Paak, Bazzi, Kodak Black, and Jorja Smith.

Claim to Fame: Made In America was founded in 2012 by JAY-Z, who’s twice headlined and ensured strong lineups every year. Hova is also committed to giving back. A portion of this year’s proceeds benefit the ACLU of Pennsylvania and REFORM Alliance, a prison-reform organization led by Jay and Meek Mill.

Must-See Set: MIA is your only chance to see English electro-pop singer-songwriter James Blake perform in America this summer. Blake’s icey, downtempo music is more likely to hypnotize than energize, so find a comfortable spot and recharge those batteries before Cardi or Travis rock your face off.

Coolest Emerging Act: 99 Neighbors are Vermont’s answer to Brockhampton or Odd Future. The 12-person Burlington hip-hop collective is led by rappers HANKNATIVE and Sam Paulino and producer Somba. Their heady blend of rap, pop, and R&B makes them ideal party starters for this festival.

What to Drink: “I told her it's B.Y.O.B. / that mean buy your own booze,” Travis Scott raps on “No Bystanders,” a standout track on last year’s Astworld album. Whether you opt for beer, liquor, or a soft drink in that SOLO cup, don’t mooch off your friends.

 

Pilgrimage Music & Culture Festival (September 21–22)

Indie rock meets Americana at Pilgrimage 2019, where alternative mainstays The Killers and Foo Fighters share top billing with Keith Urban, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, and country legend Wynonna Judd’s latest project, Wynonna and the Big Noise. Children of the ‘90s will be especially psyched to find Better Than Ezra and Live still bringing the post-grunge crunch after all these years.

Claim to Fame: Pilgrimage co-founder Kevin Griffin got the idea for the festival while running one morning through The Park at Harlinsdale, a gorgeous 230-acre farm that had been purchased by the town of Franklin, Tennessee. Taking cues from Jazz Fest in New Orleans, Pilgrimage strives for musical diversity and a sense of community. Over the last three years, headliners have included Willie Nelson, Weezer, Hall & Oates, Jack White, and Lionel Richie.

Must-See Set: Jenny Lewis is touring behind On the Line, arguably the finest record of the former Rilo Kiley singer’s illustrious solo career. Lewis’s neo–Laurel Canyon folk-rock style embodies much of what this festival is about.

Coolest Emerging Act: Montana singer-songwriter Chloe Gendrow made a giant leap forward with this year’s 22 Below. The self-produced album finds the 22-year-old dipping into pop, R&B, rock, and more. Gendrow’s laid-back cool suggests she’s in no rush to leave Missoula and chase the fame that’s likely just around the corner.

What to Drink: “Not nobody, not a thousand beers / Will keep us from feelin' so all alone,” Jenny Lewis sings on her 2006 modern classic “You Are What You Love.” She’s right, but if you’re with friends and feeling good, a cold one in your SOLO cup from the Craft Beer Hall might be the right move.