Lollapalooza (Photo by Cambria Harkey.)

Summer is almost here and that means music festival season is finally upon us. But with so many great choices across the country, which do you choose? Whether you like your music with a side of sights (a gorgeous city skyline or local art), tastes and smells (from top-notch food vendors) or sounds (a band in full swing or booming bass from a second stage), there’s a perfect festival for you. From top local mainstays like Lollapalooza to more up-and-coming and adult-centric music experiences like KAABOO, here’s what you need to know about the best music festivals on the horizon. 

Hop in Your Car (or On a Train)

Chicago Blues Festival

Chicago Blues Festival

Photo courtesy of City of Chicago.

Where: Grant Park, Chicago

When: June 10-12

What: This festival is the largest free blues festival in the world. It also rivals Lollapalooza for title of “largest Chicago music festival.” According to the fest’s website, the event and its thousands of attendees cement Chicago as the “Blues Capital of the World.”

Who: This year’s headliners, performing at the end of each night in the Petrillo Music Shell, are Shemekia Copeland, Fred Wesley & The New JB’s, and a tribute performance to Otis Rush featuring several artists.

Cost: Free

Tips: Bring some folding chairs or a blanket to sit on — the entire grassy area in front of the Music Shell becomes prime picnic territory. It fills up fast, so get there early to claim a spot.



Photo by Cambria Harkey.

Where: Grant Park, Chicago

When: July 28-31

What: One of Chicago’s larger music festivals, Lollapalooza is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a special, and exhaustive, four-day lineup. The festival will run Thursday–Sunday, as opposed to its typical three-day weekend run.

Who: Headliners include Lana Del Rey, Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, LCD Soundsystem, Ellie Goulding, Jane’s Addiction (festival founder Perry Farrell’s band) and more. Some smaller-font bands to note are The Last Shadow Puppets (Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner’s side project), The Arcs (Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach’s side project), Kurt Vile & The Violators, Leon Bridges, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, and Local Natives.

Cost: A general admission four-day pass is $335 while single-day passes are $120 each. But, all general admission tickets are now sold out. VIP tickets are still available, as well as a platinum pass. A VIP four-day is $2,200 and VIP single-day passes are $650.

Tips: Lollapalooza largely appeals to a younger demographic, but that doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable for an older crowd as well. Be sure to look at the festival map ahead of time to figure out where each stage is so you can plan ahead (account for 10–15 minutes walking time from one end of the park to the other) and maximize the number of bands you see each day.


Pitchfork Chicago

Photo by Matt Lief Anderson.

Where: Union Park, Chicago

When: July 15-17

What: This festival is organized and curated by Pitchfork, the popular Chicago-based online music magazine. It appeals to a slightly more mature (20-somethings and up) demographic than Lollapalooza, and the smaller space (there are only three stages) makes the festival feel more manageable.

Who: As a unique twist, the festival hasn’t specified which acts will headline each night. The lineup’s veteran performers include Brian Wilson (performing “Pet Sounds”), FKA Twigs, Miguel, Sufjan Stevens, Broken Social Scene (reuniting for the fest), and Carly Rae Jepsen. Younger acts worth noting are BJ The Chicago Kid, Twin Peaks, Car Seat Headrest, Shamir, and Blood Orange.

Cost: A three-day advance pass is $165, and single-day passes are $65 each.

Tips: Two of the festival’s main stages sit next to one another with one performance immediately following the other (if everything runs accordingly). If there is a performer you’d prefer to see up close, it’s best to stand in front of that stage for a few sets prior, because you will still be able to see and hear the other stage while reserving your prime spot.

Riot Fest

Riot Fest

Photo courtesy of Riot Fest.

Where: Douglas Park, Chicago

When: Sept. 16-18

What: This festival targets a narrower audience, focusing on punk, rock, alternative, metal and hip-hop. Riot Fest also doubles as a carnival, offering attendees an immersive experience that includes carnival rides and sideshow performers.

Who: The 2016 lineup features a wide range of acts. Headliners include the Misfits (featuring the band’s original lineup, recently reunited after 30 years), Morrissey, Ween, and, per usual, one yet-to-be-announced act as noted by the ??? on the lineup. Other highlights include Death Cab For Cutie, Fitz & The Tantrums, Jimmy Eat World, Jake Bugg, and Bob Mould.

Cost: Three-day general admission passes are being released slowly, and at nine different price points. The first four price points are sold out, and the passes are now available for $150, with the next tier being $170. VIP three-day passes are now on sale for $300.

Tips: If you’re even considering attending this festival, purchase tickets sooner rather than later to avoid paying the highest price. If you change your mind at the last minute, there are always hopeful attendees in need of tickets on the festival’s official Facebook page.

Spring Awakening

Spring Awakening Chicago

Photo courtesy of Spring Awakening.

Where: Addams/Medill Park, Chicago

When: June 10-12

What: This genre-specific music fest focuses on EDM (electronic dance music). The festival’s two main stages are categorized as a DJ stage and an electronic stage, while other stages are appropriately named Bass Kitchen, Body Language and Trance Arena. This year, the festival will celebrate its five-year anniversary in Chicago, but its first year at a new location (it was previously held at Soldier Field).

Who: DJ sets include performances by The Chainsmokers, Above & Beyond, Steve Aoki and more. Performers on the electronic stage include Crystal Castles, Deadmau5, Flying Lotus, Jamie XX and more.

Cost: Three-day general admission wristbands are $199. Three-day VIP wristbands are $299 and only available to those 21 and older.

Tips: If you have kids who will be attending this one, make sure they stay hydrated as electronic music festivals often encourage a ton of dancing in tightly packed crowds. For parents who want more information on the electronic dance music scene and atmosphere, DanceSafe has an informative site that includes its list of Top 10 Safety Tips.

Country Thunder

Where: Country Thunder East, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin

When: July 21-24

What: Only a 1.5-hour drive from Chicago, country music fans won’t want to miss this one. For a little over two decades, the festival has hosted some of the biggest names in country.

Who: This year’s lineup includes Eric Church, Florida Georgia Line, Jake Owen, Chris Young, Terri Clark and more.

Cost: Four-day general admission passes are $160. Single-day passes can be purchased closer to the festival, depending on availability. RSVD (reserved seating) tickets include four-day access passes and three tier options — $250, $325 and $425 — depending on how close you’d like to sit to the stage.

Tips: Save time (and energy) by staying in the area for the weekend rather than commuting back and forth. Check out the site’s list of local lodging options, stay at a friend’s lake house or, if roughing it sounds like fun, camping (for a fee) is also an option. Country Thunder also provides a shuttle to the fest from local hotels in Lake Geneva and surrounding areas.

Eaux Claires

Eaux Claires

Photo by Kelly Teacher.

Where: Foster Farms, Eau Claire, Wisconsin

When: Aug. 12-13

What: This two-day festival, created and curated by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, includes performance and visual art in addition to live music. At a five-hour drive, you may want to consider flying into Eau Claire or Minneapolis/St. Paul airport (90 miles from the fest).

Who: Notable performers include Beach House, Bon Iver, Lucius, Mavis Staples, Erykah Badu, Jenny Lewis, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Phosphorescent and more.

Cost: Two-day general admission passes are $169. Two-day Chippewa passes, which offer an “enhanced experience,” are $300 but have already sold out.

Tips: If you’d like to camp, campgrounds open on Thursday so you can arrive a day before the festival to get settled. Once your car is parked on the fest campgrounds though, plan on leaving it there until the festival ends.

Hop on a Plane 



Photo courtesy of KAABOO.

Where: Del Mar, San Diego, California

When: Sept. 16-18

What: A self-described “mix-perience,” KAABOO aims to be everything a typical music festival is not. It’s an “adult escape” that offers live music, comedy, an indoor spa, food, art and more.

Who: This year’s lineup hosts a handful of favorites like Jimmy Buffet & The Coral Reefer Band, Aerosmith, Jack Johnson, Daryl Hall & John Oates, Lenny Kravitz, The Avett Brothers, Grouplove and many more. Other rising performers to note include The Record Company, Judah & The Lion, Shakey Graves, The Struts, and Shovels & Rope.

Cost: Three variations of three-day passes (and perks) are offered: Hang Loose, $249; Hang Five, $749; and Hang Ten, $2,499. KAABOO also offers military and college discounts.

Tips: Book flights and lodging at the same time you buy your tickets. These “adult-centric” festivals are catching on quickly. If time allows, add an extra day or two on either side of the festival to explore San Diego.

Newport Folk Fest

Where: Fort Adams State Park, Newport, Rhode Island

When: July 22-24

What: This long-standing festival (established in 1959) has been home to many iconic moments, like when Bob Dylan went electric in 1965. Newport Folk Festival largely appeals to folk fans (hence the title) and balances renowned acts with up-and-coming talents.

Who: Headliners include Flight Of The Conchords, Norah Jones, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Other noteworthy performers include Ray LaMontagne, Father John Misty, Middle Brother, Glen Hansard, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Margo Price, Son Little, and many others. To keep things interesting, the festival site has rolling lineup announcements, so there are more artists yet to be added/revealed.

Cost: All tickets (three-day, two-day, and single-day passes) have sold out.

Tips: A general tip for completely sold-out festivals is to check the official Facebook page. Occasionally people will post if they can no longer attend the festival and are looking to hand their tickets off at face value.

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass


Steve Earle at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass 2015 (Photo by Olivia Hellman/Black Squirrel Studios.)

Where: Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California

When: Sept. 30-Oct. 2

What: This festival is totally free — that’s right, free. It’s three days of “treating your ears” and, unlike most other festivals, it also ends at the reasonable hour of 7 p.m. More than 100 artists perform on seven stages over the course of three days. Warren Hellman, founder (and funder) of Hardly Strictly, called the festival a “selfish gift,” because he, along with the musicians and the community, could all enjoy it.

Who: This year’s lineup has yet to be released. Some highlights from last year’s include T Bone Burnett, Lee Ann Womack, M. Ward, Conor Oberst, and Madisen Ward and The Mama Bear.

Cost: Free

Tips: This is a laid-back, casual festival. It’s family-friendly and well suited for those looking to relax on the grass. There are some small hills in the park that would provide a great spot to see (and hear) multiple stages without having to move around much.

Austin City Limits

Austin City Limits

Photo by Reagan Hackleman.

Where: Zilker Park, Austin, Texas

When: Sept. 30-Oct. 2 and Oct. 7-9

What: Not to be confused with the longest-running music TV series or the live venue, Austin City Limits is also a music festival. It’s unique in the sense that it offers two consecutive three-day weekends of live music and more. This year, the festival will celebrate its 15th anniversary.

Who: This year’s ACL lineup features a handful of artists appearing at Lollapalooza as well, along with some great acts you won’t catch there. Headliners include Radiohead, Mumford & Sons, Kendrick Lamar, LCD Soundsystem, and Willie Nelson. Other notable performers are Chris Stapleton, Band of Horses, Catfish and the Bottlemen, Pete Yorn, Wild Belle, and many more.

Cost: All tickets go on sale May 5 at 10 a.m CT. A three-day general admission wristband is $255 (regardless of which weekend) and single-day passes are $100. Three-day VIP passes are $1,100 while VIP single-day passes are available for $450. Three-day platinum tickets are $3,600, with no single-day option available.

Tips: This festival is likely to sell out soon after tickets become available. Make your travel plans and accommodation arrangements now.

Outside Lands

Where: Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California

When: Aug. 5-7

What: This festival is also held in Golden Gate Park, but unlike Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, it’s not free. Outside Lands offers music, art, comedy and something called Gastro Magic … an event that sort of fuses all those components into one unique experience.

Who: This year’s headliners are LCD Soundsystem, Radiohead, and Lionel Richie. Other performers worth catching are Ryan Adams and The Shining, Foals, Wet, Rogue Wave, Fantastic Negrito, and more.

Cost: All general admission passes, and most VIP passes, are sold out. Friday VIP wristbands are still available for $325. As suggested for Newport Folk Festival, check Outside Land’s official Facebook page for potential ticket availability.

Tips: This festival’s lineup tends to bear similarities to Lollapalooza’s, but the weather is usually much cooler. Be sure to explore Haight-Ashbury before or after the festival.

Grand Point North

Grand Point North

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals perform at the Grand Point North music festival (Photo by Jack Schlinkert.)

Where: Waterfront Park, Burlington, Vermont

When: Sept. 17-18

What: Created and curated by Grace Potter (Grace Potter and the Nocturnals), Grand Point North will continue for its sixth year. The two-day festival celebrates all things local, and seeks to bring awareness to all Burlington has to offer. The festival itself hosts Grand Point Local, a celebration of local food, and the festival’s website also directs festival-goers to other local activities and destinations, such as the Ben & Jerry’s tour, Cabot Creamery and Magic Hat Brewery.

Who: Naturally, Grace Potter will headline both nights. Other acts include Old Crow Medicine Show, Guster, Kaleo, and The Record Company.

Cost: Single-day passes are $59, and a regular two-day pass is $79. All VIP passes have already sold out.

Tips: This is a perfect “starter festival” for music fest first-timers. It starts later in the afternoon, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday, which allows for out-of-town visitors to fit in extra sightseeing or activities before an afternoon and evening of live music.


*Bonus: If you’re already thinking about next summer, keep an eye out for BottleRock in Napa Valley. This late-May festival sells out quickly, so if you want to have “the first taste of summer,” surrounded by great music, wine and food, this is one to have on your radar.


Note: This playlist is a sampler of some recent releases (and some old favorites) from the artists mentioned above — both headliners and artists on the rise. The songs are in the same order as the festivals.


Lyndsey Havens is a music writer covering Valslist for Make It Better. She is also a staff writer for WXRT and Consequence of Sound and her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

More from Make It Better: 

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>