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Best Music Festivals in the U.S.: Summer 2014

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Festival season has already begun, so we give you our definitive ranking of the 10 best summer festivals.

Best Music Festivals in the U.S.: Summer 2014

Of the many things to love about Summer returning, outdoor music has to be at the top of my list. There's nothing like being outside on a hot day while your favorite bands (or perhaps bands you've never heard of) provide the soundtrack. The insane number of music festivals all over only amplifies the opportunities to get out there and hear some great music.

But with the growing amount of festivals, a dilemma always presents itself: Which upcoming festivals should I go to? When they all look so appealing, how do you decide which is best?

That's where we come in. With festival season about to kick into high gear (three big upcoming festivals take place this weekend, Memorial Day Weekend), we're going to highlight our favorite summer festivals of the 2014 season. These are the places to go to soak in sun, incredible music and plenty of amazing experiences beyond the bands and artists on stage. From folk festivals to electronic festivals and everything in between, if you want it, it's out there. Without further delay, let's dig into our rankings and let you know what we think the best festivals are.     

Honorable Mention

Forecastle Festival

The Louisville festival is one of many that will feature the reunited Outkast, and other headliners include Jack White and Beck along with The Replacements and Nickel Creek.


Described as the "World's Largest Music Festival," Milwaukee's Summerfest certainly doesn't disappoint when it comes to how much you actually have the opportunity to see. Taking place from June 25-29 and July 1-6, Summerfest offers up 11 different headliners: Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, Brad Paisley, Luke Bryan, Outkast, OneRepublic, Dave Matthews Band, Zac Brown Band, Motley Crue, Fall Out Boy and Usher. All of those headliners also have special guests. The only problem is that it might be TOO big! 

Boston Calling Music Festival

Boston Calling is new to the scene, but with two distinct yearly festivals (one Spring, one Fall), they are establishing their niches. This year sees Jack Johnson, Death Cab For Cutie and Modest Mouse headline the upcoming festival this weekend while The National, Lorde, and Nas x The Roots take Beantown in September. With high-caliber acts like that, Boston Calling's clout is only growing.

Pitchfork Music Festival

Just outside the Top 10, Pitchfork boasts an incredible lineup this year out in Chicago, featuring talented acts like Beck, Neutral Milk Hotel, Kendrick Lamar and St. Vincent. It wouldn't be Pitchfork if there weren't some obscure but awesome bands on the bill, and they have them in spades: Mutual Benefit, Dum Dum Girls, Perfect Pussy, The Range, Hudson Mohawke and many more.

10. Mysteryland

The Skinny: Mysteryland is one of the premiere European dance music festivals, and it's making its American debut at Bethel Woods, site of the original Woodstock Music and Arts Fair in 1969.. I grew up 10 minutes outside of Bethel Woods, and choice of location seems incredibly strange. But, you can't argue that there is plenty of intrigue and buzz around the inaugural US event. With a group of some of the best DJs and producers in the world set to perform (Steve Aoki, Nicky Romero, Kaskade, Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike and dozens more) and dazzling art/visual displays spread throughout the grounds, this is going to be a memorable event. 

When + Where: May 23, 24, 25 at Bethel Woods in Bethel, NY

Must See: Steve Aoki. His live shows are the stuff of legend, and he's going to bring the heat for an event like this.

Hidden Gem: Sound of Q-dance. Looking for something truly intense at Mysteryland? Look no further than the loud, pulsating sounds of Q-dance. Here's a taste of what you'll be seeing when you step to the Q-dance area:

9. FYF Festival

The Skinny: FYF is a stripped down, efficient two-day festival out in Los Angeles. It features top-notch headliners like The Strokes, Phoenix, Interpol and HAIM. The festival features the reunions of bands like Slowdive and the Blood Brothers. It showcases a deep lineup of performers like Future Islands, Chet Faker, Jamie XX, Tycho, Mac Demarco and Run the Jewels. And best of all, it's all finished after two days. This one is quick and easy, highly manageable, and it definitely possesses plenty of edge.

When + Where: August 23 and 24, LA Sports Arena and Exposition Park 

Must See: Phoenix. They closed out Lollapalooza in grand fashion this year, and they certainly know how to headline.

Hidden Gem: Future Islands. The band's live show got viral after their Letterman performance, but the band is still low-key enough to get an earlier set time. You don't want to miss these guys, since frontman Samuel Herring pours his heart out every single show.

8. Outside Lands Music Festival

The Skinny: Outside Lands boasts one of the strongest and most diverse lineups of any music festival out there, and that isn't reserved to just the music. In that department, Outside Lands crushes it: Kanye West, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Killers, Arctic Monkeys, Disclosure, Tiesto, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and great talents at the bottom of the card like Bear Hands, The Districts and Courtney Barnett. But where Outside Lands really wins you over is their expansive selection of food, beer and wine. Entire sections of the festival will be devoted to food and drink, making it a foodie's paradise as much as a music-lover's. But San Francisco is the perfect place for both of these worlds to exist.

When + Where: August 8, 9 and 10 at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, CA.

Must See: The Flaming Lips. You know you want to catch Wayne Coyne and all of his live antics in person. This is the place to do it. 

Hidden Gem: Flume. People are starting to learn about Flume, but he's still down on the bottom half of the lineup for Outside Lands. This guy is not far off from reaching headliner status, so catch him now before he really breaks out.

7. Sasquatch! Music Festival

The Skinny: First of all, just look at that view in the photo above. Is that not one of the most idyllic spots you can conceive to take in a music festival? The Gorge in Quincy, Washington is just one of the stages for this gem of a festival in the Pacific Northwest. On top of the scenery (and the festival zones named after mythical beasts), the stages will be filled with some of the best live acts out there: Outkast, The National, Queens of the Stone Age, M.I.A., Foster the People, Kid Cudi, HAIM, and Foals. Sasquatch! also boasts a great comedy lineup every year. This time around they have Nick Swardson, Demitri Martin, Hannibal Buress and more. And, just to reiterate, that view.

When + Where: May 23, 24 and 25, 2014 at The Gorge in Quincy, WA.

Must See: The National. This band is as good as they have ever been, and the same can be said for their live show. Plus, Matt Berninger likes to get drunk on wine during the set, which is a treat to watch.

Hidden Gem: Deep Vally. Bring your earplugs for this set. This is bare bones rock and roll from Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards. You'll wonder how just two women can make that much noise.

6. Firefly Music Festival

The Skinny: Another relatively new festival, Firefly is starting to really establish itself as one of the premiere summer music events. This year, they have expanded to four days. Local Natives will headline the Thursday show, and things get really spice with headlining acts like Foo Fighters, Outkast,and Jack Johnson. Arctic Monkeys, Beck, Imagine Dragons, The Lumineers, Pretty Lights, and Weezer also fill out the top of the bill. Plus, Firefly boasts unique attractions like a hammock hangout (pictured above), an arcade, a full coffee house and even more surprises in store for 2014. There will be no shortage of attractions for those in attendance this year, and you better believe they are going to get their fill of incredible music, too. 

When + Where: June 19-22 in Dover, DE.

Must See: Foo Fighters. It's Dave Grohl. That should be reason enough.

Hidden Gem: PigPen Theatre Co. We saw this delightful troupe at Music Hall of Williamsburg recently, and we guarantee they are going to come away with a ton of new fans after they catch their live show.

5. Newport Folk Festival

The Skinny: The Newport Folk Festival is one of the most organic experiences I think one can have at a festival. Everyone is in a great state of mind at this event because it's not a place to go and get wasted or trip or anything. Everyone is there to hear some amazing music. That leads to a fabulous geniality among everyone, performers and attendees alike. 

This year, Ryan Adams, Mavis Staples (celebrating her 75th birthday) and a yet-to-be-named headliner (who many presume will be Jack White) top the bill, but the beauty of Newport is that you never know who might pop on stage. The atmosphere is such that the artists love collaborating and creating unique performances. Just this year, John C. Reilly and Ed Helms are playing with their respective bands. And you better believe there will be an all-star gathering when Mavis Staples hits the stage, and there is nothing like a folk festival with a warm breeze on a summer's day.

Where + When: July 25-27 at Fort Adams State Park in Newport, RI.

Must See: Nickel Creek. Reunited and celebrating 20 years as a band, Nickel Creek is going to put on a fabulous show. There aren't many natural performers like Chris Thile out there.

Hidden Gem: Leif Vollebekk. One of the early performers on Sunday, I haven't been as excited about many folk artists as I am about Vollebekk. There's something about the way he sings that just takes me away.

4. Osheaga Festival Musique et Arts

The Skinny: In case you missed the language switch, Osheaga is one of Canada's premiere festivals. Taking place in beautiful Montreal, the event routinely brings together some of the best acts from all over the world. This year, Outkast, Jack White and Arctic Monkeys top the lineup, but no matter how far you go down the list, there are quality bands. Skrillex, Lorde and The Replacements are right below the headliners. Modest Mouse, Childish Gambino and Band of Horses are further down the list. Chance the Rapper, Manchester Orchestra and Kate Nash even further down. The quality never really drops off, which is going to ensure a really great experience for the fans.

When + Where: August 1-3 at Parc Jean-Drapeau in Montreal, Quebec.

Must See: Skrillex. While I'm not the biggest Skrillex fan in the world, the guy absolutely throws down at his live shows. He gives the crowd what they want.

Hidden Gem: Bleachers. This rising band has a familiar face, fun. guitarist Jack Antanoff. They also have an infectious single that will reward those who decide to show up early.

3. Governors Ball Music Festival

The Skinny: Last year's Governors Ball had some unfortunate weather issues, but they've taken some extra precautions to ensure that should another tropical storm hit, the entire grounds wont turn to giant mud pits. Aside from those logistics, the lineup has really been tailored to its New York City locale. There's plenty of NYC talent on display, including headliner Vampire Weekend, The Strokes, Interpol, Sleigh Bells, Lucius, Little Daylight and more. The festival also boasts a high number of top acts like Outkast, Jack White, Skrillex, Phoenix, Axwell and Ingrosso, J. Cole, Spoon and so many more. This year's Governors Ball is set to rebound in a big way and get the festival back on the right track.

When + Where: June 6-8 at Randall's Island in New York City.   

Must See: Outkast. It's more of a surprise if Outkast isn't on a lineup this summer, but something tells me that Andre 3000 and Big Boi are going to do something pretty special in New York City.

Hidden Gem: Lucius. Any chance I get to sing the praises of Lucius, I take it. This band has big things in store, and a showcase like this in their hometown (as a band) of NYC will be just the beginning.

2. Lollapalooza

The Skinny: Whatever kind of music you are looking for, Lollapalooza is sure to have it. Rock? Check. Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys, Portugal. The Man, Parquet Courts, The So So Glos, AFI and J. Roddy Walston and The Business will be there. Pop? Covered. Lorde, CHVRCHES, Foster the People, Broken Belles, Lykke Li, Phantogram, Fitz and the Tantrums and Kate Nash are appearing. Rap? No doubt. Eminem, Outkast, Nas, Childish Gambino, Chance the Rapper, and Vic Mensa will all be there. Dance music? No problem. Zedd, Above & Beyond, Skrillex, Calvin Harris, The Glitch Mob, Gramatix, Gesaffelstein and many more are performing. There is something for everyone at Lollapalooza, and if you want to mix and match genres, there is space for that too. 

When + Where: August 1-3 at Grant Park in Chicago, IL.

Must See: Eminem/Chance the Rapper. I'm cheating here and picking two. Eminem is an obvious no-brainer, but Chance the Rapper is a Chicago product. He performed on one of the smaller stages last year and the crowd was overwhelmingly large. With a bigger spot this year, Chance's show should not be missed.

Hidden Gem: The So So Glos. These guys are an absolute trip live. They are energetic, passionate, and just so much fun. Chicago, you're going to love these guys.

1. Bonnaroo

The Skinny: At the end of the day, Bonnaroo is the best music festival of them all. It's hard to compare to what Bonnaroo has to offer. They attract top headliners (this year they have Kanye West, Elton John, Jack White, Lionel Ritchie, Vampire Weekend, Phoenix, Frank Ocean near the top). There are over 12 stages offering music, comedy and film. The film tents basically operate 24 hours a day. Unique collaborations called "SuperJams" take place combining artists you would never imagine together. For instance, last year, R. Kelly performed with Jim James, Brittany Howard and Daryl Hall. There are performances that sometimes last until 5 in the morning. It's an incredibly immersive experience with so many different things to see and do.

The vastness of Bonnaroo makes it a festival that is truly incomparable. That's why, for our money, Bonnaroo is still king of the music festivals, and it isn't getting unthroned anytime soon.

When + Where: June 12-15th in Manchester, TN.

Must See: Kanye West. Kanye and Bonnaroo didn't mix very well in 2008, so you absolutely have to see how his 2014 set is going to turn out. When Kanye's involved, it's anyone's guess.

Hidden Gem: Lily and the Parlour Tricks. A local band from right here in NYC, Lily and the Parlour Trix are going to really surprise a lot of people down in Tennessee. Their infectious live performances will have everyone dancing.

What music festivals are you looking forward to this summer? Let us know in the comments section!

Want great tickets but hate paying fees? Check CHARGED.fm to find tickets for less and NO FEES!

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