Music Festival Guide 2021: From Bonnaroo to Lollapalooza
Much like travel, music can generate a spark in us we can't so easily commodify. How can sound waves evoke the same feeling as soaking in a sunset at your favorite destination?
In the last 15 months we've all learned just how intrinsically travel and music are linked in not only connecting us, but inspiring us. It gets to the core of why we travel. To share experiences, create lasting memories and grow together. There's no greater excitement than gearing up for a festival weekend with your closest friends and setting off on a festival adventure.
With that in mind, these are the festivals we can't wait to get back to in 2021:
Newport Folk Festival
Location: Newport, Rhode Island
Dates: July 23-25 and July 26-28, 2021
Attendance: 50% capacity, split across 2 separate 3-day events, ~5k/daily, ~30,000 expected total
Boats have been pulling into the Narragansett Bay to listen in on the Newport Folk Festival since it began in 1959. For over 60 years, the historic Fort Adams has hosted an encyclopedia of music history and welcomes attendees annually to bear witness to the next chapter.
Due to COVID-19 capacity restrictions, Newport Folk Festival elected to stretch it's 2021 edition into two unique 3-day events billed as "Folk On" filled with "surprise performances, storytelling, and workshops" over the weekend of July 23rd through the 25th, with the second installment immediately following July 26th through the 28th. Fort-goers should expect a full-on festival for the most part, with a ton of collaboration sets like they're notoriously famous for.
Recent editions have forged a fresh legend of had-to-be-there moments like the John Prine tribute with Margo Price, Roger Waters, Jim James, and Justin Vernon in 2017 — the legendary folk singer-songwriter was able to join himself before passing due to Covid-19 last year; Jon Baptiste's civil rights showcase A Change Is Gonna Come with Mavis Staples in 2018; and the last edition's appearance by the 2019 surprise guest of honor Dolly Parton, who joined the Highwaywomen, a supergroup formed by Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, Amanda Shires, and Natalie Hemby that premiered at the festival the very same weekend.
While perusing the most exciting beach town in New England, sample one of the best lobster rolls at Easton's Beach Snack Bar before visiting The Breakers, the most famous of the town's gilded age mansions lining Bellevue Avenue. The executive producer of the festival, Jay Sweet, expounds on the must haves while in Newport, "Chowder at Clarke Cooke House, avocado fries at Perro Salado, and, of course, a Del's Lemonade straight from the truck at Second Beach."
Location: Grant Park, Chicago, IL
Dates: July 29 - Aug. 1st
Attendance: Full capacity — 100,000/daily, 400,000/total
Lollapalooza promises to be a massive celebration this year, heralding the return of major-music festivals and massive crowds in preeminent fashion along the Second City's lakefront, at full capacity, on its regularly scheduled dates. Since settling in Chicago's Grant Park in 2005, the former touring festival, founded by rocker Perry Farrell in 1991 as a farewell tour for his band Jane's Addiction, has spawned 6 additional international editions in Berlin, Germany; São Paulo, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; Stockholm, Sweden; and Paris, France — all with plans to return through 2022.
While surprises on the lineup like Limp Bizkit and Journey had some scratching their heads, the sprawling Chicago-edition takes over not just the lakefront park, but expands to include the city's venues with aftershows in the evenings. Staying at Wrigleyville's Zachary Hotel presents close proximity to the Metro, Lincoln Hall, and other northside venues hosting aftershows. You might even catch a headliner throw out a first pitch at the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field before a Cubs game. Renting a Divy bike ($15/day) makes for a relaxing, no hassle lakefront ride to the fest.
For the ultimate experience to take on the 8 stages and 170+ band jumbo fest, platinum tickets offer access to two air-conditioned lounges with food and drink included, front row viewing areas at the main stages, golf cart shuttles, dedicated entrance and even spa treatments.
Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival
Location: Manchester, Tennessee
Dates: Sept. 2-5
The name Bonnaroo itself has become synonymous with summer. The quintessential American camping music festival, road tripping to The Farm usually signals the start to the season, but shifting to Labor Day will see it marking the unofficial finish. While there will surely be other adjustments — "High Five Fridays'' may become "Fist Bump Fridays" — you can trust Bonnaroovians will find a way to "radiate positivity," no matter how many disinfectant wipes it takes.
Roo's return see's one of the eclectic festival's most varied lineups in recent years, with headliners ranging from trippy rockers Tame Impala to inspirational singer/rapper/flutist Lizzo. Returning Farm-favorites Run The Jewels, My Morning Jacket, Leon Bridges, and Alabama Shake's Brittany Howard all formerly played tent stages at the festival, with Sylvan Esso hosting the collaborative/cover Superjam set, emotions are piqued with the band tweeting, "GET READY TO DANCE AND CRY-WAHOO!"
Of course, camping makes a quintessential part of the experience, but can present some unique challenges currently. We suggest springing for a heated camping shower, which you can fill with water, heat with the sun, and use to keep clean without having to wait in line for shared facilities. If you don't want to set up your own campsite, pre-arranged dark room tents and luxury glamping style options are available, as well as hotel and shuttle packages from Nashville.
New this year, platinum pass holders are afforded shaded campgrounds and access to the exclusive backstage artist lounge, and, best of all, complimentary daily bloody marys to sip from up-close viewing areas at all main stages and tents. To truly "Roll Like A Rock Star," there are RV and Bus rental options available only as add-on's for platinum pass holders. For $17,700, a fully loaded tour bus, christened the "The Beastie Bus," can be yours for the weekend. RVs "The Justin Beeper," "Chance the Camper," and "Daft Bunk" are available at a discounted rate of $8,700.
Whether you stay on The Farm or in Music CIty, no trip to Bonnaroo is complete without a swing through downtown Nashville for a stop at Jack White's Third Man Records, where bands playing the festival often slink off to play a set in the exclusive blue room or where they can even record directly to vinyl. The line at Pancake Pantry is worth facing for your fill of tablecakes upon re-entry to civil society, and The Ryman, the famed church venue where the Grand Ole Opry started, offers self-guided tours.
Pitchfork Music Festival
Location: Union Park, Chicago, Illinois
Dates: Sept. 10-12th
Attendance: 19,000 capacity/daily
Pitchfork Music Festival earned Chicago a second entry with its stunning lineup featuring headliners Phoebe Bridgers, St. Vincent, and Erykah Badu, leading the way in presenting a quality festival format with well loved indie artists like Angel Olsen, Animal Collective and Thundercat lining the bill. The music aficionados preferred festival, it's long been a favorite for families as well as one of the friendliest for hipster parents to enjoyably bring their (safely ear-muffed) children.
Boasting one of the best markets, it can be a challenge to pull away from the racks of the record fair sponsored by local independent radio station CHIRP, and the touring gig-poster showcase, Flatstock, returns to bring in famed designers from around the world to showcase their prints for sale, often including unique pieces to commemorate a particular artist's set at the festival that weekend.
With attendance at Union Park capped at a fraction of some of the larger festivals, Pitchfork provides a slower pace to explore fashionable Fulton Market. There's bountiful brunches along restaurant row, such as Top Chef Winner Stephanie Izard's Little Goat Diner, or if you prefer a morning kayak paddle, the Chicago River's canyon of skyscrapers is nearby. The district's NoBu hotel and rooftop restaurant presents a sparkling view of the skyline at night against old-world Japanese influences.
Life Is Beautiful Music & Art Festival
Location: Downtown Las Vegas, Nevada
Dates: Sept. 17-19
Life is Beautiful went all-in with a lineup that packs a wallop of a punch of 3 headliners nightly. Lined along the streets of the Other City That Never Sleeps in downtown Las Vegas, the festival kindly accounts for a slower start in the mid-afternoon, running until 1 a.m. against the backdrop of the casino's bright lights. Friday delivers headliners Tame Impala, Megan thee Stallion, and Glass Animals. Saturday offers Green Day, Haim, and Illenium. Sunday closes out the festival with Billie Eilish, A$AP Rocky, and Young Thug. Other highlights include Modest Mouse, Ludacris, Brittany Howard, and St. Vincent. The lineup is so stacked it's most impressive reviewing in alphabetical order.
LiB is known to pull in impressive stand up and sketch comedy surprises, as well as hosts an ideas forum with luminaries and large scale art installations that span the grounds and 18-city blocks, including permanent murals that make for great instagram shots. Be sure to bet smart, tip well, and follow our advice on how to avoid making the most common mistakes in Sin City.
Location: Citi Field, Queens, New York
Dates: Sept. 24th-26th
Attendance: 115,000 people attended over 3 days in 2017
Covid Precauctions: Find updated COVID-19 protocols here
It's the "Go, Go," Governor's Ball with the setting shifting from scenic Randalls Island to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park's Citi Field, home to New York's very own Mets, to celebrate the-fest-that-could's 10th anniversary in The Big Apple.
It's a timely boon for the festival, hoping to alleviate past logistics issues and weather-related cancellations that have plagued it in the past, transforming the easily accessible ballpark's parking lot into a colorful park all its own with high grade astroturf.
Borrowing from the condensed radial layout of sister-fest Meadows that previously took place at the same site in past years, a 360-degree layout prevents sound-bleed between the stages and eliminates long walks across the grounds. Organizers released a preview of the layout, complete with the iconic GOV BALL letters and tatted-Statue of Liberty.
The lineup celebrates the return of Billie Eilish after her breakout early-afternoon set in a tent stage in 2018. Hometown rapper and fashion maven A$AP Rocky makes his first appearance as Saturday's headliner, and Post Malone closes out Sunday after a massive 2018 set that saw him pull the biggest crowds of the weekend. To see all the sets from the best seats, Platinum Passes are limited to just 100 lucky people (aged 21+ over only), and offer not just front row viewing areas, but special backstage shortcuts to each stage to bypass the crowds entirely.
Also expect food from across the city's five boroughs and beyond, mashups, and maybe even a drag brunch as they've been known to throw in the past. With lots of sweet treats like Davey's Ice Cream, Coolhaus, and Matchabar, there's plenty of options to keep cool.
Austin City Limits
Location: Zilker Park, Austin, Texas
Dates: Oct. 1-3, 2021 and Oct. 8-10
Attendance: ~75,000/daily, ~450,000 over both weekends.
ACL's 2021 behemoth in Zilker Park tests the limit of Austin's weirdness right out of the gate with it's headliner pairings atop the bill: George Strait & Miley Cyrus, Billie Eilish & Rüfüs Du Sol, and Stevie Nicks & DaBaby, since there's more than something for everyone and the (mostly) identical lineup repeats itself over two weekends, you won't even have to choose between acts.
Late Night Shows display the rich music scene along Sixth Street with performances taking place at Antone's, Emo's, The Mohawk, and Stubb's, and you never know who you might discover busking on the street. Platinum passes will score holders access to complimentary dining and beverages in the Platinum Lounge; elevated viewing at the main stage; spa treatments; a merch gift; and other sweet perks including a shuttle from the JW Marriot to a private entrance so you'll still have plenty of time to wait for your fill of BBQ at Franklin's.
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
Dates: Oct. 8-17
Attendance: ~500,000 over 2 weekends
Originally conceived by George Wein, the founder of Newport Jazz & Folk Festivals in Rhode Island, it remains one of the great American festivals. 2020 marked the first time in Jazz Fest's fifty-year history the back-to-back weekends on the bayou didn't go forward. Although the traditional May dates passed this year, the festival announced it's return in October with a lineup well worth the wait, spanning eras and genres as Jazz Fest has itself.
There's something for everyone, and the bill reads like a list of all time greats: Dead & Company, Stevie Nicks, Foo Fighters, Jimmy Buffett, Lizzo, Demi Lovato, The Black Crowes, H.E.R., Brandi Carlile, Norah Jones, Tedeschi Trucks Band, The Beach Boys, Ludacris, Jon Batiste, Wu-Tang, The Isley Brothers, and more. The Rolling Stones even structured their arena tour to make up for their missed headliner slot in 2019, and were announced as a late edition, playing a set on the first ever Wednesday of JazzFest, Oct. 13th.
What anyone who goes to JazzFest will tell you is that the best part is the headliners play in the middle of the day, leaving you free to explore the French Quarter.You can already purchase this year's commemorative poster, "Return to Fesst: Jazz Fest Heritage Inside Out," by New Orleans artist Scott Guion, whose posters in 2019 and 2020 sold out. Jazz Fest's VIP Packages are worth it for the titles alone: Grand Marshal and Big Chief, which is the top tier, and nets guests top-tier viewing stands and front-of-house bleachers at tents, private beverage stands, bathrooms, and an indoor lounge.
Location: San Francisco, California
Dates: Oct. 29-31
Attendance: ~150,000 over 3 days, 2019's Saturday set a record with 90,000
Outside Lands always has a fantastical feel. Situated in San Francisco's dreamy Golden Gate Park, this year's proceedings land on Halloween and guarantee a freaky fun time. With the sun setting earlier in the 6 p.m. hour, there will be more time to explore the otherworldly lighted areas in the wooded pass to Hellman Hollow that will surely be filled with costumed revelers.
OSL always delivers on a unique lineup, and 2021's edition is no different: The Strokes and Vampire Weekend; Tyler, the Creator; Lizzo; and Tame Impala all top the bill. The true star, though, always ends up being the culinary offerings. Between Cheeselands, Chocolands, Beerlands, Windelands, and, of course, Outside Clams, there's something for everyone to find their fill.
In addition to the VIP viewing lounges, this year the festival is partnering with renowned creative director and event designer Ken Fulk on up close and personal front-of-stage viewings at Lands End, Twin Peaks, and Sutro main stages, along with personalized concierge services and and a custom trolley that will drop you off backstage with a drink in hand.
As New York City readies its plans for an epic concert for 60,000 in Central Park in August, Coachella and Stagecoach remain on hold until 2022.