Festivals: they’re not for the jaded, infirm or impatient, and now that they’re everywhere all the time, it’s pretty hip to dismiss them as tiresome and unwieldy, and those criticisms are certainly true. You either have to be one of those folks who delights in the festival atmosphere and sense of community, or you have to be willing to sacrifice comfort for the sake of hours and hours of music, sweet music. If you’re one of these types or think you might be, you owe it to yourself to check out the phenomenon, ‘cause if you’re anything like me you could wind up making some of your favorite memories ever at these things. Read on for a rundown on the most notable parties of spring/summer 2012. (Note: We’re Milwaukeeans here at You-Phoria, so adjust travel considerations accordingly.)Coachella: April 13-15 & 20-22, Indio, CA
That’s right, it’s so popular that it needs two weekends of the exact same lineup. Just like every year, it’s the best lineup today’s thirtysomething music snob could dream of seeing. Don’t even bother looking, though; it sold out before any of the artists were even announced. Ten years from now, only celebrities will be allowed to purchase tickets to Coachella, and bands won’t actually play, they’ll just distribute signed legal documents swearing that the audience member was there. Ka-ching! Final ticket price: I spent fifteen minutes trying to find out and then thought, who cares?
Worth it? Moot. Hangout Festival: May 18-20, Gulf Shores, AL
This fest jumped in the ring in 2010 and its trajectory has been Bonnaroo on steroids: Trey headlines the first year, then one more year of jamband allstars, and this year, a mainstreamed and slightly diversified roster, to the tune of Dave Matthews Band, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack White and String Cheese Incident topping the bill. Some top notch and some very missable acts; if the schedule is set up in your favor, it could be a brilliant weekend. But if Wilco and STS9 end up opposing each other, you’re screwed. Either way, it looks like a cheap ‘roo imitation, except for the potentially huge advantage of being on the beach. Final ticket price: $209, but general admission is sold out. A VIP pass will run you $849.
Worth it? In terms of big names, yeah; in terms of quality music, not quite, especially when you factor in lodging expenses. Still, seems enticing if they’d land a better lineup. Summer Camp: Memorial Day weekend (May 24-27), Chilicothe, IL
Summer Camp is an anomaly: a camping festival where you can’t bring in your own alcohol. You’re always faced with the choice of whether to go through the potential annoyance and monetary waste of getting busted trying to smuggle in that bottle of Rangpur (my advice is to scope out security while you’re in line and try to determine who’s least enthusiastic about his or her job), or succumb to the guaranteed annoyance and monetary waste of buying whatever beer they’ll sell you inside the grounds. (Oh, right, or you could just not drink alcohol.) But once you’re inside, it’s basically a free-for-all; the ideal not-too-big, laid-back hippie fest. You’re guaranteed three killer shows from Umphrey’s McGee and three, um, shows from moe. every year, and a slim shot at getting into The Barn for some very unique late night sets, although you will run out of breathable air if you stay in there too long. This year’s lineup isn’t quite as impressive as last year’s, but it’s pretty close; with Primus and Jane’s Addiction and a host of mid-tier jambands and electronic acts, it looks like a guaranteed good time (weather permitting), even though they’ve evidently given up on hip-hop this year (hey, at least they’re not bringing back Wiz Khalifa). Final ticket price: The website says “?” but so far, $194. Various VIP upgrades will add anywhere from $185 to $1,000.
Worth it? Getting a little steep, actually, but if the atmosphere remains the same (and you manage to get some booze past security), just barely. Sasquatch!: Memorial Day weekend, George, WA
I don’t know anyone who’s been to this one, but it’s got a few things going for it: The Gorge, by all accounts one of the most gorgeous (oops) music venues on the planet, and most likely a merciful lack of oppressive heat. So, how ‘bout that lineup? Absolute hipster paradise, possibly even more than Coachella due to the lack of HUGE names; it’s actually kind of funny that this isn’t the lineup for Pitchfork, actually. In terms of live performance, you can count on Beck and Jack White and Pretty Lights and some of the lower-tier artists, and probably Bon Iver too if you can stand that horrible whiny falsetto. But even these acts aren’t necessarily going to blow you away, and honestly, there are oodles of artists here who make really good records but aren’t necessarily must-see performers. Final ticket price: LiveNation says $315, and that’s prior to the pile of service fees and other bullshit.
Worth it? I honestly can’t believe they’re charging that much for this lineup. Maybe the “church” of Scientology gets a big cut? Wakarusa: May 31-June 3, Ozark, AK
I’ve never been, but I’ve heard nothing but glowing reports from those who have: lovely natural setting with room to roam and explore, high-quality VIP experience, and usually, a pretty top-notch music roster. But this year is…kinda weak, actually. Pretty Lights is not quite headliner-caliber talent, honestly, nor are The Avett Brothers. I love Primus and Umphrey’s too, but overall this is a very low-grade list of hippie-fest usual suspects compared to what Wakarusa has offered in years past. Final ticket price: $164. VIP: $635
Worth it? Pretty affordable, but considering travel and a list of artists I could mostly take or leave, no way. Bonnaroo: June 7-10, Manchester, TN
Your humble narrator over here has been dreaming of a festival with Radiohead and Phish headlining for at least ten years, and for at least five of those years, there was no chance of it because there was no Phish. So that was all it took to convince me, but I’ve also heard recently that, although I haven’t been digging what The Red Hot Chili Peppers have been putting out for many years now, they can still put on a really good live show. Hell, all I ask for is a couple songs each from their run of killer albums (Uplift Mofo Party Plan through One Hot Minute if you ask me), not including the required hits from Blood Sugar Sex Magik of course. Sure, it’s gonna be hot as hell, it’s a long-ass drive, and you could end up camped a half-hour’s walk (or more) from the concert grounds. But one thing to take into account is the Superjam principle; not just the annual set itself (a usually-unannounced combination of musicians that don’t regularly play together), but the constant guest appearances and collaborations that are possible throughout the weekend. This happens at all festivals, but nowhere (in my experience) with such frequently exciting results as at ‘roo. It wasn’t the first festival. It might not even be the best. But it is the standard, and the standard-bearer, for the past decade of festmania that has gripped this country. And the two best live bands on planet Earth are headlining. Final ticket price: $259.50. A two-person VIP pass goes for $1399.50. That 50¢ is for Thom Yorke’s hair rubber bands.
Worth it? Oh hell yes. Electric Forest: June 30-July 1, Rothbury, MI
Back when this festival started (2008), it was called Rothbury, and its first year was one of the best festivals that ever took place. After a solid second year, legal and financial issues plagued the Double JJ Ranch, and in 2010 the festival's future was in doubt. It was reborn, sort of, in 2011 with its new name, as essentially as a Cheese-curated electrohippie event, and I confess: I need to get over that fact and admit that it would be an awesome time, aside from the headlining sets. Unless something tragic has happened at the Ranch, it is still the absolute most perfect site for a festival I’ve ever been to. Travel is a piece of cake, especially if you take the ferry, and the weather is likely to be frikkin beautiful. You’ve got two nights of STS9, you’ve got Bassnectar, Thievery Corporation. You’ve got effing Richie Hawtin! It is likely to be the most epic dance party of the summer despite the headliner. Final ticket price: $242.50. VIP? They won’t even tell you until you actually go to the ticket purchasing page, which I didn’t feel like doing.
Worth it? Let’s see, three nights of Cheese, or for $17 more, Radiohead/Phish/Chili Peppers…Even if it weren’t the same weekend as Phish’s Deer Creek>Alpine Valley run (aka The Corn Run) OH HELL NO. Forecastle Festival: July 13-15, Louisville
They call this the “10th annual”, although I never heard of it until a month ago, so I think they’re just making that up. But getting the hometown heroes of My Morning Jacket to curate the thing has vaulted this thing into the spotlight. Then suddenly you look at the rest of the lineup and wonder where this fest has been all your life (answer: Louisville). With Wilco, Bassnectar, Girl Talk, Andrew Bird and Sleigh Bells rounding out the top of the bill, you’re looking at a diverse collection of artists that’s not only obviously focused on renowned live performers (er, minus Sleigh Bells) but also begging for tons of choice collaborations. Seriously, even though I’m not the hugest MMJ fan, the full artist lineup is about as exciting as any fest this year. So, I can’t comment on the festival experience much; it’s a bit of a hike, and it’s probably gonna be hot, but on paper, if it’s all about the music this should be one of the scorchers of the summer. Final ticket price: $159.50, although as of now, you can still get ‘em for $144.50, a STEAL it would seem. VIP: $350, are you shitting me?
Worth it? Hot damn, unless this site is a clusterfuck of a shithole, seems like the bargain of the summer. Just keep in mind: you will have to find your own lodging. Pitchfork Music Festival: July 13-15, Chicago
It’s funny; for at least a week after the initial lineup for this fest was announced, its website still had absolutely no information whatsoever about it. Also, you look at the stages that Pitchfork is curating at SXSW and Primavera, and they make sense; then you look at the namesake festival lineup and you go UMMMMM. They’re really banking on a big Vampire Weekend comeback? How likely is that? They really think Feist is gonna put on a great show? Still desperately clinging to the great black (metal) hope Liturgy? I would like to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Cloud Nothings and probably Grimes and The Field, and that is literally it so far. Did P4k feel pressured to release this roster before it had its ducks in a row? Or, as Ryan Mixtape posits, is this a sly marketing ploy with a gotcha reveal on the way? I guess we’ll find out, but at this point, what a bummer. I love this festival, but not with this lineup, and if they are holding their big names back until after tickets sell out, well, what a bunch of assholes. Some of us like to budget our summers based on actual musical talent, y’know. P4k is usually a miniature, relatively unhyped and navigable version of the fiasco that I imagine Coachella to be, but this year it seems like an afterthought. Either we’re all in for some big surprises to bum us out for not jumping on tickets early enough, or Pitchfork liked the Pitchfork Festival back before it was popular, but now scoffs at anyone who still does. Final ticket price: $110, until the very limited three-day passes are sold out, at which point it’s $45 a day.
Worth it? Tough call. For me, usually yes, especially if I can crash at a friend’s house, even though you’re likely to get a lot of club acts who don’t translate to an outdoor daylit festival. But unless some really great stuff has yet to be announced, this year is a no. But if the PJ Harvey rumor turns out to be true… Lollapalooza: August 3-5, Chicago
Another Chicago fest that I always enjoy, although the logistics of it can be a pain: the downtown hotel, the long walk between stages, the weather, and that’s not to mention the increasingly mainstream lineups of what started out as the quintessence of alternative. The not-even-slightly substantiated rumors are headlined by Metallica, and since Radiohead has already announced a Tinley Park appearance for some godawful reason, I guess we can forget that idea. As you can probably tell, I’m not overly excited. Of course, it’s difficult to assess the worth of a fest that won’t release its lineup for at least a month. What I can say is that if last year was any indication, expect by FAR the most plentiful and delicious food options of any area fest (there was a Kuma’s stand for fuck’s sake!) and a similarly diverse array of music. Coachella is more the hipster paradise, and Bonnaroo still retains some of its jamband focus; Lolla is the one that tries to be everything for everybody, and ends up being at least something for anybody. Final ticket price: Unknown, but it’ll probably be a little over $200. Add hotel expenses unless you have a Chicago guest bedroom/couch to crash on.
Worth it? Usually, it totally is, even though lineups have gotten progressively worse since 2008. Something about turning downtown Chicago into a muddy hedonistic free-for-all is a blast in itself. But I just don’t have a good feeling about it this year. Check back with me in early April.