The You-Phoria Guide To Festivals: 2014

Wed Apr 09 2014

Because tweeting my disdain isn't enough.

Coachella: Indio, CA, this weekend and next (same lineup at each)

Hey, the lineup isn't as terrible as last year's. In fact, considering the overall awfulness of this year's festival bills, this mediocre card becomes one of the strongest out there. Too bad it went on sale months ago and sold out instantly. Or did it this year? Obviously I wasn't really paying attention. I'm sure this festival was a blast years ago, and I'm sure it's still possible to have a good time there, but my faith in major-corporate-sponsored events like this has fallen to an all-time low, so why would I fly all the way to California to be squished into a sea of drunken demographic clichés when I could just go to Lollapalooza? Perusing the lists, the only super enticing acts that I won't have a chance to see locally are The Knife and…whoops, I guess that's the only one. Remember when Coachella would announce its lineup and you'd be blown away by the headliners that hadn't played in years and/or weren't playing anywhere else? This year it's Outkast, Muse and Arcade Fire.

Moogfest: Asheville, April 23-27

This appears to be one of those multi-venue urban festivals, with the daytime devoted to workshops and exhibitions and such geared towards people in the tech industry. At night, music! Three nights of Kraftwerk in 3D, you could hardly go wrong with that, and there's also the likes of Flying Lotus, Pet Shop Boys, Moderat, Keith Emerson (!!!), Dan Deacon, RJD2, Bernie Worrell Orchestra, Daedelus and Avey Tare's festy-hopping new project, among plenty of others. Curiously enough, Janelle Monáe is slated to be a daytime presenter but not a performer; something tells me she's got to be popping up at some point during the night, right? I'll certainly be curious to hear all about this one when people report back.

Milwaukee Psych Fest: Cactus Club, April 24-27

Last year's inaugural edition was an absolute blast. I'd link to my and Matt Wild's review of it, but that page no longer exists. While I might lament the fact that Catacombz won't be returning this year (although despite all indications to the contrary I've been assured that they're still a band), most of the local talent will be--Moss Folk, Elusive Parallelograms (changing their name to Tapebenders), and for the pre-party on April 19, Sleepcomesdown. Plus, hometown additions like Moon Curse, Space Raft and Vocokesh should generate a lot of anticipation. Otherwise, there's Heaven's Gateway Drugs and Sisters Of Your Sunshine Vapor, who both played interesting sets last year, plus frequent visitors from Minneapolis The Blind Shake, and the reunited Loop out of the UK to get very excited about. But judging by my experience last year, I'm most looking forward to discovering new faves amongst the many acts I've never heard of. It's gonna be a blast, kids.

Austin Psych Fest: May 2-4

This lineup pretty much takes the cake. If I weren't catching John Zorn's Bladerunner in Chicago this same weekend I would've seriously considered this one. No idea about the logistics of this event but how bad could it be when you've got The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Panda Bear, The Black Angels, The War On Drugs, of Montreal, Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks, Liars, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Mono, Bombino, Moon Duo, The Warlocks, Woods, Peaking Lights, The Octopus Project...I MEAN COME ON. Unless a natural disaster swoops in and demolishes the whole thing, guarantees this will be a bitchin weekend and I'll be jealous of everyone there.

Jam For Jam: Concord, WI, May 15-18

The former Operation: Adaptation is now a fundraising event for the Jam For Jam foundation--all proceeds go to purchasing building materials, which volunteers will use to build and/or reinforce structures for inner-island Jamaicans. Sounds like a win-win, but every year I'm a bit puzzled by a) the lack of promotion for this thing and b) all the regional jamband talent that isn't on the lineup. We all know most jambands suck, but of the handful of decent ones from Wisconsin that I'm aware of, approximately one is on this list. Now, Chicago Farmer (folkie rabble-rouser) on Thursday night will make the trip worthwhile all by himself, and The Erotic Adventures Of The Static Chicken (essentially jazz) on Friday will be a goofy/amazing dance party for sure, but those are the only acts I can personally recommend. I don't know if the organizers of this thing are dicks, or if jambands are dicks and don't wanna play benefit shows any more, or if there's just no sense of camaraderie in the Wisconsin jamband community at all, but this once-pretty-killer little festy gets less intriguing every year. It's pretty sad that we can't get a bunch of like-minded improvisational rock and roll bands together to try and create something great. Or, maybe most of the good ones I know about are gone and I'm just an out-of-touch Phishhead. Not like it's all on the shoulders of once-a-year-band Fat Maw Rooney but still.

Hangout: Gulf Shores, AL, May 15-18

Another once hippie-centric fest that now looks like all the others, with the added bonus of happening on a beach. Fewer big names means mostly middle-of-the-road indie rockers (not to lump Modest Mouse in with them, but...) and a handful of token jamband heroes. And it does feature Andrew W.K., and Diarrhea Planet.

Summer Camp: Chilicothe, IL, Memorial Day weekend

You've got to hand it to these people for keeping the hippie-fest fires burning. I've said it before and I'll say it again: This is the closest thing out there to the spirit of the first Bonnaroo that I know of. That includes the perennial threat of weather-related catastrophe, which has finally scared some of us off until we're ready to go the RV route, unblemished record of smuggling booze onto the grounds intact as of now! Terrific lineup this year, too; Trey gets his chance at redemption for having his second set yanked out from under him after one song by a merciless rainstorm last year. Bassnectar has put on a couple of my Most Memorable Summer Camp Sets. Ditto for Les Claypool, who will be there with Primus and, well, I won't be surprised if he does some sort of late-night thing as well. Three nights each of Umphrey's (despite my recent underwhelming, hooray!) and moe. (I won't go so far as to say 'boo'…), and then Zac Brown Band (I don't know them but I'm pretty sure they're country) rounds out the headliners. And there's a bunch of other usual suspects, but not like String Cheese and Panic and their ilk. The music almost always triumphs at this fest. It's not a conveyor belt of buzz artists. It's an event where bands know they're playing to their people, and they still go all out trying to create something that will last in people's memories.

Wakarusa: Ozark, AK, June 5-8

I suppose this fest might be keeping the spirit of the original 'roo alive too; I've never been to it, but two of its headliners this year are pretty much my two least favorite bands in the world (besides fun. of course), plus I'm sort of ambivalent about STS9 and Umphrey's at the moment, so that basically leaves Bassnectar, Dr. Dog, Xavier Rudd and Papadosio to get me excited and that's not gonna quite get me to Arkansas. Of course I will say I've heard nothing but glowing reviews about this festival from people who've gone to it. Hell, if I lived in the south I'd probably go; it's easy enough to skip out on Cheese and Flaming Lips and get to bed early, right?

Bonnaroo: Manchester, TN, June 12-15

Fine, twist my arm and I'll admit there's tons of good music to see at this festival. I'm just a little bitter. This is the first year they've completely abandoned the tradition of at least one good hippie headliner, thereby finally killing the spirit of Bonnaroo once and for all. Also, as much as I might admire Sir Elton John, the chances that this 67-year-old Englishman whose voice is a frail shadow of what it once was can blow minds with his live show have to be slim indeed. Also, you can have your Kanye West; my interest in seeing him live steadily wanes, although I certainly have no ground to stand on in disrespecting him as a performer, other than the last time he played Bonnaroo of course. Hell, he just canceled a bunch of shows again; maybe he'll end up backing out of this, too. Speaking of intermittently brilliant musicians who seem intent on losing my respect, Jack White, I'll admit, is probably going to blow minds; he certainly blew mine at Lollapalooza a couple years ago. I just had this fear that he was precariously close to falling into self-parody then, and he hasn't done anything to convince me otherwise since. But I'm pretty confident he can still wail. Vampire Weekend, on the other hand, bored the shit out of me at Pitchfork a few years back, and I probably don't need to say anything about Flaming Lips or Superjam With Skrillex And Friends, right? However, Lionel Richie provided me with one of my favorite Bonnaroo moments ever the last time I was there, Frank Ocean was great when I saw him at Lolla, Darkside and Goat will surely be amazing, and this Master Musicians Of Jajouka thing is pretty much guaranteed to be the most amazing set of the weekend by far, wow I had not heard about that. Otherwise, with some exceptions, the lineup just doesn't hold a lot of excitement for me, though I have no doubt you could spend most of your time catching worthwhile music. Long way to drive and a lot of potential hassles to deal with for a half-decent, haphazard bunch of bands like this, though. I guess a lack of any sense of community is an outmoded criticism for festivals though, right?

Electric Forest: Rothbury, MI, June 26-29

Well, for one thing they've got Lauren Hill! I bet she would put on a cool show. And Flying Lotus, obviously. It's possible that Moby still has some juice left in him. Matt & Kim are entertaining as hell. Bombino I would definitely like to see. It's kind of an interesting lineup, actually, but I can't justify paying for three nights of Cheese. It's against my religion. And most of the undercard acts are unknown to me. I admit the allure of going back to this site is strong; unless there have been major changes, it remains the most perfect site for an outdoor music festival I've ever seen--gorgeous wooded grounds, almost no competing sounds bleeding across stages, relatively short distances from camp to music, and generally speaking the weather should be ideal. Plus the chance to conjure up memories from the first Rothbury…sigh. But I already have tickets to Outkast at Summerfest…why does that seem like such a half-hearted excuse…

Summerfest: June 25-July 6

The best thing about Summerfest is you don't feel like your admission price is going into the pockets of the crappy big-name headliners. You just pay your $15 whichever days you feel like going (and honestly, if you live in the Milwaukee area and can't get your hands on some free Summerfest tickets, you're just not putting in any effort), wander around and enjoy the huge variety of sounds, food and clean restrooms. Sure, it blows that the Marcus rarely offers free lawn seating for its shows any more, and the beer selection in there SUUUUUUCKS (THIS IS THE BREW CITY FOR CHRISSAKES), but I bet Dave Matthews Band and Outkast are gonna put on shows well worth the $45 ticket, as long as they get the sound dialed in properly. Also, they just announced Usher, in his only U.S. performance of the summer; I'm not sure, is it cool to like him these days or no? Anyway, beyond those shows, and even beyond any of the ground-stage headliners announced so far (REO WILL NEVER DIE), you're guaranteed terrific local music every single day, which will only increase my excitement whenever that info becomes available. It's not that I feel the need to promote this thing; it's probably more a promotion of rising above petty social concerns and just enjoying music, but whatever. Yeah, it gets crowded with unhip people, and yeah, it's a nauseating marketing blitz, but all in all I have to assume that if you feel the need to scoff at Summerfest you'd be miserable at almost any festival, so what are you reading this for?

Pitchfork: Chicago, July 18-20

Ya, as I've made clear elsewhere, I am incredibly pissed that Phish once again scheduled its only area appearance for the year on the same weekend as this festival. This might be the best lineup Pitchfork has ever had. Fuck. So I'm forcing myself to take comfort in being kind of anti-Beck lately, not all that interested in seeing Neutral Milk Hotel decades after it was actively making music, and I just saw an incredible St. Vincent show so I can handle missing her. And I'll tell myself that Sun Kil Moon, Slowdive, Sharon Van Etten, Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks, Cloud Nothings, Wild Beasts, The Field and Majical Cloudz might not translate too well outdoors in the light of day. Not much I can do to console myself about missing shit like Death Grips and Real Estate and Kendrick Lamar and Danny Brown, though, not to mention acts I'm not all that familiar with that would probably impress me. I love this festival. If Phish plays like shit at Northerly Island I am fucking done with them.

Forecastle: Louisville, July 18-20

Why is it that nobody seems to know about this festival? Is Louisville a total shithole or something? This lineup is like a combination of Pitchfork and Bonnaroo--Outkast, Jack White, Beck, The Replacements, Spoon, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Slint, Sun Kil Moon, Sharon Van Etten, Avey Tare, Blue Sky Black Death (!!!)…pretty killer lineup and for under $200. I dunno, seems like it would be great, but since no one ever talks about it and it's been going on for over a decade I feel like there's got to be something wrong with it.

Lollapalooza: Grant Park, August 1-3

Always a good time. But holy crap, the lineup is horrendous this year. I want to slap Perry Farrell repeatedly in the face until he remembers that this is supposed to be an ALTERNATIVE MUSIC FESTIVAL. I don't care that "alternative" is meaningless nowadays; YOU KNOW WHAT I FUCKING MEAN. Booking Myley Cyrus and Justin Bieber would've been way more edgy than the predictable bullshit they've got this year. Eminem was just there three years ago and he was boring as white bread--and I actually like Eminem. (Okay, I admit I only recently found out he released an album last year, and I haven't rushed out to buy it. I have a feeling it probably sucks. But still.) Kings Of Leon and Skrillex, duh. Arctic Monkeys, meh. I don't know who Calvin Harris is. You have to go down to the ninth line of artists before you hit anyone I'm remotely interested in seeing (Darkside). Thank God the Tribune leaked the headliners before tickets went on sale because I was gung-ho on buying them. I'm in denial about Lolla's obvious descent into lameness, which is probably irrevocable at this point. I really want to go back to Grant Park one of these Augusts. But this is the worst festival lineup I have ever seen. Fuck you, Perry.
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