The USA’s best music festivals


By Ronan J O’Shea

Photography by Erik Voake

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October 2017

It goes without saying that the land that gave us Woodstock and rock and roll knows about music festivals. From blues to electro, rock to indie, there’s something to suit anyone taking a musical pilgrimage across the pond.

Its appeal no doubt helped by its proximity to Los Angeles, and the fact it boasts something even hallowed Worthy Farm cannot… almost guaranteed sunshine

Coachella

The lowdown: Quite easily America’s most famous festival, Coachella is the closest thing the US has to Glastonbury. Taking place over two weekends every April, it’s been breaking attendance records for years (pushing the 200,000 mark at the last count) – its appeal no doubt helped by its proximity to Los Angeles, and the fact it boasts something even hallowed Worthy Farm cannot… almost guaranteed sunshine.

Fly to: Los Angeles

Stay: Ace Hotel Palm Springs

Chicago Blues Festival

The lowdown: Though not the official home of the blues, Chicago nurtured some of the best blues artists of all time including Bo Diddley, Buddy Guy, and the father of Chicago blues, Muddy Waters. So it’s fitting that the Windy City should have its own festival dedicated to the genre. And the best part about Chicago Blues Festival? It’s completely free – a factor which without doubt helps it draw in half a million people each summer. It takes place in Millennium Park – famous for the giant bean sculpture – right next to Lake Michigan.

Fly to: Chicago

Stay: theWit Chicago

Austin City Limits

The lowdown: Visitors from the UK often think of Texas solely in terms of cowboys, ranches and barbecue, but the Lone Star State is also a great place for music. Once a three-day event, Austin City Limits’ October double-weekender was inspired by a television music programme celebrating Texan music and culture. These days, visitors can enjoy everything from hip-hop (think Kendrick Lamar and Drake) to country (Willy Nelson) and soul (St. Paul And The Broken Bones).

Fly to: Austin

Stay: Omni Austin Downtown

  • Celebrate world-class blues musicians at the Chicago Blues Festival © Adam Alexander.
  • Dance alongside California’s fashionistas at Coachella © Auden Bui.

    Festival folklore

    During Pink Floyd’s set in 2009, a giant inflatable pig prop floated above the crowd to a nearby neighbourhood. Those who returned it were given $10,000 and free Coachella passes for life.£404 pp

    Discover California
  • Take in Sin City’s most psychedelic stage at Electric Daisy Carnival © aLIVE Coverage.

    Electric city

    A tribute to Vegas’ instant-wedding culture, EDC festival chapel has been the location of 300 legal weddings since the festival moved to the city.£536 pp

    Book a trip to Las Vegas

Made in America

The lowdown: Jay-Z’s showpiece event, Made in America is a great way to see some of the USA’s best artists. The late-summer festival in Philadelphia does feature the odd international artist here and there, with grime star Stormzy in 2017 and previously hosting Jamie xx and Coldplay. Get yourself festival-ready with a run up and down the famous Rocky Steps at the entrance to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and then grab the original Philly cheesesteak from Pat’s King of Steaks.

Fly to: Philadelphia

Stay: The Logan Philadelphia Curio

Panorama Music Festival

The lowdown: The East Coast now has its own more-than-adequate equivalent to Coachella – Panorama. Taking place in Randall’s Park, it debuted in July 2016 with performances from acts including Kendrick Lamar, Anderson Paak, Broken Social Scene and Sia. Having proved a success, it looks like it’s here to stay. Given its location right beside Manhattan and close to Central Park, it’s a great way to see some of the biggest names in pop, and see some sights at the same time.

Fly to: New York

Stay: InterContinental New York Barclay

Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas

The lowdown: One of the largest electronic music festivals in the world, EDC is a party like no other, with colourful stages, funfair rides, stunning art exhibitions, a carnival square, and performers all nestled inside Las Vegas’s speedway track during May. Fans of fireworks should take note – there are a lot of them, and they’re loud.

Fly to: Las Vegas

Stay: MGM Grand Hotel and Casino

  • Get close to music’s biggest names at Austin City Limits © Charles Reagan Hackleman.

Ultra Miami

The lowdown: Named after Depeche Mode album Ultra, at its busiest (2013) this electronic festival attracted 400,000 to sunny Miami, and it continues to draw hundreds of thousands each year. Though Ultra now has sister festivals in various locations from Seoul to Cape Town, the original remains the best, with its Bayfront Park location – a 32-acre paradise of beach and palm trees.

Fly to: Miami

Stay: Courtyard Miami Downtown

Bumbershoot

The lowdown: Vastly different to other festivals on this list, Bumbershoot is ideal for the music fan hoping to see less-heralded acts, though it does bring in big names too (Lorde performed in 2017). The name is a reference to Seattle’s umbrella-friendly weather, but also the festival’s ethos of celebrating music’s diversity, with more or less every genre under the sun (or in this case as it’s September, probably rain).

Fly to: Seattle

Stay: The Edgewater

Voodoo Experience New Orleans

The lowdown: Voodoo Experience New Orleans takes the best of the Bayou and mixes it into a musical, culinary extravaganza. With some of the best local chefs serving Louisiana dishes – think shrimp po’ boys (traditional sandwiches of roast or fried meat or fish). It’s arguably the best music festival in the US for foodies. Music remains the most important reason to visit the festival (and arguably New Orleans itself) with a range of acts performing over the years, from indie band Arcade Fire to hard rockers Metallica.

Fly to: New Orleans

Stay: Avenue Plaza Resort