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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Rating the 2008 summer music festivals

Not sure which summer music festival to throw your money at? Here's a rundown of the major festivals in chronological order, with completely biased opinions of which ones rule and which ones suck...

April 25-27, Indio, CA

At first, the headliners were laughable: Jack Johnson, Portishead, Kraftwerk, and Roger Waters performing Dark Side of the Moon. But then Prince came along and saved the day. The near-headliners (Raconteurs, the Verve, Death Cab for Cutie) are also less than impressive. But the middle- and lower-tier acts save this lineup, with names like Architecture in Helsinki, Justice, Kate Nash, Vampire Weekend, St. Vincent, DeVotchKa, Simian Mobile Disco, and Jens Lekman.

Headliners: D
Rest of lineup: A
$ value: B
Overall: C+

The Bamboozle
May 3-4, East Rutherford, NJ

Bamboozle is like a mega-sized Warped Tour, with emo and punk bands out the wazoo and occasional hip hop acts thrown in for variety. Among the notables at this year's event are Snoop Dogg, Jimmy Eat World, Panic at the Disco, Gym Class Heroes, Paramore, Cobra Starship, and Anti-Flag. For those who appreciate this kind of music, Bamboozle could be one of the best bargains of the summer.

Headliners: B
Rest of lineup: B-
$ value: A-
Overall: B-

Sasquatch Music Festival
May 24-26, George, WA

Because of its location, Sasquatch is the most inconvenient festival for most of the country to attend, but they continue to attract top-notch talent like R.E.M., the Flaming Lips, and The Cure, as well as quality mid-tier acts like The National, Tegan & Sara, Ghostland Observatory, M.I.A, and the Mars Volta. The bottom of the lineup is mostly filler, however.

Headliners: B-
Rest of lineup: C-
$ value: C+
Overall: C

June 5-8, Lawrence, KS

Pissed that Bonnaroo has gone mainstream? Go to Wakarusa, which is more of a pure hippie/jam band fest. The lineup appears weaker than in recent years, but you can't go wrong with the Flaming Lips headlining. Other highlights include Emmylou Harris, Ozomatli, Bettye Lavette, Mates of State, and - get this - a re-formed Arrested Development. Four-day passes go for only $144.

Headliners: C-
Rest of lineup: C-
$ value: B
Overall: C

June 12-15, Manchester, TN

Rock-solid headliners Metallica, Pearl Jam and Kanye West (let's ignore Jack Johnson) make this the summer's best festival. Chris Rock is also on the bill, set to make history by performing for one of the largest crowds ever to hear a stand-up set. Then there's Sigur Ros, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Willie Nelson, B.B. King, !!!, Gogol Bordello, Broken Social Scene, MGMT, Battles, and many others.

Headliners: A
Rest of lineup: B+
$ value: B
Overall: A

Rothbury Festival
July 3-6, Rothbury, MI

This festival is positioning itself as a Bonnaroo alternative, in a cooler location: the forests of western Michigan. They have a nice mix of jam bands and mainstream pop acts - Dave Matthews Band, Snoop Dogg, the Dresden Dolls, Of Montreal, Modest Mouse, Busdriver. But tickets are too pricey for my taste - $244 for a 3-day pass.

Headliners: B-
Rest of lineup: B-
$ value: D
Overall: C-

Pitchfork Music Festival
July 18-20, Chicago

The hipsters may disagree, but the acclaimed indie festival doesn't have as strong a lineup as usual, with several acts that aren't anything special, and others that are already booked for other festivals (!!!, Animal Collective, Vampire Weekend). They did score a big coup by nabbing Public Enemy, who will perform It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back in its entirety. But no matter how mediocre the lineup, with a three-day pass setting you back just $65 (or single-day tickets for the bargain basement price of $25), Pitchfork will always be a great deal.

Headliners: D+
Rest of lineup: D+
$ value: A+
Overall: B-

Mile High Music Festival
July 19-20, Commerce City, CO

This one is similar to Rothbury, with headliners Dave Matthews Band, John Mayer, and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Also noteworthy are the Black Crowes, Steve Winwood, Spoon, and the Roots. The $150 price tag for a 2-day pass is pretty average.

Headliners: B-
Rest of lineup: D
$ value: C-
Overall: D+

August 1-3, Chicago

This might be the greatest batch of headliners in recent American music festival history. A reunited Rage Against the Machine(!), plus Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, Kanye West, and Wilco? Unbelievable. Unfortunately, the lineup is top-heavy. There are few decent mid-size acts here. I could also point out that many of these acts peaked at least two years ago (Gnarls Barkley, Girl Talk, Bloc Party, Wilco), but that would be nitpicking.

Headliners: A+
Rest of lineup: C
$ value: A
Overall: A-

All Points West
August 8-10, Jersey City, NJ

While other festivals feature more than 100 acts, APW inexplicably decided to book only 13 bands per day, while at the same time charging more than Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo. Most festivals work out to less than $2 per band, but the cost of APW works out to about $7 per band. There is no justification for this. There are a handful of good artists here - the New Pornographers, CSS, the Go! Team, Nicole Atkins, Animal Collective - and two nights of Radiohead is a great treat, but this festival is comically overpriced.

Headliners: B
Rest of lineup: D
$ value: F
Overall: D-

Virgin Mobile Festival
August 9-10, Baltimore

Two unique names stand out amongst the headliners: Foo Fighters and Stone Temple Pilots. I've never been an STP fan, but I give Virgin credit for booking an act that isn't playing all the other festivals. Kanye, Jack Johnson, and Nine Inch Nails will be here as well. The recent addition of Bob Dylan was a nice coup.

Headliners: B
Rest of lineup: C
$ value: D+
Overall: C-

Outside Lands Festival
August 22-24, San Francisco

I don't think there's a single act here that isn't already playing 5 other festivals. Radiohead, Jack Johnson, Tom Petty, Wilco, Beck, Rodrigo y Gabriela, etc. That doesn't mean it's a subpar lineup; just that they played it safe and were completely unoriginal when putting it together.

Headliners: B
Rest of lineup: D+
$ value: C-
Overall: C

Austin City Limits Festival
September 26-28, Austin, TX

Foo Fighters, Beck, and Robert Plant & Alison Krauss would be terrific secondary acts. But as headliners, they're weak. That said, this is one of the most consistent lineups of the summer - every act is quality. Band of Horses, Conor Oberst, and Okkervil River are particularly nice to see on the schedule.

Headliners: D
Rest of lineup: B+
$ value: A-
Overall: B

My personal 2008 rankings, from best to worst...
1. Bonnaroo
2. Lollapalooza
3. Austin City Limits
4. Pitchfork Music Festival
5. Bamboozle
6. Coachella
7. Sasquatch
8. Outside Lands
9. Wakarusa
10. Rothbury Festival
11. Virgin Mobile Festival
12. Mile High Music Festival
13. All Points West


Anonymous said...

I would like to thank you for this insightful look at the list of festivals, most of which I had no idea existed, and although I won't be able to attend many, if any, I'm at least happy to know and compare.
deepest thanks.

BigOno said...

Scott - don't forget about Summerfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They call it "The World's Largest Music Festival" although I am not sure by what definition they define "largest". I have been in the past and it is a great festival with a lot of large stages and a lot of great headliners over 11 days, 11 stages (And 700 bands!).
~Cheers! ~E

DJRainDog said...

Scott: Report to NYC immediately to be whipped until unconscious, tied up, blindfolded, heavily drugged, and exposed to the new Portishead disc. Jack Johnson, though, you're right: I do not understand why he is getting so much attention. On the other hand, on Conor Oberst, you're wrong; that young man is as talent-free as Britney, sitting there moping tunelessly about his navel. And honestly, I can live without all these interchangeable bands with forgettable names (Fallout at the Disco, whatever). I snooze in their general direction. (I'm a crotchety old man, and I'm not even near 40.)

Scott said...

Ono - Summerfest... 11 days... that's almost too long! They do have some pretty big names, though. I'm impressed.

DJ - I just read a great review of the new Portishead disc. Leave out the unconscious part and I'll take you up on your offer :)

I do enjoy Conor's mopings because they remind me of my mopings.

Anonymous said...

Guide to summer music festivals here: