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The Best of the Fests: 19 Cool Summer Festivals

Peak summer festival season has arrived! Check out the wildest blow-outs still to come, from Lollapalooza to the Gathering of the Juggalos

Best of the Fests

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This year's summer music festival season is in full swing – and it's far from over. From the monster multi-stage blowouts (Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits) to the smaller, wackier events (Gathering of the Juggalos), there are more opportunities than ever to see the greatest live acts touring this year all in one place. Enjoy our mid-season guide to the biggest and best festivals coming up in the rest of 2012.

By Patrick Doyle

The Avett Brothers

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Gathering of the Vibes

WHEN: July 19th-22nd
WHERE: Bridgeport, Connecticut
TOP ACTS: Primus, Phil Lesh & Friends, Bob Weir & Bruce Hornsby with Branford Marsalis, 7 Walkers Featuring Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart Band, Avett Brothers

Started by Deadheads after Jerry Garcia's death in 1995, the Connecticut festival's vibes are still strong. Now in its 16th year, the Gathering will feature several Grateful Dead alums perform with their own projects this summer.

WHO IT'S FOR: Deadheads who need a bigger Shakedown Street.

The Killers

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Firefly Music Festival

WHEN: July 20th-22nd
WHERE: Dover, Delaware
TOP ACTS: The Killers, the Black Keys, Jack White, Death Cab for Cutie, The Flaming Lips, Bassnectar

The brand-new Firefly fest is expected to draw up to 30,000 fans to the Woodlands of Dover International Speedway. They'll find plenty of fun aside from the music – including hot air balloon rides, a giant vintage arcade and an air-conditioned tent packed with local beer and wine.

WHO IT'S FOR: Serious rock fans. Why choose between shelling out for Black Keys or Jack White tickets when you can catch them both in one weekend?

My Morning Jacket

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Newport Folk Festival

WHEN: July 28th-29th
WHERE: Newport, Rhode Island
TOP ACTS: My Morning Jacket, Jackson Browne, Iron & Wine, Conor Oberst, Punch Brothers, Patty Griffin, Dawes, Deer Tick, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Alabama Shakes, Tom Morello: The Nightwatchman, Gary Clark Jr.

Festivalgoers flock each year to the gorgeous Fort Adams Park, walking through the centuries-old fort to get from stage to stage. Newport has offered plenty of unforgettable moments in recent years: Pete Seeger unexpectedly performed in the kids tent last year, and in 2010 Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes, the Felice Brothers and Richie Havens all joined Levon Helm onstage to sing his final number, "I Shall Be Released."

WHO IT'S FOR: Not just folk fans. The fest has long outgrown its roots: My Morning Jacket, Conor Oberst, Tom Morello and Gary Clark Jr. are just a few of the acts expected to plug in and get loud this year.

Rebirth Brass Band

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Grassroots Festival of Music & Dance

WHEN: July 19th-22nd
WHERE: Trumansburg, New York
TOP ACTS: George Jones, Donna the Buffalo, Rebirth Brass Band, John Brown's Body

The intimate four-day Finger Lakes fest, begun by local heroes Donna the Buffalo, invites campers to enjoy a healthy dose of dub grooves, roots and reggae.

PRO TIP: Whatever you do, don't miss George Jones. The country legend is 80 years old and still has perhaps the greatest voice in the genre.


C Flanigan/WireImage

Hard Summer

WHEN: August 3rd-4th
WHERE: Los Angeles
TOP ACTS: Skrillex, Bloc Party, Boys Noize, Miike Snow, James Murphy

The EDM blowout is prepping for its biggest year ever, expanding to two days with more than 30,000 ravers expected to attend. They'll have their pick of four stages, including stages dedicated to techno, dubstep, house and disco. "It's geared toward being able to dance, but there are a lot of live bands as well," says Skrillex. "It's probably the most diverse festival – they always choose their lineups tastefully."

PRO TIP: Keep a train schedule – festival tickets include weekend Gold Line metro passes.

Red Hot Chili Peppers

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WHEN: August 3rd-5th
WHERE: Chicago
TOP ACTS: Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Black Keys, Black Sabbath, Jack White

The original alt-rock extravaganza turns 21 this year. "The number gives me validity," says founder Perry Farrell. "But to be honest, I still feel very young and immature, in a great way." More than 120 acts will invade eight huge stages in Grant Park – including the Farrell-curated dance stage, which has been expanded to hold 20,000 ravers.

PRO TIP: Whatever you do, don't miss Black Sabbath's only scheduled U.S. gig this year. "Hearing the riff to 'War Pigs' will probably be the highlight of my life," says Farrell.

Neko Case

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Pickathon Indie Roots Festival

WHEN: August 3rd-5th
WHERE: Happy Valley, Oregon
TOP ACTS: Neko Case, Dr. Dog, Blitzen Trapper, Heartless Bastards, Phosphorescent, the Cave Singers

Enjoy three days of good old-fashioned pickin' on three stages at the comfy, heavily shaded Pendarvis Farm, along with three beer gardens, free water and musical workshops taught by the performers.

PRO TIP: Bring the whole family – kids under 12 get in free.

Insane Clown Posse

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Gathering of the Juggalos

WHEN: August 8th-12th
WHERE: Cave-in-Rock, Illinois
TOP ACTS: Insane Clown Posse, Geto Boys, Danny Brown, George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, Raekwon, Biz Markie, DMX

Thousands of Insane Clown Posse fans descend on rural Illinois each year as Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J bring along a lineup that's heavy on Eighties and Nineties hip-hop stars. There's plenty of weird fun to be had, too, including wrestlers, tattoos, lingerie competitions and the always-classy Ms. Juggalette pageant.

PRO TIP: Bring your bathing suit if you dare. "While the swimming hole of the Hatchet Landings might be lovingly referred to as Hepatitis Lake, we assure you that it is totally safe to swim in," says the festival's official website.

Stevie Wonder

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Outside Lands

WHEN: August 10th-12th
WHERE: San Francisco
TOP ACTS: Metallica, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Stevie Wonder, Skrillex

Music-loving foodies shouldn't miss this festival, which brings top-notch acts to San Francisco's scenic Golden Gate Park, along with an impressive array of dining options from 50 different Bay Area restaurants and more than 30 different local wines.

WHO IT'S FOR: Folks who are into eating deep-fried kosher dill pickle chips while watching Crazy Horse tear through "Powderfinger."


Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for Dave Matthews Band


WHEN: August 10th-12th
WHERE: Turin, New York
TOP ACTS: moe., Umphrey's McGee, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, North Mississippi All Stars

Die-hard moe. fans are stoked that the Buffalo, New York jam band is returning to the Snow Ridge Ski Resort for a 13th year.

PRO TIP: The grooves may be loose, but security is surprisingly tight. Fans have complained in online forums in recent years after security confiscated glass containers of salsa and jam – the delicious fruit preserves kind, not the glorious musical improvisation kind. Harsh toke!

Marilyn Manson

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Sunset Strip Music Festival

WHEN: August 16th-18th
WHERE: Los Angeles
TOP ACTS: Bad Religion, De La Soul, Far East Movement, Marilyn Manson, The Offspring, RZA

For the fifth year running, the Sunset Strip Music Festival is invading L.A. Acts like Hank III and RZA will hit the Strip's coolest clubs, while headliners including Marilyn Manson and Bad Religion will play on massive outdoor stages.

PRO TIP:  Expect plenty of tributes to the Doors, who played many early gigs at the Whiskey a Go-Go in 1966 and will be honored at the fest. "What a great time we're going to have," keyboardist Ray Manzarek recently said. "The Sunset Strip. Live bands, loud music, rock & roll. It's the Sixties all over again."

Lucinda Williams

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Philadelphia Folk Festival

WHEN: August 17th-19th
WHERE: Upper Salford Township, Pennsylvania
TOP ACTS: Little Feat, Steve Earle and the Dukes, Lucinda Williams, John Hiatt, Wanda Jackson, Mary Chapin Carpenter

Now in its fiftieth year, this affordable fest – three-day passes run for $130 – offers camping, tons of tasty local food and plenty of roots tunes.

PRO TIP: Take a walk up the hill to the crafts area and buy souvenirs from glassblowers, candle makers and artists at work.

Dark Star Orchestra

Anthony Pidgeon/Redferns

Dark Star Jubilee

WHEN: August 31st-September 2nd
WHERE: Thornville, Ohio
TOP ACTS: Dark Star Orchestra, Mickey Hart Band, 7 Walkers Feat. Bill Kreutzmann, Keller Williams

The greatest Grateful Dead cover band ever is throwing their own blowout in their hometown, playing three straight nights alongside actual members of the Dead.

PRO TIP: Throw your own mellow jubilee – the festival welcomes acoustic guitars and small campfires.

Tony Bennett

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WHEN: September 1st-3rd
WHERE: Seattle
TOP ACTS: Jane's Addiction, Tony Bennett, Skrillex, Gotye, Best Coast

Now in its 42nd year, the Labor Day weekend festival draws more than 100,000 festivalgoers to the Seattle Center for one of the most adventurous lineups of the summer. Who's up for a Skrillex-Tony Bennett collaboration?

PRO TIP: Between music, cool off with comedy sets (including Fred Armisen, Janeane Garofalo, Paul F. Tompkins) and visual arts showcases, plus more than 100 short films.


Gary Miller/FilmMagic

Budweiser Made in America Festival

WHEN: September 1st-2nd
WHERE: Philadelphia
TOP ACTS: Jay-Z, Pearl Jam, Skrillex, Rick Ross, Odd Future

Jay-Z is both headlining and curating the first edition of this Philly fest, featuring 28 acts on three stages. "I'll probably get one of those silly headsets, just to look important," says Jay-Z. "I don't really need it, but I'll just do that. Overall, have a good time. You'll see me with probably a beer in my hand, just enjoying the festivities and the music like everyone else."

PRO TIP: The new fest is aiming to be as comfortable as possible – feel free to bring blankets, towels, umbrellas and water bottles. Cell-phone charging stations will also be available throughout the festival site.

The B-52's

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Telluride Blues and Brews Festival

WHEN: September 14th-16th
WHERE: Telluride, Colorado
TOP ACTS: Phil Lesh & Friends, B-52s, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Gov't Mile, Little Feat

A bill of mostly jam bands play surrounded by picturesque mountain peaks in the laid-back ski town. "Out of the 90 different countries I've been to," B.B. King said in 2004, "I've never seen anything more beautiful than what you have here."

PRO TIP: Purchase a "Juke Joint Pass" to get into several downtown clubs long after the 9:30 p.m. festival curfew.

Bright Eyes

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Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

WHEN: October 5th-7th
WHERE: San Francisco

This free festival has had plenty of memorable once-in-a-lifetime moments. Legends like the late Doc Watson, Earle Scruggs, Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson have all brought their best picking to the Bay in recent years – along with younger acts like Bright Eyes

PRO TIP: Doors open at 10 a.m., and since the festival is free, showing up early is key.

Willie Nelson

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Farm Aid

WHEN: September 22nd
WHERE: Hershey, Pennsylvania
TOP ACTS: Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Dave Matthews with Tim Reynolds, Jack Johnson

Farm Aid has raised more than $40 million for American farmers in debt since 1985. It comes to Pennsylvania with the usual suspects – Nelson, Mellencamp, Young and Matthews – plus Jack Johnson and Willie's son Lukas. "We do everything we can," said Willie Nelson, "to keep family farmers growing your food."

PRO TIP: Taste plenty of great food from local family farms – plus learn about agriculture from local farmers by taking a stroll in the Homegrown Village.

Jack White

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Austin City Limits

WHEN: October 12th-14th
WHERE: Austin, Texas
TOP ACTS: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, The Black Keys, Jack White, Florence + The Machine, Iggy & the Stooges, Weezer, The Shins, Bassnectar

What started as a country television show in 1976 is now one of the biggest rock events of the summer – drawing as many as 70,000 fans to the Texas capital's 46-acre Zilker Park.

PRO TIP: Don't just go home when the festival is over! Local venues like the legendary blues club Antone's offer after-hours music that can rival what you'll find at the mainstage.

In This Article: Lollapalooza, Lollapalooza 2012

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