As music festivals sprout up all over the country, it becomes more and more difficult to decide which are the best. Is it longevity? What about lineup innovation? You can’t discount fan experience either, or the potential for a history-making collaboration. Since festivals vary in their appeal based on what you’re looking for, rather than ranking them one through 10, we’ve narrowed it down to the top 10 best fests of 2013. Based on your musical tastes, your geographic location, your affinity for camping (or lack thereof) we hope you’ll let us know which is your number one: tweet us, comment, or smoke signals.
Coachella 2013 artist Wild Belle performs for Paste in California
Coachella is often viewed as the festival season's big kick-off, and for good reason: the event, which included headliners Blur, Phoenix, The Stone Roses and more this year, always holds a special surprise, whether it's last year's hologram Tupac or this year's special trailer from Daft Punk. Artists often use the events a means of debuting new content or reuniting (see Postal Service), and with many up-and-comers sprinkled in every year, it's a good indicator of who music fans might want to keep an eye on over the coming months. Besides, Coachella was one of the first US festivals so big that it demanded two weekends, making this must-see a more realistic opportunity for out-of-towners and West Coasters alike.
Bonnaroo 2013 artist Milo Greene performs for Paste in Nashville on their way to the festival
Bonnaroo has been a landmark of a festival since its inception in 2002, but its seamless transition from a jam-band-heavy lineup to a more balanced, pop-friendly one shouldn't be downplayed, and this year was filled with the kinds of world-class acts and one-of-a-kind collaborations that make the Tennessee fest unique.
“Long story short, we were all McCartney fans, but the crowd—which I could not see an end to in any direction, even on my tippy-toes—walked away almost feeling like his friend,” said Paste's Tyler Kane of Paul McCartney's unforgettable set. “It's exceptional to make hundreds of thousands of buds with just a Hofner bass, a piano and that beautiful voice of Paul's.
Another exceptional set, and one that those who missed out can catch in a forthcoming documentary, was the super jam with Jim James, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, John Oates and a rotating cast of all-star Bonnaroo veterans. Performing old-school soul music, audience members sang along to familiar favorites with the confidence that just by enjoying the music, they were being a part of something epic. That's Bonnaroo, though—epic but familiar, the kind of friendly atmosphere that will keep fans returning year after year.
3. Hangout Music Festival
Stevie Wonder at Hangout 2013, Photo by Mark C. Austin
It's hardly surprising that Hangout Music Festival has seen so much growth since its first year in 2010. They've got the perfect, scenic beach-side location that makes the weekend feel like a vacation, even for those of us accustomed to luxuries like “regular showers” and “beds,” and you get the feeling that the artists are equally appreciating of the relaxing, get-away feel of the atmosphere. This year, though, there was no denying that the best moments of the weekend (and, maybe, my whole festival season) came during Stevie Wonder's phenomenal, emotional set.
“The hits were all there (Wonder closed with an absolutely wicked-sounding 'Superstition'), but perhaps what was most affecting was the obvious joy Wonder still gets from performing and the way his music touches even those closest to him,” said Bonnie Stiernberg. “He took a break during the set to tell the story of his daughter Aisha Morris (who sings back-up for him) and her fiance's recent engagement and dedicated 'Isn't She Lovely?'—which he originally penned to celebrate her birth—to the couple. Morris had to pause mid-song to wipe away tears.”
4. Newport Folk
Milk Carton Kids perform live at the Paste Ruins at Newport Folk 2013
If Hangout is impressive for its rapid growth, Newport Folk achieves the opposite feat: an annual event since 1959, this Rhode Island festival remains a destination for folk-lovers and remains true to its roots, this year nodding to classic folk artists like Ramblin' Jack Elliot while integrating freak-folk pioneer Beck and all the while celebrating the community aspect of the genre by inviting local musicians to curate stages and craft collaborations. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more loyal audience, as many purchase tickets to the event long before the lineup is announced, but the entire population at Fort Adams for that outstanding weekend in July is something else, too: respectful. The audience creates a reverent listening atmosphere that respects each performer's art. The performers mingle with their fans off-stage, and even from the largest platforms you feel a distinct camaraderie between the performers and listeners. But most uniquely inviting are Newport's many volunteers, whose bright attitudes working everything from security to vending make the whole experience feel like a pleasurable one run by friends, and whose generosity with their time allow the festival to remain a non-profit. By all accounts, Newport Folk's event this year confirms that the legendary fest will remain bucket-list-worthy for years to come.
Jurassic at Outside Lands 2013, Photo by Philip Cosores
This year, OutsideLands offered high-caliber performances from the likes of Paul McCartney, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nine Inch Nails and once again made its home in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. A location that's a landmark even without world-renowned artists taking the stage, Outside Lands offers a more laid-back atmosphere than the see-and-be-seen crowd you might find at Coachella without sacrificing any of the lineup. Beyond that, Outside Lands makes a point of highlighting culinary goodness, too, showcasing local food and wine and celebrating the best of the bay area. This kind of versatility is just one part of why this…er, flavorful event makes Best-of lists year after year.