Seven Smaller-Scale but Still Awesome Summer Festivals

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The summer festival season is in full swing, and that means big bands, big brands and big crowds. But if you don’t go for massive stages, hoity toity VIP sections and gargantuan, fully-functioning Doritos vending machines (looking at you, SXSW), never fear. There of plenty of smaller festivals that boast incredible lineups without all that debilitating agoraphobia. We’ve assembled a list of seven of the best lesser-known summer festivals for 2014. Some of these are a bit off the beaten path but promise to be perfect for anyone who has ever uttered the phrase, “I’m all about the music, man.”

1. Three Rivers Arts Festival

City: Pittsburgh, Pa.
Dates: June 6-15
Headliners: Jeff Tweedy, Amos Lee, Trampled By Turtles
This 10-day fest showcases not only a phenomenal roots-oriented musical lineup, but a diverse crop visual art offerings as well. Leading the pack is Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, who’s got a new solo album in the works. The effervescent Trampled By Turtles also carry this Steel City extravaganza.

2. The Ride Festival

City: Telluride, Colo.
Dates: July 12-13
Headliners: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Lucero, The Hold Steady
Festival favorites Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros will headline this up and coming addition to the festival circuit. Telluride’s beautiful mountainous scenery perfectly complements the festival’s rough around the edges lineup. Plus, after the main stage shows end, the party pours out onto Main Street, where late night performances are held at local venues, appropriately dubbed the NightRide.

3. Merge 25 Festival

City: Carrboro, N.C.
Dates: July 23-26
Headliners: Neutral Milk Hotel, Superchunk, Lambchop
Indie giant Merge Records turns 25 this year, and to celebrate, the label is throwing one hell of party. The festival features Lambchop performing the classic Nixon in its entirety, as well as headlining performances from the legendary Superchunk and Destroyer, all spread out over the course of five days. The extravaganza concludes on July 26 with a music nerd’s dream lineup: Neutral Milk Hotel, Bob Mould and Teenage Fanclub will all perform among others at an outdoor block party.

4. Floyd Fest

City: Floyd, Va.
Dates: July 23-27
Headliners: Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite, Ms, Lauryn Hill, Ray Lamontagne
Virginia’s Floyd Fest offers an interesting hodgepodge of folk, R&B and hip-hop. Lauryn Hill’s headlining slot promises to entertain, but it’s the lower billings that really shine. Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands’ supply unpredictable, jazzy exaltations, while Carolina Chocolate Drops’ vintage roots meld perfectly with this festival’s diverse, but like-minded, crop of performers.

5. Underground Music Showcase

City: Denver, Colo.
Dates: July 24-27
Headliners: Real Estate, Blonde Redhead, Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Sponsored by The Denver Post, this fest brings some of the premier independent acts to the Mile-High City. Unknown Mortal Orchestra has established itself as one of the better live indie acts, while Blonde Redhead’s raw and at-times blistering noise rock must be experienced. Plus, the festival showcases some great up-and-coming loval acts like Best Creeps and Colfax Speed Queen.

6. First City Festival

City: Monterey, Calif.
Dates: August 23-24
Headliners: Beck, The National, The Naked and Famous, Phantogram
The shindig draws its name from Monterey’s claim to fame as the first official capital of California, and it certainly draws in some first-rate talent. In addition to Beck and festival staples The National, First City also showcases some great rising stars in Future Islands, Speedy Ortiz and Geographer. As if that wasn’t enough, there will also be a full carnival with free rides. Try to control your childhood glee.

7. Hopscotch Music Festival

City: Raleigh, N.C.
Dates: September 4-6
Headliners: Spoon, St. Vincent, De La Soul
I may be a bit biased as Hopscotch is in my hometown of Raleigh, but since its inception, the festival has established itself as one of the principal exhibitions of underground music in the U.S. This year’s lineup is no different, featuring performances from experimental pioneers like Thurston Moore and punk forerunners Death. The fest plays out like a mini SXSW, but with a lot less nauseating corporate sponsorship and a lot more down-home, Southern charm.