As we creep into fall and look back upon the sunburns, hangovers, and hotel gift shop Advil packets we accrued during out of town festival trips, it’s worth noting that we had a wider range of multi-day festivals to visit this summer. And, yet, there are more to be enjoyed still. A primary reason the fun, yet, crowded festival docket has become even more so is the proliferation of big-time concerts hosted and curated by specific bands. All Tomorrow’s Parties and Meltdown Festival have been lauded for their historically excellent and progressive line up choices, but different artists curate each annual edition. Even the killer Forecastle in Louisville, Ky. has had hometown heroes My Morning Jacket curate a full weekend before, but only in 2012, for the festival’s tenth anniversary.
When bands curate their own festivals regularly, though, it often yields a more cohesive and familial identity for the events. Artists often choose to host folks closer to home and stick to intimate line-ups featuring musicians they’ve grown up with or have gotten to know over the years. Some of those have even earned their places alongside the behemoth weekend-long destination trips that can closely resemble Austin City Limits Festival, Coachella, or Outside Lands. Here are six artist-curated festivals that are worth circling on your musical calendar.
The Growlers have been one of the most colorful, quirky bands around for several years now. Regardless of the labels slapped on its style of music (namely surf rock, alt rock, and the most beloved self-coined beach goth), it’s not a surprise that the annual festival the group produces, aptly called Beach Goth, in Santa Ana, Calif. might be the most magnificently messed-up line-up of any festival. Initially, a festival with the Growlers, Parliament Funkadelic, Ghost, Die Antwoord, and Mini-Kiss (yes, the KISS cover band comprised of tiny musicians in full KISS make-up), doesn’t seem to make sense. But when you view the two-day lineup through the lens of the Growlers’ whimsical, sick, hell-bent fury, it actually does.
Santa Ana, Calif. @ The Observatory
Because this festival hasn’t actually had its inaugural event in Santa Ana, California (hopefully, the town will have recovered from Beach Goth), we’re admittedly working on a hunch here. Outpost Fest doesn’t even take place until Nov. 14, yet we can’t help but feel some pre-show jitters, as Delta Spirit have masterminded this new addition to the festival scene. Jonathan Jameson and Brandon Young put together this one-day line-up with headliners Cold War Kids, as well as Blonde Redhead, Beach Fossils, Tijuana Panthers, and Guards. Given the relatively small stature and late-year nature of the festival, the name is perfect, as it will likely be this year’s final festival outpost.
Santa Ana, Calif. @ Downtown Santa Ana (from Santa Ana Blvd. to 4th St., between French St. and Main St.)
Formerly known as Austin PsychFest, this three-day bonanza is arguably the greatest psychedelic music event of the year. Austin’s garage-psych kings the Black Angels take great pride not just the booking, but also the scheduling (sometimes even giving away that command headlining slots above them, the gracious hosting band). Over the course of the fest’s history, acts like Mac DeMarco, Ty Segall, Black Mountain, and Tame Impala have all represented the newest generation of psych-rockers. But the highlight of most of this springtime fest has been the surprise reunion at each event. Primal Scream, Loop, the Moving Sidewalks have all been honored with the special booking, and this past May, Roky Erickson’s pioneering psych act the 13th Floor Elevators celebrated its 50th anniversary with its first full band show in more than 40 years at the Austin fest.
What began in 2013 as sort of an Oklahoma-intensive Pickathon-style festival has rapidly turned into one of the finest multi-day alt-country festivals to request time off from work for. Created by two of Oklahoma’s best country bands—Jason Boland and The Stragglers and the Turnpike Troubadours—Medicine Stone hosts insurgent country and American acts in Tahlequah, Okla., near the Illinois River. And this year, gifted Oklahomans like John Fulbright, Cody Canada, or Randy Crouch played alongside Texans like Old 97’s, Dirty River Boys, and Randy Rogers Band. The rough twine tying each act together is the strength and spirit of songwriting derived from the greatest of all Okie folkies, Woody Guthrie.
Jeremy Earl of the band psych-folk band Woods founded the Woodsist label and fest of the same time. Woodsist Festival takes place in perhaps the greatest spot in America for his band’s groove-laden, laid back hazy charm to be appreciated—Big Sur, California. Since the first edition in 2010, likeminded bands such as Foxygen, Peaking Lights, and others on (or formerly on) the Woodsist label have jammed for a day or two in the resplendent coastal environs that have historically provided inspiration for artists ranging from Jack Kerouac to the Beach Boys. This year’s festival found the event going back to its original one-day format with Woods’ buddies Real Estate headlining. But the most special set from Woodsist Fest was when Real Estate bassist Alex Bleeker and his solo project Alex Bleeker & The Freaks busted out a full set of Grateful Dead tunes. It’s only in the intimate environs like this where artists can typically pull-off such one-of-a-kind offerings.
The most important information anyone really needs to know about this happening is in the line just below the fest’s main title on the website—“Wilco’s Music and Arts Festival.” For those needing further explanation or incentive to make the trip to North Adams, Mass., however, the 2015 edition featured Friday and Saturday night headlining spots from Wilco, with Sunday featuring Tweedy, Jeff Tweedy’s side-project involving his drummer son Spencer. Indeed, adding comedy greats such as TIg Notaro and cutting edge bands like Parquet Courts and Speedy Ortiz are great ways to build a festival, but for an A-list act like Wilco, straight-forward bookings will not do. Sunday was the can’t-miss day here, as the Wilco Musical Family Tree rolled out with performances from the non-Wilco projects of Nels Cline, Glenn Kotche, and the Autumn Defense, consisting of John Stirrat and Pat Sansone. Wilco loves you, baby, and Wilco loves its family a whole lot, too.