A Guide to America’s Best Music Festivals of 2018
It's not all Coachella and Bonnaroo. You can find a great outdoor festival within driving distance. Here's a genre-by-genre breakdown.Photo: Getty Images Music Features
Coachella is underway in California, signaling the start of the annual parade of music festivals across the United States. We all know the main characters—Bonnaroo, Governors Ball, Lollapalooza and Firefly, among them. But the truth is, there are so many festivals these days covering so many different kinds of music that it can be difficult to figure out where to spend your hard-earned beer money. With this guide, we’ve broken down 20 of the best and newest festivals happening in the U.S. this year that may not already be on your radar. Now more than ever, new and more inclusive festivals are popping all over the map, so you no longer have to travel to California or New York to catch some of your favorite acts. There’s probably one within 100 miles with a lineup you wouldn’t have thought possible just a few years ago. The festivals catalogued below span time zones, bill sizes, genres, and amenities. Whether you’re looking for indie-rock, hip-hop and R&B, folk, jam bands, or a little bit of everything, the festival for you is listed here.
Location: Smale Riverfront Park, Cincinnati
Dates: April 28-29
Highlights: The National, Father John Misty, Feist, Future Islands, Lord Huron, Julien Baker, Moses Sumney, Big Thief, Alvvays
Ohio’s own The National host this inaugural weekend of music and arts in their hometown of Cincinnati, grown out of the city’s 13th installment of the MusicNOW Festival. The National are slated to perform two sets, including their 2007 album Boxer in its entirety. The festival promises city-wide exhibitions of art and dance, special musical performances and support from more than 20 acts across two stages.
XpoNential Music Festival
Location: BB&T Pavilion and Wiggins Park, Camden, N.J.
Dates: July 27-29
Highlights: David Byrne, Sylvan Esso, The War on Drugs, Sturgill Simpson, The Lone Bellow, Josh Ritter, Margo Price, Hiss Golden Messenger, Sunflower Bean, Mt. Joy
Popular Philadelphia public radio station WXPN 88.5FM hosts the 25th edition of this festival, which features three stages across two venues on the Camden riverfront. David Byrne and Sylvan Esso will perform at the BB&T Pavilion on Friday, and The War on Drugs, Sturgill Simpson, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band will perform on Saturday. Dozens more performances will take place in nearby Wiggins Park.
Mo Pop Festival
Location: West Riverfront Park, Detroit
Dates: July 28-29
Highlights: Bon Iver, The National, Portugal. The Man, St. Vincent, Alvvays, Vince Staples BROCKHAMPTON, Jeff Rosenstock
This recently established Detroit festival showcases some of the biggest names in mainstream indie rock on a 20-acre riverwalk, including Bon Iver, The National and St. Vincent. In addition to music, the festival boasts “villages,” including the retro Mo Arcade, Boozy Shipyard, Craft Bazaar, and Food Truck Rally Alley.
Shaky Knees Music Festival
Location: Central Park, Atlanta
Dates: May 4-6
Highlights: Jack White, Fleet Foxes, David Byrne, Courtney Barnett, The War on Drugs, Waxahatchee, Ezra Furman, Tenacious D, Parquet Courts
Atlanta’s main fest returns for its sixth year with a three-night overload of big names including headliners Jack White, Queens of the Stone Age and The National. A fleet of regional food trucks will be on hand to sate you, from rich southern BBQ to vegetarian corn dogs. Also on hand this year: the Third Man Records Rolling Record Store, aka Jack White’s RV.
Location: Pendarvis Farm, Happy Valley, Ore.
Dates: Aug. 3-5
Highlights: Broken Social Scene, Built to Spill, Colter Wall, Ezra Furman, Jen Cloher, Phosphorescent, Shakey Graves, Sunflower Bean
About 15 miles outside of Portland, this proudly independent festival has been staging (mostly) acoustic treats at Pendarvis Farm since 1998. Twenty years later, Pickathon is celebrating not only music but its commitment to creating a sustainable and family-friendly festival. You can camp in its scenic wooded area and enjoy eats and drinks from dozens of local vendors while listening to some of the best musicians in folk and indie rock, like Broken Social Scene, Built to Spill and Phosphorescent.
Bellwether Music Festival
Location: Renaissance Park, Waynesville, Ohio
Dates: Aug. 10-11
Highlights: MGMT, Flaming Lips, Local Natives, Dr. Dog, The Psychedelic Furs, Echo & The Bunnymen, Whitney, Allah-Las, Japanese Breakfast
Bellwether is a new psych-minded festival that takes place in a small town in southwestern Ohio, allowing festivalgoers to experience a secluded, starry, wooded Midwest scene through music and camping. In its first year, Bellwether hosts a short but already impressive roster of psychedelic bigwigs, with MGMT and the Flaming Lips alongside Echo & The Bunnymen and The Psychedelic Furs, among others.
Location: Big Sky Brewing Company Amphitheater, Missoula, Mont.
Dates: Aug. 4-5
Highlights: Death Cab for Cutie, Jeff Tweedy, Mavis Staples, Whitney, Tune-Yards, Parquet Courts, I’m With Her, Waxahatchee, Lucy Dacus
Travelers Rest is orchestrated by indie figureheads The Decemberists, who will host a second year of performances at the Big Sky Brewing Company in Missoula, Mont., frontman Colin Meloy’s hometown. The Decemberists will perform sets on both nights of the festival in a lineup shared with fellow Pacific Northwest darlings Death Cab For Cutie, as well as Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and a host of others.
Location: Mercedes Benz Superdome, New Orleans
Dates: July 6-8
Highlights: Janet Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Snoop Dogg, Fantasia, Miguel, Daniel Caesar, The Roots
ESSENCE Magazine presents its 24th annual festival in NOLA, celebrating black culture, entertainment and empowerment inside the Superdome’s four “superlounges” and one main stage. Over the course of three days, the festival will host R&B legends like Janet Jackson and Mary J. Blige, but also offer Afrocentric fashion vendors and community-based action opportunities.
Afropunk Fest Brooklyn
Location: Commodore Barry Park , Brooklyn, N.Y.
Dates: Aug 25-26
Highlights: Erykah Badu, Janelle Monae, Jamila Woods, Miguel, Tyler the Creator, Daniel Caesar, Jacob Banks, Twin Shadow, The Internet
Afropunk hosts fests all over the world, including Paris, London, Johannesburg and Atlanta, but the Brooklyn event hosts a particularly impressive lineup this year in the original American melting pot. Afropunk Brooklyn features performances from not only some of the best names in hip-hop, but also art exhibitions, political activism, and the Bites&Beats Food Festival (a festival within a festival!) featuring some of Brooklyn’s most diverse cuisines.
Location: The Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing, Philadelphia, PA
Dates: June 2
Highlights: The Roots, The Diplomats, Lil Uzi Vert, Dirty Projectors, 2 Chainz, 6lack, Dvsn, Brandy, Rapsody, Goldlink, Badbadnotgood
Jazzy hip-hoppers and Tonight Show house band The Roots will host the 11th annual Roots picnic. The festival will take place along the Delaware River waterfront at Philadelphia’s Penn’s Landing, and will feature a jam session from The Roots hosted by Dave Chappelle, as well as performances by The Diplomats and Lil Uzi Vert.
Newport Folk Festival
Location: Fort Adams State Park, Newport, R.I.
Dates: July 27-29
Highlights: Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile, Charlie Parr, Courtney Barnett, Gary Clark Jr., Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam, Hiss Golden Messenger, Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, JD McPherson, Jen Cloher, Langhorn Slim, Lucius, Moses Sumney, Phoebe Bridgers, Sturgill Simpson, The Wood Brothers
Once the strict province of musical archivists and historians, the 59-year-old Newport Folk Festival has blossomed in its old age into a smorgasbord of generations and styles. The highly anticipated lineup (which will continue to roll out over the next few weeks) boasts rootsy stars like Sturgill Simpson, Langhorn Slim, Gary Clark Jr., but also makes room for the alt-rock of Courtney Barnett and the future soul of Moses Sumney, as well as a special set featuring Jon Batiste and The Dap-Kings titled A Change Is Gonna Come—all on the historic waterfront of Fort Adams State Park.
Location: Riverfront Park, North Charleston, S.C.
Dates: April 21-22
Highlights: Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, Band of Horses, Shovels & Rope, Jeff Tweedy, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Shakey Graves, Brandi Carlile, M. Ward, Nicole Atkins, Hamilton Leithauser, The Wild Reeds
This will be the second year folk duo Shovels & Rope bring their own High Water Music Festival to the Charleston waterfront. In addition to their own performance, Shovels & Rope will welcome performances by dozens of folky friends including Band of Horses, Jason Isbell, Brandi Carlile and M. Ward. The fest also provides plenty of fun food and drink from local farms and vendors, including special “oyster education classes.”
Location: Wilkes Community College, Wilkesboro, N.C.
Dates: April 26-29
Highlights: Kris Kristofferson, Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Rhiannon Giddens, The Mavericks, Jim Lauderdale, North Mississippi Allstars, The Devil Makes Three, Jerry Douglas, Mandolin Orange, Brandy Clark, Robert Earl Keen, Steep Canyon Rangers and Friends feat. guest Steve Martin
MerleFest, founded by legendary bluegrass picker Doc Watson in 1988 as a fundraiser for Wilkes Community College, is returning those same grounds. This festival celebrates roots, folk, Americana and country, with this year’s lineup featuring Kris Kristofferson, Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Mandolin Orange and Rhiannon Giddens, as well as a Midnight Jam hosted by Town Mountain and Jim Lauderdale. The family-friendly fest hosts an “Acoustic Kids” showcase, as well as opportunities for fans and festivalgoers to play music of their own.
Location: Infinity Downs & Oak Ridge Farm, Arrington, Va.
Dates: Aug. 23-26
Highlights: Dead & Company, Umphrey’s McGee, Lettuce, Widespread Panic, George Clinton & P-Funk, Moon Taxi, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Spafford
LOCKN’ Festival returns for its sixth year at Infinity Downs farm, about 150 miles south of Washington D.C. Over the span of four days, LOCKN’ will once again feature an impressive roster of jam bands, including Dead & Company (with Bob Weir, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge and Jeff Chimenti) in a one-off festival appearance. The festival also offers camping on-site, after-hours jams from Joe Russo’s Almost Dea, and recreational activities in “Garcia’s Forest.”
The Wanee Festival
Location: Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, Live Oak, Fla.
Dates: April 19-21
Highlights: Widespread Panic, Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band, Dark Star Orchestra, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, North Mississippi Allstars, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, The Marcus King Band, The Soul Rebels
Founded by the late Allman Brothers members Butch Trucks and Gregg Allman in 2005, Wanee will celebrate its 13th year at Florida’s Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, located halfway between Jacksonville and Tallahassee. Widespread Panic and Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band will each headline two nights of the festival, which will span three days overall. The fest includes camping accommodations with the purchase of every GA ticket, which is an integral part of the Wanee experience.
SweetWater 420 Fest
Location: Centennial Olympic Park, Atlanta, Ga.
Dates: April 21-23
Highlights: The String Cheese Incident, Umphrey’s McGee, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Sturgaill Simpson, Vulfpeck, Greensky Bluegrass, The Motet, The Record Company, Anders Osborne, The Infamous Stringdusters, Tauk, Marco Benevento
Atlanta’s own SweetWater Brewing Company has organized this festival for 14 years, proudly integrating sustainability into a weekend packed with local arts and culture, plenty of brews, and performances from some of the top live acts on the jam scene. Besides the music, there will be comedians and beer tastings at the SweetWater experience tent.
Arroyo Seco Weekend
Location: Brookside at the Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
Dates: June 23-24, 2018
Highlights: Neil Young, Jack White, The Pretenders, Belle & Sebastian, Kamasi Washington, Shakey Graves, Milk Carton Kids, Margo Price, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Kings of Leon, Robert Plant, Gary Clark Jr., Alanis Morissette, Violent Femmes, The Bangles
In only its second year, the Arroyo Seco Weekend offers a remarkably stacked lineup of veteran acts, including Neil Young, Jack White, Belle & Sebastian, Kings of Leon, Robert Plant, Gary Clark Jr., and dozens more. The festival will take place outside of the Rose Bowl in beautiful Pasadena, with dozens of local food and drink vendors, an interactive and family friendly “Kidspace,” and two nights of kick-ass live music.
Location: Overland Park, Denver, Colo.
Dates: Sept. 14-16
Highlights: Kendrick Lamar, Florence & The Machine, Stevie Wonder, The Chainsmokers, Logic, Sturgill Simpson, Miguel, Phoenix, Young the Giant, St. Vincent, The War on Drugs, Mavis Staples, Daniel Caesar, Tennis, Kelea, Kevin Morby, The Soul Rebels
This new Denver-based festival, organized by the co-creators of Bonnaroo and Outside Lands, will kick off its inaugural year with a slew of incredible performers, with Kendrick Lamar, Florence and the Machine and Stevie Wonder headlining its three nights. It also offers plenty of unique experiences, including outdoor activities in “The Backyard,” an ‘80s-themed ski lodge, and plenty of food and drink from vendors all around Denver.
Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival
Location: The Park at Harlinsdale, Franklin, Tenn.
Dates: Sept. 22-23
Highlights: Jack White, Chris Stapleton, Lionel Richie, Hozier, Brandi Carlile, Counting Crows, Bleachers, Amos Lee, Lord Huron, Dawes, Maggie Rogers, Mat Kearney, Pete Yorn, The Infamous Stringdusters, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Joshua Hedley
In its fourth year, the Pilgrimage Fest will host more than 50 performers across six stages at the Park at Harlinsdale, a century-old horse-farm-turned-festival-grounds smack in the middle of Tennessee. Headliners are Jack White, Chris Stapleton and Lionel Richie, with a “Farm to Turntable” food-truck park, a relaxing festival “village,” and kid-friendly entertainment and activities.
Location: North Beach of Asbury Park, Asbury Park, N.J.
Dates: September 29-30, 2018
Highlights: Jack Johnson, Social Distortion, Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, Brandi Carlile, Blondie, Kaleo, The Front Bottoms, Frank Turner, SOJA, The Menzingers, Langhorn Slim, Twin Peaks, Deer Tick, Nicole Atkins
Asbury Park native Danny Clinch, the famed rock photographer and filmmaker, is inviting folks to his hometown boardwalk for a lineup of hard-rocking heavy hitters spanning several decades. The festival, which describes itself as a “a celebration of live music, art, and surf culture,” will include a showcase from professional surfers called “Expression Sessions, ”as well as food and drink from local vendors.