Hundreds of music festivals are taking place all over the U.S., so why limit yourself to the behemoths when you might enjoy a more intimate experience elsewhere with some of the same artists and enticements? Here’s a handful worth the price of travel. While I know there’s no real substitute for fests like Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza — they are what they are because they are what they are — these smaller-scale fests should be on your radar for future music and vacation travel planning.
If you dig SXSW, check out Savannah Stopover
Savannah Stopover provides Southeasterners with a closer and much cheaper alternative to SXSW. Though only established in 2011, the fest has already drummed up some impressive indie street cred, and benefits from Savannah, Ga.’s convenient proximity to both I-95 and I-10, making it an ideal pre-game gig for artists on the road to SXSW. A dozen distinctive indoor and outdoor venues in downtown Savannah’s charming Historic District hosted an eclectic lineup of 100 indie acts at the 2013 edition.
Next dates: March 6-8, 2014. Ticket prices TBA; 2013 early bird pre-sale tickets were $50, regular weekend passes $75.
2013 highlights: of Montreal, the Thurston Moore-helmed Chelsea Light Moving, BRAIDS, The Whigs, Mac DeMarco, Merchandise, Turbo Fruits, Ben Sollee, Ducktails.
If you do Bonnaroo, take a peek at High Sierra Music Festival
High Sierra Music Festival is like Bonnaroo’s serene yet dynamic elder brother, debuting in 1991 but remaining a small-scale affair with an average attendance of 10,000 (compared to Bonnaroo’s 100,000) and 80 acts performing over four days. Air travel is required (90 minutes from Reno, three hours from Sacramento, four from San Francisco), as is a rental car, but the destination — northeastern California where the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges meet — makes the journey worthwhile, the fest grounds nestled amid stunning natural scenery (canyons, lakes, pine forests, etc.). It’s held on July 4 weekend, which means you already have days off, there are numerous lodging options, and campers are treated to the comforts of shaded sites, bathrooms and showers with running water, and humidity-free weather — 80s by day, low 50s at night. Plus, High Sierra is not only family-friendly — kids’ activities throughout the day range from yoga to puppet shows to parades — but has its own group of qualified educators, professionals, and CPR-certified child care providers known as Rockin’ Nannies, who offer their services in a safe, fun environment from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. each night so parents can enjoy some quality adult time.
Next dates: July 3-6, 2014. Ticket prices TBA; early bird 2013 tickets started at $175.
2013 highlights: Robert Plant/The Sensational Space Shifters, Primus, Thievery Corporation, moe., Steel Pulse, Greyboy Allstars, John Scofield Überjam Band, White Denim, Rubblebucket.
Lollapalooza is fun, but what about Forecastle?
Forecastle Festival (which goes down this upcoming weekend) takes place in Louisville, a city with distinctive character beyond the horse races for which it's best known. Forecastle’s main four-stage event is held at the scenic Waterfront Park on the Ohio River, and amenities include a bourbon lodge that pours 30-some flavors, late-night shows that occur at select venues around town, and after-parties on the deck of the world’s oldest operating Mississippi-style steamboat, the Belle of Louisville.
Next dates: July 12-14, 2013. $75 single-day tickets/$180 weekend pass.
2013 highlights: The Black Keys, String Cheese Incident, Robert Plant/The Sensational Space Shifters, The Avett Brothers, Big Boi, Old Crowe Medicine Show, Young the Giant, Alabama Shakes, Jim James, The Flaming Lips, Toro Y Moi, El-P & Killer Mike, Animal Collective.