Just make sure to get there early. Crowds form fast.
Pack those neighborly good vibes, tote your factory-sealed water bottle, and spread out the picnic blanket—summertime is music festival time. From JazzFest in New Orleans to Bonnaroo in Tennessee to the behemoth Lollapalooza, there are oodles of big-name acts making the rounds.
But with all of the options, which are the festivals that are worth the entrance fee and how can you keep your spending in check? Here are a few gigs across the country that I think will provide the most musical bang for your buck.
Now through August 7
Type of music: Eclectic
Cost: Mostly FREE! There’s a $3 suggested donation. Some of the bigger bands require tickets and a portion of those proceeds help underwrite the free events.
Why it’s fun: This Prospect Park summer-long series boasts well-known acts like Wilco, Sigur Rós, Lyle Lovett, and Angélique Kidjo playing with Laurie Anderson. But the event I am most looking forward to is The Muppet Movie Sing-Along with a live band. Why are there so many songs about rainbows?
Thrifty tip: Since these concerts are generally free, you’re already spending wisely. Just make sure to get there early. Crowds form fast.
Site: Celebrate Brooklyn!
June 27-July 1; July 3-8
Type of music: Everything under the sun
Cost: $7 for weekday admission; $15 for evenings and weekends; $36 for a three-day pass.
Why it’s fun: Billed as the world’s largest music festival—it’s held on 75 acres on Milwaukee’s waterfront—there’s something for everyone. You’ll catch an unbelievably diverse lineup: classic funksters Kool and the Gang, mainstream country act Kellie Pickler, hip-hopper Common, hot-thing-right-now Robyn, reggae royalty Ziggy Marley, and indie darlings tUnE-yArDs.
Thrifty tip: The three-day pass is, of course, your best value. Seniors and children under 10 can get in for $4, while children under two are free. There are also some great food and music packages between $20-$24.
June 28-July 7
Type of music: Jazz , pop, and R&B
Cost: Tickets are sold for individual concerts and range from free to $100 plus.
Why it’s fun: You’ll feel like you’ve traveled much further than just over the border when you enter culturally vibrant Montreal. It’s possible to catch many free events just wandering around the city. This year’s 33rd edition features Stanley Clarke and the Harlem String Quartet, Ron Carter, the Wayne Shorter Quintet, Billy Bragg, and the woman destined for a comeback, Liza Minnelli.
Thrifty tip: If you live anywhere along the east coast, try taking the train! Sure it may take, oh, 10-12 hours. But if you are a scenery buff, the view of the Adirondacks and Lake Champlain can’t be beat.
Site: Montreal Jazz Fest
Type of music: Jam bands, rock, bluegrass, and newgrass
Cost: A four-day pass is $199 and includes camping. Individual tickets are $70-$85.
Why it’s fun: If what you seek is a groovy musical getaway, the High Sierra fest is a heady mix of bands, scenery, musical workshops, and good times. This midsize, hippie-happy scene can include camping in the middle of the Plumas National Forest, if you so desire. Acts include Matisyahu, Ben Harper, Toots and the Maytalls, Built to Spill, and Galactic.
Thrifty tip: If you decide to go for the long haul, the four-day pass is your best value. Camping in the drier, northern Sierras is bound to be lovely.
Site: High Sierra Music Festival
Type of music: Indie rock
Cost: $45 a day (the three-day pass for $110 is sold out). Admission is free for children under 10.
Why it’s fun: This eight-year-old outdoor fest brings together the crème de la crème of indie rock bands like Wild Flag, Vampire Weekend, and the Japandroids. Spawn from the online music site, Pitchfork prides itself on curating the best of the up-and-coming acts you’ve never heard of.
Thrifty tip: If you can bike to the fest, do it: there is free secure bicycle parking, air for your tires, as well as grease for your chains.
Site: Pitchfork Music Festival
Type of music: 100 of the Northwest’s best indie bands
Cost: $85 for a three-day pass; $30 for a day pass.
Why it’s fun: Four blocks in Seattle’s Victorian neighborhood are turned into a three-day music, craft, and food festival. The most exciting act? The young R&B crooner Allen Stone. I just saw him play with his “mentor,” Daryl Hall, and Stone blew my socks off. Also gigging: Neko Case, Diplo, and The Lumineers.
Thrifty tip: The fest allows reentry with your ticket stub and wristband, so you can head out to grab food and come back.
Site: Capital Hill Block Party
Just make sure to get there early. Crowds form fast.
Type of music: Roots and rock
Cost: $175 for all four days; $60 for one day.
Why it’s fun: I have friends who don’t stop talking about this festival. While there are notable roots and rock acts like Allison Krauss & Union Station, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Jackson Browne, and Punch Brothers, the real draw is the setting: bucolic rolling green hills in the Blue Ridge Parkway, where you can camp, relax, ride a mountain bike, and revel in the good tunes.
Thrifty tip: The fest offers free filtered water. Plus, save money on a hotel by making a point to camp in this exquisite setting; it’s included in the four-day price. It’s pretty cool to roll out of your tent to a little morning fiddle playing.
Site: Floyd Fest
Type of music: Rock, indie rock and soul
Cost: 3-day admission is $110, any single day admission is $40-45.
Why it’s fun: Billed as “music, food, wine, beer, and art,” this low-key festival in Golden Gate Park is cool and cool (read: not as hot as some of the other places you might go in August). While it has my favorite summer lineup—Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, Jack White, Beck, Foo Fighters, Regina Spektor, Santigold, and, yes, Metallica—the “taste of the Bay Area” vendors, “wine lands” wine on tap, and theatrical and art shows make this a full-tilt cultural experience.
Thrifty tip: Take MUNI to the event and save yourself the cost and traffic headache.
Site: Outside Lands
Type of music: Pop
Cost: $192.70 for a two-day pass.
Why it’s fun: Total. Guilty. Pleasure. This cavalcade of pop includes New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, Kelly Clarkson, DJ Pauly D, LL Cool J, and Carly Rae Jepsen. Shecky’s will also be on hand to offer its “Girl’s Night Out” beauty and shopping experience.
Thrifty tip: This event isn’t cheap and it will cost you an extra fee to enjoy the rides. But if you want to make your kids very, very happy, this is money well spent.
Site: Summer MixTape
Type of music: Folk, roots, and blues
Cost: A three-day pass is $130.50; it’s $175.50 with tent camping. Day passes are $58.50-$80, depending on the day.
Why it’s fun: Philly celebrates 51 years of grazing and lazing on the Old Pool Farm. This year’s festival features Lucinda Williams, Trombone Shorty, Steve Earle, and the rockabilly legend (and former Elvis girlfriend) Wanda Jackson. What’s fun about this event is the truly relaxing vibe; it tends to draw an older crowd and is very family-friendly.
Thrifty tip: The weekend pass may be your best deal if you like many of the acts and plan to camp. If you find that you just like a few of the acts on one day, then get the day pass.
Site: Philadelphia Folk Festival
Type of music: Eclectic
Cost: A day ticket is $40; three-day tickets are $75-$120. If you subscribe to become a “BumberFan” (meaning you’ll get newsletters and insider deals), you can save money on a ticket.
Why it’s fun: Bumbershoot’s lineup—including Tony Bennett, Jane’s Addiction, Big Sean, and Gotye—hits just about every generational interest. Now in its 42nd year, this indoor/outdoor fest at the Seattle Center includes performance, film, and visual arts as well.
Thrifty tip: This environmentally friendly fest will feature plenty of composting stations and recycling bins. Bring your own plastic water bottle and save on hydration.