There are over 800 music festivals in the United States―in fact, in 2014, 32 million people attended at least one, according to Billboard. Flamethrowers, fog walls, confetti cannons: indie music festivals pulsate with an electric energy, uniting every single concertgoer. Their atmospheres forge the unlikeliest of friendships, the liveliest of water cooler stories, and the happiest of memories.
In the 1970s, indie was the buzzword for a DIY attitude, a small-scene subculture, and the heartfelt territory of music. However, with the rise of mainstream indie bands like Vampire Weekend, Coldplay, and Snow Patrol, the term has become a titled watercolor painting, dripping in some places and swirling together in others. That’s fine with us. In our minds, indie music is for grab-it-by-the-horn people who want to share experiences that are a little bit ugly, a little bit kooky, and a little bit out of the lines. With that in mind, here are six indie music festivals that’ll help you seize the moment.
Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival
Carpets of wildflowers, groves of cabbage palms, and the sparkling waters of Okeechobee, Florida’s largest freshwater lake: it’s easy to see why every year 35,000 people flock to the Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival, the Bonnaroo of the Southeast. A four-day “retreat from reality”, it presents 100, multi-genre DJs, artists, and bands. Headliners include the Kings Of Leon, Usher & The Roots, Bassnectar, The Lumineers, and Mumford & Sons. Hit up Aquachobee, an all-day beach stage with live music, Chobeewobee Village, where “there will be a lot of art installations, intimate performances, and comedy…just a little vibey area to hang and relax,” according to co-founder Paul Peck. “And then there’s Yogachobee, where we’ll have yoga, meditation, spirituality workshops, massages, healing, and a tea sanctuary.” This “big waters” festival also features some seriously good eats, from Vietnamese noodles to vegan corn dogs.
The Voodoo Music +Art Experience
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is a city of “bons temps rouler” second lines—street parades thrown, sometimes on a whim, by smaller, funkier, more ragtag versions of marching bands— that has a dark undercurrent of cynicism and violence, making it America’s most haunted city. On Halloween-weekend, the Voodoo Music + Arts Experience attracts “mystics, madmen, femme fatales, gods, goddesses, and music lovers of all kinds under one collective consciousness.” Only second to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, it’s a musical gumbo stirring together 2,000 acts (including Kendrick Lamar, the Foo Fighters, and The Killers), interactive art installations, macabre costumes, and local cuisine like gator sausage po’boys, fried duck quesadillas, and of course, beignets.
San Francisco, California
A quarter of a century old, Noise Pop is a musical grab bag. It’s catapulted the careers of multi-genre bands like The White Stripes, The Flaming Lips, The Shins, Bright Eyes, and more. Stretching over 11 days, the Fog City festival offers an appetizer of mini-films like My Buddha is Punk and Stronger than Bullets and a buffet of monoprints, which are often “accented by dirt, bent corners, footprints, beer spills, and sundry other accidental imperfections”. On Sundays at the Swedish American Hall, Noise Pop hosts a Smörgåsbord of free events, from the 1-2-3-4 GO! Pop-Up Vinyl Store to Litquake: I Thought It Sucked—where Bay Area musicians, writers, and performers trash talk the world’s most acclaimed albums, music legends, and even historic venues.
Austin City Limits
Welcome to the “Live Music Capital of the World”, Austin, Texas, where the beats are hot and the weather is even hotter. Who’s cranking up the “music-o’-meter”? Why it’s Austin City Limits. The 16-year-old festival has a lineup of modern music power players: Jay-Z, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, The XX, Gorillaz, and more. Here’s another reason to drop that bass. Austin City Limits offers a place for Mama and Papa bears to kick back: Austin Kiddie Limits. From noise-canceling teepees to punk-hairdo stands to hip-hop workshops, kids will be turning up their trebles. Festivalgoers can also swing by a cowboy boot-toting art market, large-scale sculptures (Our favorite? A giant picture frame for upping your selfie game!), and Tex-Mex food carts—proving everything really is bigger in Texas.
The Meadows Music & Art Festival
Queens, New York
The Meadow Music & Art Festival might only be in its sophomore year, but it’s drawn in a billboard billing: Run the Jewels, Future, Big Wild, Blood Orange, etc. Between the pyrotechnics and the confetti storm reminiscent of New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, you’ll be able to throw up hand-horns for over 60 artists. Aside from the golden lineups, you’ll want to taste the yummy nosh of Queens. There’s Colombian Arepas, Indian Pani Poori Duo, and Chinese Dumplings—it’s basically a gastronomic globe-trek. We recommend rounding out this four-day, musical tour-de-force by viewing local street art, snapping usies in Bosco’s GIF photo booth, and visiting the Unisphere and the State Pavilion.
Big Ears Festival
K-Town’s Big Ears Festival features the heroes of the 60’s and 70’s underground, modern boundary-pushing art-rockers, and renowned classical performers. Debuting in 2009, this genre-spanning, four-day festival rounds up over 60 artists each year. Past line-ups have included Blonde Redhead, Wilco, Stephin Merritt & The Magnetic Fields, and Henry Threadgill, a composer who clinched the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Music. Declared “one of the most quietly earth-shattering, subtly luminous festivals the world over”, it’s a fine arts hotbed, sponsoring free poetry expos, literary pub crawls, music Q&As, secret concerts, indie films, and art exhibits.