Out-of-State Music Festivals Worth Traveling to This Year

Mardi Gras Indians at New Orleans' Jazz Fest 2014
Mardi Gras Indians at New Orleans' Jazz Fest 2014 kowarski via Flickr Commons
At this point Texas has any number of great music festivals, and lately it seems like more are being created all the time. Only problem is, with the exception of Day For Night, they tend to take place in the large window between high spring and late fall, meaning fans here have to really pay their dues, weather-wise, for all that fun. More important for our purposes today, many of the state’s most prominent fests haven’t revealed their lineups yet — save the brand-new Middlelands — and won’t for at least another several weeks. Itchy music fiends that we are, that’s reason enough to look beyond state lines and start scouting the fests that are already beckoning the more intrepid (and well-heeled) musical travelers out there.

The Observatory Grounds, Orange County, California, Febuary 18; soulquarius.com
Soulquarius isn't the first of its kind, yet it may very well be the largest of its particular scope. ’Cause Soulquarius screams family reunion. It screams once in a lifetime; a direct cousin of "this is probably not going to happen again unless there's a lot of soothed egos and money involved." It's a lineup so soaked in '90s and '00s nostalgia that it should come with a stamp on your ticket. The fact it's happening in a non-climate-controlled area like Orange County, California, and probably (read: definitely) will have close to perfect weather is a miracle. Agreed, R. Kelly probably shouldn't play another large-venue show for the rest of his life thanks to every single corroborated story of him being a monster. But the rest of the lineup? Erykah Badu? Early 2000s thugged-out singalongs with Ja Rule and Ashanti? DMX listing 46 different women he bedded but never married? Ying Yang Twins taking you back to middle and/or high school? Lloyd answering live the question of "fine too" versus "five-two"? Brandy and Monica, who probably are going to be eternally petty towards one another? The lineup reads like a hip-hop and R&B fever dream. It may be the first major festival of the year and the most must-see that has nothing to do with Coachella, Governor's Ball or SXSW. In fact, it may be the only time the festival ever exists. Unless somehow the organizers can convince all of the Tonys (yes, that includes Raphael Saadiq) to come back together again. BRANDON CALDWELL

Bayfront Park, Miami, March 24-26; ultramusicfestival.com
Ultra is one of the top three mainstream electronic festivals in the U.S., along with EDC Las Vegas and the on-hiatus Tomorroworld, and the South Florida location is on the bucket list of many electronic-music fans. Held during the world-famous Miami Music Week, UMF seems to consistently book the hottest and best-known artists in the world. Even just judging from the photos and videos of the event, the sultry crowd of 50,000-plus looks hedonistically wild. The self-proclaimed “World’s Premier Electronic Music Festival” has also been verified by DJ Mag, which voted Ultra the world’s No. 1 festival in 2016. The most recent Resistance stage concept was so wildly popular that it was given two stages and UMF is promoting it as growing “into a festival within a festival.” The Mega Structure (think of a shorter, more enclosed Fremont Street visual experience) is actually loaned to Coachella for use as the California fest's famed Sahara Tent. JACK GORMAN

Empire Polo Club, Indio, California, April 14-16 and 21-23; coachella.com
Coachella organizers must have heard the rumors that blockbuster festivals were in danger of becoming irrelevant, because this year's lineup is a shock and awe campaign loaded up with living legends of the music industry. Having Radiohead, Kendrick Lamar or Beyoncé alone would have made for an impressive headliner, but having all three moves this festival into once-in-a-lifetime territory. Beyoncé will also be the first black woman to headline the festival ever, showing that though Coachella might be a bit late to the "representation matters" party, it's arriving in style. Don't underestimate Coachella's undercard either; there are plenty of gems hiding in that poster's small font, from the Seattle bubblegum punk group Tacocat, indie savant Car Seat Headrest and house aficionado Kaytranada. There's only one problem: Coachella tickets sold out in less than three hours. Can someone hook us up with a press pass, please? KATIE SULLIVAN

Fair Grounds Race Course, New Orleans, April 28-May 7; nojazzfest.com
The Houston-to-Jazz Fest pilgrimage is a tradition for many Bayou City music fans, with good reason. Founded the year after Woodstock, Jazz Fest has become a model for the multi-stage experiences that have proliferated in more recent times while remaining in a class of its own, steeped in the unique gumbo culture of its hometown. No other festival can pull in the amount of heavyweight acts Jazz Fest does — with this year’s lineup announcement looming, 2016’s included Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Snoop Dogg, Beck, J. Cole, Paul Simon, Van Morrison, Steely Dan and NOLA favorite Trombone Shorty; Stevie Wonder’s set got rained out — or offer anything close to its vertical and horizontal integration. Beyond all those headliners lie ten more stages of music, including destinations reserved for blues, gospel, children’s acts and indigenous Louisiana sounds, plus a host of Crescent City perennials like Dr. John, Galactic and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. (Some folks go just for the incredible food, which is a whole different article.) For years, Houstonians could count on at least a few Jazz Fest acts to spill over into one of iFest’s overlapping weekends, but since that festival folded in 2014, it’s best to just make the drive. CHRIS GRAY

Harvard Athletic Complex, Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 26-28; bostoncalling.com
Boston Calling's lineup this year is an exercise in extreme eclecticism. Where else could you see headliners like Tool and Chance the Rapper grace the same stage? Who else would put together the alt-country of Brandi Carlile, the avant hip-hop of Flatbush Zombies or the ambient minimalism of Sigur Rós? Boston Calling has also moved its venue to the Harvard Athletic Complex (located along the highly Instagrammable Charles River), allowing the festival to double its offerings and dip its toes into the waters of multimedia projects. While the "film experience" curated by Natalie Portman sounds a tad suspect, it's good to see that Boston Calling has learned a valuable lesson: In order to stay relevant in the festival world, music is not enough. KATIE SULLIVAN

Manchester, Tennessee, June 8-11; bonnaroo.com
Located on "The Farm" outside of Manchester, Tennessee, Bonnaroo is known as the modern-day Woodstock. At least people trying to talk others into going believe that it is as close as one could get to invoking the infamous hippie-grounds. Purists may try to dissuade others from making the trip, saying that it has jumped the shark since Live Nation bought a controlling interest in the festival, which was once the mecca for jam bands. The current corporate-driven fight for higher attendance has led the lineup to be focused more on pop-rock and electronic music artists, such as 2017 headliners like U2, The Weeknd, Chance the Rapper and Major Lazer. Although the days of the jam-band roots are waining, the trek to walk through Bonnaroo's iconic archway is still incredibly tempting. JACK GORMAN

Randall's Island Park, New York City, July 28-30; panorama.nyc
And so it is that the Battle for Randall's Island Park continues into 2017. While Governor's Ball arrives first with a pretty strong lineup that includes Tool, Chance the Rapper and Lorde, among others, this year the nod has to go to Panorama even if the temperature will be hotter. The headliner roster is stacked, including Frank Ocean, Solange, A Tribe Called Quest and the newly back in business Nine Inch Nails. There's a ton of other stuff to love on the lineup as well, with Spoon, Girl Talk, Belle & Sebastian and Vince Staples being just a few of the names that stand out. Plus, with no parking available on the island, you'll get to experience the wonder of New York mass transit. Who doesn't like an adventure? CORY GARCIA
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