Not all festivals are the same. There are some pretty significant differences between a festival during the day, where one must stay in a hotel, and a camping festival. Going further, within these categories lie differences. Here, we dive into some amazing music festivals across the U.S. to see what makes these festivals better than others, and what a novice need know before heading off to attend. We explore four festivals across the country at different times of the festival season and see what makes them so noteworthy. Note that a couple of these fests have already come and gone for 2017 but will certainly return next year, allowing plenty of time to prepare.
BUKU Music & Art Project: 2-day festival in mid-March
Born in 2012, BUKU Music & Art Project is a small and unique festival in the heart of the Big Easy, New Orleans, Louisiana at Mardi Gras World. New Orleans has always been the place to be for Fat Tuesday in the U.S. and Mardi Gras World is where all the elaborate floats of the famous parade are born and stored. The historic location, the Mississippi River, and the city’s old power plant in the backdrop all help the festival showcase New Orleans in a nutshell. As its title suggests, the festival is both about music and art in many forms. Colourful art installations are spread throughout the festival, including at least one that artists continue to work on throughout the weekend. In past years, the wall near the entrance to the warehouse holding the Float Den Stage became a giant collaborative spray-paint project. Artists worked day and night with the festival as their audience as they created the masterpiece. Inside the Float Den, the slightly creepy plastic covered Mardi Gras floats stare blindly into the abyss. In addition to these, performance art is also on the list at BUKU, and performers of all kinds go through the crowd and showcase their talents. The festival also showcases amazing local food, which helps fuel the best dancing.
BUKU is a day festival, which means there isn’t any camping and attendees must find hotels or other means of housing during the weekend. With the festival in the heart of the business district, it can be difficult to find affordable hotels last minute. So, this is a festival to plan ahead of time if you’re on a budget. If money is no object (or you’ve got 5 people to a 2-bed room), there are a ton of hotels within walking distance. New Orleans’ famous French Quarter is also just around the corner. Air BnB is also a very good option and one can find some pretty unique and historic places to stay nearby.
BUKU showcases electronic, hip-hop, and indie rock music, so there is a little something for everyone. This year’s lineup boasted Deadmau5, Travis Scott, Run the Jewels, Grizmatik, Zhu, Tycho, Zeds Dead, Young Thug, Nina Kraviz, Sleigh Bells and more. The variety at BUKU has always been its selling point. The grounds themselves are also somewhat tight-knit, so it can be very easy to move from one stage to the next, however, the people traffic might be the only thing standing in your way. Snagging VIP will get you on the SS BUKU, a classic style riverboat sitting on the Mississippi River next to the Main (Power Plant) stage.
The only downside to BUKU is that it only lasts 2 days, so there’s no room for sleeping in late or spending the entire day at one stage. Time demands to be utilised well in order to see everything the festival has to offer. The festival seems far too short for how awesome it is. The art pieces are spread out and the music brings everyone together. The upside to this, though, is that if you plan on staying in New Orleans the entire weekend, you have a full day to actually see the city. So go check out what makes New Orleans such a magical place. Bring your BUKrew and check out BUKU Music & Art Project in 2018!
Electric Forest: 2-weekend, 4-day campout end of June – early July
Beginning in 2011, Electric Forest has become one of the most coveted festivals in the country. Held at the Double JJ Ranch in Rothbury, Michigan, Electric Forest replaced a jam/rock festival called Rothbury which held acts such as Dave Matthews Band, 311, Bob Dylan, and String Cheese Incident. Hoping to keep the magic alive, but also changing with the times, Electric Forest emerged as an indie, jam, and electronic festival using the same grounds. The festival sold out in a few months in 2014, in one month in 2015, and a week in 2016. The festival has grown so rapidly, this year was the first to span across two weekends. This 4-day camp out is an experience worth the price tag.
The campground at Electric Forest has grown so large, it takes up the entire ranch and then some. With few trees and expensive festi-cabs, it can be gruelling to travel from your campsite to the festival. Leaving the festival grounds to “grab something quick” from the campsite can be an hour long trip. VIP, RV, and Group camping are all options that put you much closer to the action than GA, but the exposure to the elements remains the same. Bringing more than you need is what you’ll need at Electric Forest. Long lines for water and expensive (but very tasty) food and drinks mean bringing as much water and easy-to-store food as possible. Ice will melt, so investing in those $10 bags are necessary but bring as much as you can carry safely and comfortably. Make sure and add a little flare and get creative with the campsite as well, people plan their entire year around this festival. Groups of 6 cars or more sometimes combine campsites for one compound of fun.
This year’s lineup included Bassnectar, Big Gigantic, Nahko & Medicine for the People, String Cheese Incident, Odesza, Nero, Oliver Heldens and more. The lineup varied slightly between both weekends, but several groups stuck out both weekends. But, the music isn’t all there is to offer at Electric Forest, in fact, that is only a fraction of what this festival has to offer. Inside the festival grounds, Sherwood Forest is an evergreen forest-turned magical land. Characters walk around silent, interacting with patrons and taking photos, art installations both functional and interactive are spread throughout the forest, mirrors, lights, and smoke makes the forest come alive (especially at night). It is impossible to see everything the forest has to offer without missing at least one of your favourite musical groups. You can sit in a ring of gongs and get a “gong massage” or listen on the phones for the operator to give you to next clue to the speak easy password.
Festivals often boast that they take you to another place and time, but it all just ends up being the same stages with the same people and maybe a themed statue and banner or two. Electric Forest truly becomes an immersive experience unlike any other.
Summer Set Music & Camping Festival: 3-day campout in mid-August
Summer Set Music & Camping Festival was also born in 2012 and has been evolving ever since. Held at Somerset Amphitheater in Somerset, Wisconsin, this local festival is growing to a national level quite rapidly. Organisers of the festival book concerts from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Chicago, Illinois and everywhere in between. Therefore the lineup for Summerset has never been anything but top notch. Somerset has a population of only 2,700 people and the festival is somehow smack dab in the middle of town, yet still, manages to bring Bassnectar years in a row. Our theory of the lack of noise complaints is that the natural amphitheatre is so steep, the sound carries up rather than out, reducing disturbances to the neighbours.
This campout is much smaller than Electric Forest and has much more greenery to hide from the sun, so the elements aren’t nearly as much of an issue at Summer Set. Due to the elements and the natural amphitheatre that hosts the festival’s Main stage, the campgrounds surround the festival grounds. The two main campgrounds, the North and South, are very different. With limited space, the festival can’t allow every attendee to have their car on the campground. The South Campground allows one car to a site, and the North Campground is tent only, allowing as many people to enjoy the festival as possible. Parking lots near by make for a small trek with your belongings if you’re in the North or the lucky one without the car pass on the first and last days. One noteworthy thing about Summer Set is the security getting into the festival. Most security staff at campout festivals are looking for glass and fireworks/things that could cause a forest fire when they check your car. The security at Summer Set takes it to the next level. Whether it be the small town it lies in or some sinister plot to bust every drug dealer in the area, some like to call the festival Summer Setup. From drug dogs hopping into the vehicle to litmus tests being done on windshield wiper fluid, these guys don’t mess around. Searches like this are totally at random and sometimes people get through without even having to open their trunk. Either way, don’t try and bring a pound of ganja, ok?
No two Summer Sets have looked exactly alike. The festival’s early years were very much trial and error, which shows how much feedback organisers are willing to take from their audience. Each stage is a different experience and often a different genre, so organisers have spent tons of time fine-tuning each stage to best fit the flow of people as well as the kind of experience promised at each stage. The first year was the first and only year of the infamous Hockey Rink Stage. Just as its name suggests, the stage was inside a hockey rink, so naturally, several of the electronic acts played at this stage for a maximum light show no matter if it was noon or 10 PM. However, the lack of proper ventilation in the rink caused the stage to become a wet, dripping sauna that no one could bear for more than an hour (safely). Since that first year, the hockey rink is used for more practical/storage reasons. The circus-style Big Top tented stage has replaced the infamous Hockey Rink and still has great light shows while the sun stays high.
This year’s Summer Set hosts Zedd, GRiZ, Zeds Dead, Run the Jewels, Die Antwoord, RL Grime, Datsik and more. The festival, while mostly electronic, always has a handful of staple hip-hop acts. The festival runs until around midnight each night, yet the Grove Stage at the centre of the festival holds an after party on Friday and Saturday until around 2 AM. These after parties are usually what everyone speaks about the next morning and usually boost the artist’s popularity by 10 fold. This year’s Afters are Louis the Child and Illenium. We can’t wait to check this festival out and see what’s in store for this year.
Life is Beautiful: 3-day festival end of September
Beginning in 2013, Life is Beautiful sets out to remind us of the truth in its name. Taking over several city blocks in the heart of Downtown in Sin City itself Las Vegas, Nevada, this festival is truly larger than life. The second most famous street in the city, Fremont St. becomes a community of beauty. The festival is more than a music festival, but an art, food, and knowledge festival as well. Yes, we said knowledge. Life is Beautiful is the only festival on the list with a lineup of keynote speakers. From a science talk by Bill Bye (2015) to a comedy act by Dulcé Sloan (2017) these acts, you don’t want to miss.
As the Vegas Strip grew and Fremont Street became more of a relic, the downtown Vegas of the 60’s began to fall to the wayside. Life is Beautiful has made it a mission to bring bars, restaurants, and shops to an area that has been almost forgotten. The artists that come to LIB create building sized murals of political and social commentary, all with vibrant colour and poise. The best thing about it, these pieces are not erased once the festival is over, so each year the area becomes more filled with life. Closed buildings are now unique art installations that only improve the area. Basically, the festival has become one awesome community improvement project and they are doing so at an exponential level. Life is Beautiful also brings the community together, gathering regular folks for interactive demonstrations and even a flash mob or two.
Life is Beautiful is a 3-day festival without camping, so hotels are the way to go for this one. The festival isn’t that close to the strip, so the super expensive high-end high rises are ones to avoid for this one. On the flipside, you could stay on the strip and always have a place to party after the festival grounds are closed. The Fremont Street Experience is a block away from the festival’s entrance and tons of restaurants and bars are nearby (and even showcased) to check out over the weekend. The food at the festival isn’t your usual pub fare, but local snacks from some of the city’s favourite joints, with drinks to boot. Come to the festival hungry, because you’re going to want to check out these stands and see what the locals have to offer.
The lineup at Life is Beautiful is everything popular from almost every genre out there. This year boasts Gorillaz, Lorde, Chance the Rapper, Blink-182, The XX, Muse, Pretty Lights, Kaskade and more. There is truly something for everyone at Life is Beautiful and the longer you’re at the festival, the better it gets. A new experience is just around the corner, and it all looks so cool while walking it. The lineup for artists has not yet been released, but we can’t wait to see what talented folks will help to improve this growing community in Las Vegas.
What makes all four of these festivals unique, is that they are more than just music. The fact that art, food, music, and performance all come together make these festivals the cream of the crop. Anyone can put up a stage and play a lineup of artists, but only true lovers of art in all its forms can create experiences like these. We tip our hats to everyone involved in the making of these festivals, from those who book the lineup to the volunteers parking cars. Thank you.