Festivals in general are like refugee camps for people running from their day-to-day lives. Tent cities pop up, small communities form, and martial law—complete with pat-downs, checkpoints and curfews—rules your comings and goings. For approximately three days, a person can forget the pressures of their classes or jobs, leave behind their obligations, wipe out all social standing, and poop in a disgusting hole.
Apart from that common thread, there are unique characteristics to each festival that form in the chemistry between performers, featured activities (who am I kidding? It’s always yoga), location, and most of all the attendees themselves. Let’s go on a little journey together, shall we?
July 4-7 High Sierra Music Festival – highsierramusic.com – Quincy, CA
Robert Plant presents The Sensational Space Shifters ○ Primus ○ Thievery Corporation ○ moe. ○ Steel Pulse ○ Leftover Salmon ○ The Greyboy Allstars
This festival is one that always has a massive Chico contingency, due in no small part to its close proximity. There’s also a pretty serious lineup, and it had better be, for the price. When I was young (cue the violins) waaaay back about 15 years ago, $50-$75 would get you camping, recreational substances, and a whole weekend of big name artists. Nowadays the only people who can afford to go to a big festival are those with enough free time to volunteer, or enough money to light their fat-cat cigars and then toss it into the bonfire that is: tickets/camping ($205), parking ($95 for a car, much more for an RV), late night show tickets ($20-$25 each), booze/drugs (God knows what you’re into these days, probably some kind of designer bath salt/pcp hybrid), and bail money. I’m not kidding about that last part, there are always police sweeps of the campground in Quincy that turn up arrests over giant bags of weed, mushrooms or pills, and yet raging goes forth unabated.
July 11-14 California Worldfest – worldfest.net – Grass Valley, CA
Alison Brown Quartet ○ Martha Redbone Roots Project ○ Yemen Blues ○ Delhi 2 Dublin ○ Briga ○ Bruce Hornsby & The Noisemakers ○ Badi Assad Band
This one is more broadly “world music” than a lot of so-called world music festivals (cough-sierranevadaworldmusicfestival-cough). The headliners are so exotic that I’ve never even heard of most of them, but looking into their bios I see they’re from all over the globe and are a huge deal, if you’re into that sort of thing. All in all, the festival literally is a huge deal, boasting over a hundred performers on eight stages offering music, dance, and workshops.
July 18-21 Wanderlust – squaw.wanderlustfestival.com – Squaw Valley, North Lake Tahoe, CA
Moby (DJ and Acoustic sets) ○ Gramatik ○ MC Yogi ○ About a million other DJs
If you’re tired of music festivals always having yoga on the side, Good News! This is a yoga festival featuring some music! Have you heard of Sianna Sherman, Shiva Rea, and Seanne Corn? If you’re crazy into yoga you should pretend you have, just so people don’t laugh at you. They’re among the 63+ yoga teachers available to bend you into a blissed-out pretzel while you trance out on Moby.
July 19-21 Northern Nights – northernnights.org – Cook’s Valley Campground (Mendocino/Humboldt Countyline)
Polish Ambassador ft. Ayla Nereo ○ Minnesota ○ Kastle ○ Vibesquad
If post-dubstep DJs and redwoods go hand in hand for you, this shindig may be a dream come true. Wow, did that rhyme? I should keep drinking. I am a sucker for a really gorgeous setting. When you’re at a long festival, staring at the slowly devolving hygiene and personal upkeep of the people around you, it softens the blow to have big trees and water in the background. And, heavy bass sounds great with the acoustic absorbency of a thick mushy forest.
July 26-28 Guitarfish – guitarfishfestival.com – Cisco Grove Campground in Soda Springs, CA (about 20mi west of Truck)
Pimps of Joytime ○ Orgõne ○ Lyrics Born ○ Magic Gravy ○ SambaDa
This one is pretty funk-centric, with some world and psychedelia on the side. On top of the usual gathering of people for music and yoga workshops, this festival also has a purpose—to raise awareness about overfishing and pollution of the ocean, and to help preserve our rivers and streams. The site is stunning (350 acres of forested watershed) and you can enjoy all the mountain miscellany your little heart desires.
Aug. 1-4 Reggae on The River – reggaeontheriver.com – Humboldt County, CA
Julian Marley & The Uprising Band ○ Morgan Heritage ○ Tarrus Riley & Blak Soil ○ Anthony B
A glorious weekend of fratboys shouting “Rastafari!” while popping pills and drinking Jager. 12-year-old children of pot growers try to sell you weed, and stuff gets stolen out of your tent, possibly by the 12-year-old children of pot growers. Also you get to sleep on giant river rocks. If you don’t bring an air mattress, you will regret it profoundly.
Aug 8-11 Outside Lands – sfoutsidelands.com – San Francisco, CA
Paul McCartney ○ Red Hot Chili Peppers ○ Nine Inch Nails ○ Phoenix ○ Vampire Weekend ○ Pretty Lights ○ Yeah Yeah Yeahs ○ D’Angelo ○ Jurassic 5 ○ Willie Nelson & Family ○ Young the Giant ○ Hall & Oates ○ Band of Horses
Holy Jesus this Lineup. And it’s not a camping festival, so you don’t have to deal with that. Hotels in SF are by no means cheap, but at least you can have a hot shower, and the toilets flush. I feel like at this point you should just stop. There are more festivals going on through the fall, but what could you possibly do that would top seeing Paul McCartney and Willie Nelson on the same stage as Vampire Weekend and D’Angelo? Plus at this point you’re probably broke, and your boss is getting suspicious about all the sick time you’ve been taking on Fridays and Mondays. Go Home.