Doing It Live: Swanky Summer

19 Apr

Now that the first weekend of Coachella has come and gone amid a smokey haze of holograms and light shows, the 2012 music festival season has officially gotten started.  Stretching throughout the summer, the festival scene has been around for decades, but U.S. fests experienced a surge in popularity several years ago that took things to a whole different level.  While there have been several one-and-done fests that have failed to make an impact, a few well-planned and organized festivals have built up loyal followings in their respective regions and have even expanded to draw music/party lovers from all over the world.  Coachella, Sasquatch!, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and Outside Lands are spread out over the country and have become destination dates that fans circle on their calendars months in advance.

Even though they are beloved by many, the festival scene is obviously not for everyone.  It’s easy to find vocal critics of pretty much every fest out there, and these skeptics do make some legitimate points.  So, before you jump into a major festival for the first time, you should know some things.

Yes – there will be tons of hipsters (although that term has become far too ambiguous and now gets thrown around haphazardly by people who should try harder, but for lack of time and space we’ll go with it for right now), there will be anxiety-inducing crowd sizes, there will be people on drugs doing things like rolling around on the grass looking at light shows or jumping up and down while hugging and looking at light shows, there will be people spending the entire festival on their smartphones taking and posting Instagram pics, there will be said pics all over your social network feeds the following week consisting mainly of vintage palm trees/city skylines/sunsets/pretty lights/Ray-Bans, there will be beautiful girls in bikinis followed around by huffing dudes wearing tattoos for shirts, there will be $10 beers and only $10 beers in the beer gardens.

There will be all of this, but there will also be amazing artists doing potentially once-in-a-lifetime kinds of things in surreal environments.  If you find the right acts at the right venues it will be an incredible experience in your musical life that you’ll hold on to for a long, long time.  So, if you feel like some amazing musical experiences are worth a little griminess, exhaustion, and lack of personal space – then summer is your time to shine.  And here at DS, we don’t want you going into this Swanky Summer without a little preview on what’s in store.

Coachella Weekend Two [April 20 – April 22]

– We’re still sneezing out glitter and desert dust from last weekend, so it seems a bit strange that everyone out there will be doing it again in a few short days.  It will be interesting to see how the festival organizers and the acts approach this new second weekend – a lot of the excitement with Coachella comes from the unexpected, either in regards to what set list your favorite bands will play, what special effects they’ll bust out, or what surprise guests will emerge mid-set.  A perfect example is the Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg show.  The Tupac hologram loses its HOLY SHIT feel when you know its coming, and so do the appearances by Eminem, 50 Cent, etc.  Will they just do the same show all over again and pretend the first one didn’t happen?  Will the guests even show up again?  Will the artists lose some of their fire from the first week?  This will be an interesting experiment, and hopefully it won’t have disappointing results.

– Parents of young daughters going to Weekend Two and any future Coachellas: Stay away from the Sahara Tent.  Stay far, far away.  You won’t sleep for weeks afterwards.

– M83 was great the first weekend, and should not be missed this time around either.  Their music is perfect for the dreamy, ethereal, outdoor feel of the Coachella side tents, and they played a passionate set.

– SBTRKT was also great, and played a much more high-tempo set than was expected from their somewhat muted (but great) recent album.  Don’t miss the dance party.

– Swedish House Mafia and Radiohead showed the great potential behind the Event-level spectacle of the Main Stage – definitely not to be missed.

Sasquatch! [May 25 – May 28]

–  There’s a special place in my heart for this festival for two reasons.  One, its located at The Gorge Amphitheater, which  is the most beautiful venue in the country.  Two, this was the first music festival I ever attended, way back when it was two nights and I had no idea what I was doing.  And it was awesome.

– Being located in the great Pacific Northwest, the weather can be a bit more unpredictable (read: cold) than some other festivals, so come prepared with blankets or cuddle buddies.  Even with the sketchy weather, though, it is again a beautiful place to spend a weekend, and if you have any kind of chance to catch a set on the main stage while the sun is setting, then you better take it.

– Pretty Lights definitely stands out on the lineup, especially because they aren’t part of the main group of artists making the typical festival rounds this year.  Pretty Lights’ main stage set on opening night will be amazing, with their grooves echoing out in the night over the Columbia River.  Find somebody to dance with/hold you.

– The northern locale of Sasquatch lends to its general atmosphere being more laid-back than some of the other major festivals, and that will be a welcome thing when Days 3 and 4 come around.  The quirky vibe of the fest is reflected in the huge variety of acts playing this year.  Definitely worth the trip.

 

Bonnaroo [June 7 – June 10]

– Although started roughly around the same time as Coachella in 2002, Bonnaroo has always felt like the O.G. show that started the recent festival revival.  It’s maintained a mystic feel to it – to someone all the way out on the west coast, the swampy Tennessee locale seemed like a mysterious place where revelers danced about to lawless jam bands.

– There have been some amazing images and scenes from Bonnaroo over the years, which have added to its mystique.  The first thing that comes to mind with the festival is My Morning Jacket’s 2004 set, in which the mighty rockers played through a storm and cemented their status in live show legend.

– For the 2012 lineup, there are definitely some interesting choices that stand out as different from the other fests.  The Beach Boys could be great or could be disappointing, but it will be awesomely weird either way to see them in the Bonnaroo setting.  It’s good to see The Cave Singers get some love here too, and their brand of folksy, rough-hewn jams would seem to fit in perfectly out in the Tennessee woods.  And on the whole other side of the music spectrum, Ludacris and The Roots look primed to bring the the beats.

– Final word of warning to any Bonnaroo attendees planning on checking out Skrillex this year – his ‘special guest’ at Coachella last year was Korn.  So….

Lollapalooza [August 3 – August 5]

– Out of all the other big U.S. fests going on this summer, Lollapalooza seems to have the most big ‘name’ bands in their lineup.  The acts going on underneath the headliners go pretty deep as well – maybe because this fest locale is the closest of them all to the musical hub of NYC?

– The festival is set right in downtown Chicago, which offers up a distinctly different atmosphere than the more rural venues like Bonnaroo and Coachella.  This doesn’t mean there won’t still be ample ways to get sweaty and dirty, if that happens to be your thing.

– Regardless of the reason, amazing bands like Washed Out, War On Drugs, Tame Impala, Bear In Heaven, Star Slinger, Toro Y Moi, Little Dragon and Macklemore give Lolla an incredibly strong undercard.

– Black Sabbath is taking the stage in Chicago this year, and it is probably smart to temper expectations for an old Ozzy rockfest.  But if they can still bust out a 12 minute long “War Pigs” then it’s definitely worth a watch.  Get a glimpse of the pit, circa 1970.

Outside Lands [August 10 – August 12]

– Outside Lands is similar to Lollapalooza, in that it’s set within the big city – in this case San Francisco.  In the right place at the right time though, Golden Gate Park can feel like a world away from any city, which gives this fest a distinct mix of urban and outdoor flavors.

– The festival is bringing in some classic rock flavor this year, with Jack White’s vintage shredding, Metallica’s thunder, and Neil Young’s bluesy riffing.  And if all that gets too loud for your tastes, Stevie will be there to gently soothe your soul.

– Outside Lands has a bit smaller profile than the other fests on this list, but it’s been able to thrive by keeping things a bit simpler and more local.  It has a distinct SF feel, which is a good thing.

– I’ve spent some time at Outside Lands before, but unfortunately it was the year that Black Eyed Peas stumbled into the headlining spot.  It was disquieting to see that many people at one time go wild for the Peas and led to some soul-searching – but I have faith in the festival that they won’t go down that frightful road again.

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