Travel Insights Blog
Travel Insights Blog
Music festival season is gearing up for its second post-pandemic year, with Coachella officially kicking it off in April. After being deprived of live events for two seasons, music lovers can’t wait to commune with their favorite artists and fellow fans irl again.
While great festivals tend to be famous for their huge scale — think Woodstock, Glastonbury, Coachella — overwhelming crowds are not for everyone, especially in a post-pandemic era.
Luckily, smaller festivals can provide all the magic of a Coachella-style extravaganza — and more. Smaller music festivals tend to be tailored to a specific genre, or organized around a theme, like sustainability. This gives you more control over your festival experience and guarantees that you’ll be surrounded by like-minded fans. While huge festivals like Coachella aren’t the most conducive to making new friends — more likely, you’ll spend half the weekend keeping track of your group, grabbing onto each other’s hands and shoulders as the crowd pulls you in all different directions — the cozier space and relaxed atmosphere at smaller festivals encourages groups to mingle.
Finally, it goes without saying that lesser-known festivals are usually logistically more manageable and friendlier on the wallet, making it easy to hop in the car for an impromptu weekend adventure. Without further ado, check out our curated list of smaller festivals to check out this season — no matter where you live and what your vibe is, there’s something for everyone.
Emo touring show / US-wide / July 6–29, 2023
Whether you miss or missed the golden days of emo in the early 2000s, you’re in luck: some of emo’s biggest names are back for another year of Sad Summer Fest. Created by The Maine in 2019, Sad Summer will tour the US in July, starting in Florida and moving through the East Coast, Midwest, and South before finishing up with one West Coast date in Irvine, CA. With only one stage, it’s designed so fans don’t have to make any tough lineup decisions — you can catch The Maine, Taking Back Sunday, PVRIS, Hot Mulligan, Mom Jeans, Stand Atlantic and more all in one day. Tickets start at a reasonable $35, with GA standing selling for about $200. Find tickets to a show near you here.
Premier alt-country festival / Fort Smith, Arkansas / July 28–29, 2023
For country fans, Peacemaker brings some of the biggest acts in the industry to the banks of the Arkansas River, including Shane Smith and the Saints, Marcus King, Muscadine Bloodline and TikTok star Maggie Antone. A 501(c)3 nonprofit, Peacemaker raises money for children’s charities, as well as community charities chosen by festival artists. It bills itself as a “music festival by music lovers, for music lovers,” put on by a team led by volunteers. RV camping is available nearby.
Sustainable and wellness-focused indie festival promising breakout acts / Pendarvis Farm near Portland, Oregon / August 3–6, 2023
You may have been to festivals, but you’ve never been to a self-proclaimed “immersive wonderland” like Pickathon before — they promise. Every year, Pickathon has a knack for curating acts just on the verge of their breakout, going on to be nominated for Grammys and headline major festivals. While this year’s lineup might not look familiar, past ones definitely will — especially to indie fans — with names like Leon Bridges, Courtney Barnett, Big Thief, Beach House, Mac Demarco, Lucy Dacus, Angel Olsen, Feist and more. Everything about the event is designed for maximum comfort and wellbeing of everyone involved: guests, performers, and even the natural environment. Pickathon prides itself on being a zero-waste festival, limiting attendance far below capacity (no Coachella crowds here), offering free water and tent camping, and even rotating venues to keep audiences in the shade of the lush Pacific Northwest trees.
Electronic, music, art and style festival / Nashville, Tennessee / August 18–19, 2023
Nashville might be more famous for its country than its deep house scene, but Deep Tropics will turn the music capital of the South into an electronic playground. With endless skyline views from Bicentennial Park and afterparties for specific subgenres spread out around the city, the festival will deliver good vibes all night long — and even all summer long, with pop-up events leading up to the big weekend.
This year’s headliners include Gorgon City, SG Lewis, What So Not, Akarsh and Arvi Mala, illuminated by immersive art installations that will transform the park into a dance mecca. Deep Tropics is deeply committed to sustainability; its parent non-profit Deep Culture “exists to curate experiences that activate transformation of self, community, and planet.”
Mid-sized pop and rock fest on a scenic island / Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts / August 25–27, 2023
A famous East Coast summer getaway known for its gorgeous beaches and exclusive crowd, Martha’s Vineyard has hosted an annual weekend end-of-summer festival since 2019. This year, Bon Iver, Mumford and Sons, and Leon Bridges are set to headline, with appearances by Patti Smith, the Head and the Heart, Dispatch, Japanese Breakfast, Alvvays and more. August is prime vacation season on the island, so festival guests will get a two-in-one vacation experience — part festival, part idyllic beach weekend (you can even hear the music from the harbor!). Keep in mind that the island is only accessible by ferry, plane or private boat, so make your travel plans in advance.
Three-day rock, punk and emo festival / Heart of Chicago / September 15–17, 2023
Another one for all the angsty teens at heart, Riot Fest returns to Chicago for a weekend ofbig-name rock, punk and emo acts, including Foo Fighters, The Cure, Death Cab for Cutie, The Postal Service, Queens of the Stone Age, Tegan and Sara, the Cults, and hyperpop darlings 100 gecs. Rounding out the vibe, you can expect a carnival area, a wedding chapel and vintage games. To mitigate its impact on the local community and create an inclusive environment, Riot Fest offers free entry to Douglass Park residents.
Great music of all genres with a social mission / Seattle Center / Labor Day Weekend, September 2–3, 2023
Music is just one of the many, many creative delights you’ll find at Bumbershoot: in their own words, you can expect “Roller skating, nail art, wrestling, witches, drag, pole dancing, sign spinners, free-range artists, out of sight, performance art, augmented reality, contemporary art, film, vintage clothing, robots, burleskaraoke, large-scale sculpture, modern dance, remote-controlled sculpture, photography, digital arts, culinary arts, tattoo runway, extreme pogo stick, double dutch, make-up artists, cat circus... and music.” Speaking of, notable acts this year include Sleater-Kinney, Zhu, Matt and Kim, Fatboy Slim, Phantogram, Band of Horses, Pussy Riot.
Returning for its 50th anniversary, Bumbershoot is sponsored by Amazon in an initiative to fund low-cost and free tickets to make the festival more accessible for the Pacific Northwest community. And that’s not all — as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, the festival also provides education and workforce training for young people ages 17–25.
An alt and psych-rock weekend art and music festival / Moreno Beach, Lake Perris, California / October 12–15, 2023
On the sandy shores of Lake Perris, an hour and a half southeast of Los Angeles, Desert Daze hosts a psych-rock festival, nominated twice for Pollstar’s festival of the year. At a time when music festivals, like the industry as a whole, is driven more by corporate profits than a genuine love of the art, Desert Daze positions itself as the free spirited answer to the increasing commercialization of music. Featuring an arts and crafts marketplace, interactive art installations, late night dance parties for the many campers, yoga and sound baths in the morning, and a beach side for attendees to swim and tan, the festival attracts many from the art, wellness, yoga, and spirituality crowd from all over the West Coast. For those in the know, Desert Daze is the alt-Coachella, or a laid-back Burning Man without the Silicon Valley money. This year’s headliners have yet to be announced, but past festivals have featured the likes of Tame Impala, Beach House, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, the War on Drugs, Kamasi Washington, Devendra Banhart, Toro Y Moi, Japanese Breakfast, The Flaming Lips, Flying Lotus, Animal Collective and More.
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