Which 2015 Music Fest Should You Attend?

Within the past 10 days almost every U.S. music festival set to take place in the first of 2015 that hadn’t done so already has announced their lineup (click here for a complete guide to 2015 music festivals). Most recently – and most hyped – Bonnaroo revealed their roster yesterday night through an elaborate social media stunt. As predicted here last week, Billy Joel, Mumford and Sons and Kendrick Lamar are headlining Bonnaroo 2015. Almost all the other artists unofficially “confirmed” prior the lineup announcement also turned out to be accurate: My Morning Jacket, Mac Demarco, Caribou, Alabama Shakes, Robert Plant, The War on Drugs, Belle & Sebastian and many more. There were surprises too: Spoon, Temples, Courtney Barnett, Woods, Childish Gambino, Gary Clark Jr., Ben Folds, Slayer, Unknown Mortal Orchestra…

So how does this lineup compare to other festivals? And – barring location and other factors – which roster is the best for you?

First let’s take a closer look at Bonnaroo’s 2015 artists. Then we’ll delve into lesser known fests that have great lineups, many at a fraction of the cost. The obvious place to start when looking at any bill is the headliners. The announcement of Billy Joel, Mumford & Sons and Kendrick Lamar headlining Bonnaroo was well-received by many, and severely mocked by others – it all depends on one’s level of appreciation for diverse hit-makers commanding a fest’s spotlight. Regardless of one’s stance, the most notable aspect is that all three of these are exclusive to Bonnaroo. This is a tendency that reaches much further than just the headliners.

Some festivals almost only sign acts that are making the rounds on the festival circuit that year (Big Guava and McDowell Mountain Music Festival in 2015 for instance). Others scoop numerous exclusive appearances. These festivals usually cater to a specific style or sensibility of music: Levitation for psychedelia, Treefort Music Fest for indie rock, Big Ears for experimental music, and Bugerama for quirky fun! Bonnaroo by contrast has something exclusive for everybody. Psych heads can only see Temples, Woods, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard at Bonnaroo. Banjo enthusiasts get Punch Brothers, Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Jerry Douglas Presents Earls of Leicester, and The Bluegrass Situation SuperJam featuring Ed Helms. Festival goers that like iTunes shuffle effect random hit-makers from every decade can add to an event will have to head to the Farm to see Billy Joel, Earth Wind & Fire, Tears for Fears, Ben Folds, and Bleachers. In past years Gary Clark Jr. and Dawes were road warriors seemingly at every fest out there. In 2015 they’re only at Roo. Like adventurous hip hop? Childish Gambino and Shabazz Palaces are only at Bonnaroo. No other festival has booked Slayer, Pokey LaFarge, Against Me!, Brandi Carlile, Guster, Twenty|One|Pilots, or Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood. That Bonnaroo has them all speaks volumes about the diversity and uniqueness of their line-up.

Bonnaroo doesn’t just have a long list of exclusive bookings spanning multiple genres though. Top acts that are playing just one other fest (Spoon, Belle and Sebastian, Courtney Barnett) have also signed on, as well as numerous heavy-hitters making appearances at multiple festivals in 2015 (My Morning Jacket, Robert Plant and The Sensational Space Shifters, The War on Drugs, Run the Jewels, Mac Demarco, and to a lesser extent Trampled By Turtles, Benjamin Booker and STS9). There’s a few jarring exceptions – Tame Impala, Widespread Panic, Portugal. The Man and Ryan Adams are all playing numerous fests, though they’re not Bonnaroo – but for the most part Bonnaroo more than any other festival has something for everybody.

So if Bonnaroo is 2015’s universal festival, what other fests should fans of specific tastes consider? First let’s look at the other biggies this spring: Indio, California’s Coachella and New York City’s Governors Ball.

The’s an obvious starting point when comparing them: Drake is headlining both. Beyond that both have booked a hodge-podge of acts from various genres, though the tendencies of the acts each have exclusively signed reveal a bit about them. Jack White completely dominated the festival circuit last year. In 2015 he’s taking it easy: Coachella is his slot so far. Same goes for AC/DC, Coachella’s other headliner. Many of Coachella’s other exclusives seem aimed at followers of the blogosphere hype machine – FKA Twigs, Parquet Courts, Ghostface Killah, Lykke Li,  Tyler, The Creator – but there’s also David Guetta, and, most surprising, Steely Dan, as well as a few major acts at just one other festival (Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, Panda Bear, Belle and Sebastian, Interpol, Swans, Perfume Genius).

The Governors Ball’s exclusives lean electric (Björk, Hot Chip, Little Dragon, Chromeo) and eclectic (Weird Al Yankovic, retro blue eye soul group St. Paul And The Broken Bones, The Decemberists, Conor Oberst). They also scooped Lana Del Rey, DIIV, and one of just two 2015 festival appearances from The Black Keys.

Which 2015 Music Festival Should You Attend If..

…you like chillin’ with hippies:

Mountain Jam distinguishes itself from purer “jam band” fests by mixing beloved players from that scene (moe., Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Railroad Earth, Rusted Root, Big Gigantic, Marco Benevento) with roots bands of broader appeal (Alabama Shakes, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, Benjamin Booker, Hurray for the Riff Raff). But wait, there’s more. The Wailers, Rebelution, Michael Franti & Spearhead will please the reggae fans in attendance; it’s headliners are excellent – The Black Keys first US festival appearance of the year and Robert Plant and The Sensational Space Shifters – and Gov’t Mule’s two late night sets of Pink Floyd covers. The Budos Band are not to be missed.

…your anthem is “Gimme Indie Rock”:

Boston Calling does not have a unique line-up. Nor does it have an extensive lineup. But if artists like Tame Impala, My Morning Jacket, Pixies, St. Vincent, TV On The Radio, and Sharon Van Etten are all you’re looking to get out of a music festival, this may be a cheaper and less crowded alternative than going to a bigger fest. The main reason to go however is simply: Beck is headlining. (Note: Beck will only be at one other U.S. other festival this spring, Hangout aka the major fest with arguably the most disappointing lineup of 2015 so far).

Treefort is another great option. Although it doesn’t have as many big names, it does have Built to Spill, TV On The Radio, and the sole fest appearances of 2015 by of Montreal, Spaceface, Rubblebucket and Cymbals Eat Guitars. Discounting Iowa City’s Mission Creek Music Festival – a series of concerts under a “festival” banner – this is also Foxygen’s only US festival slot announced so far. For the most part music marathons like SXSW and CMJ have been omitted from this article since they’re not music festivals in the conventional sense. Treefort, essentially a smaller, Northwest alternative to these, has been included however because it’s singular lineup and five-day starting ticket price of just $129.51 deserves special recognition.

…you like indie, but also want diversity

Shaky Knees has arguably the single most unique lineup of any 2015 announced yet. It’s the only fest with Neutral Milk Hotel, Dr Dog, The Mountain Goats, The Kooks, Best Coast, Real Estate, Wavves, The Both, The Vaccines and, depending on if you count New Orleans Jazz Fest as festival, perhaps Wilco. It’s also the only fest with Mastodon, Old Crow Medicine Show, Flogging Molly, The Heartless Bastards, Mariachi El Bronx, Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls, Minus the Bear. Likewise Shaky Knees’ other major acts are also rarely seen on 2015’s various festival lineups: The Strokes, The Avett Brothers, Panda Bear, Spiritualized, Interpol, etc. That’s uniqueness and diversity similar to Bonnaroo but at a fraction of the price (3-day tickets start at just $125). Sure Bonnaroo has a lot more bands, but realistically, you can only see so many performers per day and Shaky Knees more than fulfills that amount. Why pay for more, if you can’t even see them?

…experimental music is your thing:

Big Ears Music Festival is one of a kind, and this year’s lineup is testament to that. This is the only festival that has Wilco’s Nels Cline indulging his jazzier, less conventional abilities. And speaking of unconventional jazz they’ve also exclusively scheduled Bill Frisell and The Bad Plus. Other exclusives: Bryce Dessnew of The National, Steve Gunn, Grouper, and tUnE-yArDs. Big Ears will also have Swans and Perfume Genius’ only festival sets besides Coachella. Laurie Anderson is this year’s Big Ears Artist-in Residence, and will perform with Kronos Quartet and others.

…you want to turn off your mind, relax and float down stream:

Levitation, the new name for Austin Psych Fest, has its most impressive lineup yet in 2015. It’s the only US festival with Thee Oh Sees, The Black Angels, Melody’s Echo Chamber, Primal Scream, and Lightning Bolt and the only place you’ll see The Jesus & Mary Chain perform their classic Psychocandy this year. Addtionally it’s other main attractions – White Fence, Spiritualized and headliner The Future Heart for instance – are sparsely at other festivals. In fact, the only group on the lineup that is making the rounds in 2015 is Tame Impala, another headliner. Combine all those exclusive bands, of every shade of psych, with one of this year’s hottest attractions, and – for psychedelia fans at least – this is hands down the most anticipated festival of 2015.

…you like psych and alternative, but of the quirkiest and most overt fun varieties

burgerama four lineup

Burgerama grows bigger, broader and bolder each year. For 2015 they’ve got a ton of artists (perhaps best generalized as having “cult appeal) playing no other festivals: Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Roky Erickson, J Mascis, Beachwood Sparks, Tobacco, Broncho, Jacco Gardner, Meatdbodies, Happyness, King Tuff, etc. Headliner Weezer is exclusive to this extravaganza as well, and the other stand-outs on the line-up are only booked at one other festival (ie White Fence, Allah-Las). Only Levitation’s lineup rivals Burgerama in terms of stacked exclusives and off-the-beaten path fun.

Click here to see The Future Heart’s complete Guide to 2015 Music Festivals, including many fests not listed above.

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