The Ultimate Guide to 2021 Music Festivals
Many major festivals are following CDC guidelines in order to throw safe live events this year.
The COVID-19 pandemic affected just about everything we love to enjoy in group settings, from dining at restaurants to watching movies in theaters. For music fans, the lack of live performances was a huge loss; nothing compares to the communal energy of seeing your favorite artists perform. Not only was it a bummer that you couldn't catch a gig at a beloved local spot on any given night, it meant venues were at risk of closing and artists were stripped of the majority of their income since so much of their livelihood depends on touring.
It also meant for a year of no music festivals, which—for fans who are always down to brave the heat in exchange for a full day of exciting sets—made summer 2020 feel a lot less like summer. As the pandemic continues to improve with the rollout of the vaccine and the world begins to loosen its lockdown restrictions again, it's possible that the majority of music festivals could return in 2021 with safety precautions in place.
Aside from the typical outrageous fashions, busy water bottle-filling stations, and conflicting set times, it's currently hard to say what the large-scale events will look like this year. Will vaccination cards and/or masks be required? Will there be on-site rapid testing and temperature checking? How will social distancing be enforced? A lot is up in the air right now, but many festivals are insistent on following CDC guidelines in order to put on a weekend of live music that protects the health and safety of staff, artists, and attendees.
While some popular fests, like Coachella and Lollapalooza, have opted to reschedule until 2022 or have yet to even announce whether they plan on happening in the near future, the major festivals below are charging ahead with hopes of putting on an event somewhat near normal this year. Of course, everything is subject to change and we'll continue updating this list as more lineups and information becomes available—but should you be eager to dust off your flower crown, here's what to know about major music festivals in the US and abroad this year.
Where: Madrid, Spain
When: July 7-10
What to know: European music festivals have gotten a reputation for being especially cool, and Mad Cool lives up to its namesake. Just in its fifth year, this four-day, rock-first fest has been called Spain's Coachella for its scale and the acts it pulls. Spain was at one point a hot spot during the pandemic and travelers from the US remain on its list of countries that require a negative COVID test upon entry, but the festival says it'll inform ticket holders of safety protocols once they are more clearly defined.
Headliners: Cardi B, Deftones, Faith No More, The Killers, Kings of Leon, Pixies, Placebo, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Royal Blood, Twenty-One Pilots, and two more TBA
Other acts to check out: British poet and singer Arlo Parks is one of this year's biggest breakouts so far with her debut album Collapsed in Sunbeams; her atmospheric indie folk would be a lovely start to the afternoon. Plus, LA indie staples Cherry Glazerr always put on a slick, exhilarating set with their stylish take on garage rock.
Where: Miami, FL
When: July 23-25
What to know: No festival celebrates rap and hip-hop as much as Rolling Loud. In fact, it's the biggest rap fest in the world. While there's several versions of the fest around the nation, Miami is its home base. The festival's gotten some flack for its lack of women artists on the bill, but those who were looking forward to what was supposed to be the lineup in 2020 should be pleased that many acts have carried over. This year's fest was originally scheduled for May before it landed on July dates, but few other COVID guidelines have been outlined thus far.
Headliners: A$AP Rocky, Travis Scott, and Post Malone
Other acts to check out: You're in Miami, so basically it's a requirement to see local icons City Girls. The duo know how to bring the heat with their lively trap. Their collaborator Lakeyah is worth seeing too—the rising name from Milwaukee seamlessly transitions from R&B and a melodic delivery to aggressive rap.
Where: Reading and Leeds, England
When: August 27-29
What to know: The Brits have a long history of putting together dynamic festivals, and Reading and Leeds is one of them—Reading being the world's longest-running music fest to this day. The two events run simultaneously in the English cities Reading and Leeds and feature the same lineup, which is typically rock-focused. The fest was supposed to host Rage Against the Machine in their first UK show in a decade, but they unfortunately won't be headlining in 2021. Reading and Leeds plans to only go through with the event if the UK's Chief Medical Officer gives them the go-ahead, and it has announced vaccinations won't be required, but testing will be. Any travelers from the US have to test when flying into the UK regardless.
Headliners: Catfish and the Bottlemen, Disclosure, Liam Gallagher, Post Malone, Queens of the Stone Age, and Stormzy
Other acts to check out: There's no other pop star in the game as forward-thinking as Charli XCX with her glistening, PC Music-influenced sound. She's one you won't want to miss—and who knows, maybe she'll swing by 100 gecs' set for an appearance since they have a handful of collabs. Regardless, you'll want to catch the gecs too, if not because you're into their maximalist electro but for the sure-to-be-wild experience.
Where: Milwaukee, WI
When: September 2-4, 9-11, and 16-18
What to know: The Wisconsin festival set on Lake Michigan is known as the World's Biggest Music Festival, typically spanning across 11 days in the summer and drawing millions of attendees. The event with music ranging from alternative to country to pop plans on toning it down a bit this year, slating only nine days of live music, but they still plan on organizing just as many sets as they have in the past, totaling more than 1,000 performances. The event was intentionally pushed back to September, allowing more time for vaccine distribution.
Headliners: Chance the Rapper, Chris Stapleton, Dave Matthews Band, Dylan Scott, Gabby Barrett, Jonas Brothers, Luke Bryan, Miley Cyrus, Sheryl Crow, Spencer Sutherland, 24KGOLDN, and Zac Brown Band
Other acts to check out: See some TikTok music IRL: The hip-hop collective/record label/YouTubers/general music industry innovators Internet Money, who are known for their viral, genre-defying hits, will be swinging by the fest. For a totally different sound, be sure to see The Weather Station, the folk project of Tamara Lindeman, who dropped a stunning record earlier this year.
Where: Napa Valley, CA
When: September 3-5
What to know: A lot of festivals curate mouth-watering food lineups, but do you ever wish your music festival experience had bougie bites? Let Bottlerock serve up the ultimate fest weekend for you then. The part-food fest, part-music fest hails from culinary destination Napa Valley for a summer weekend that has it all. Little information is available regarding this year's event, but it's known to invite artists of just about every genre, as well as big name chefs for cooking demos.
Other acts to check out: TBA
Where: Manchester, TN
When: September 5-6
What to know: That's right, baby: The Roo is coming back. The major festival is one of the few large, mainstream events that has made the announcement that it plans to return. Little is known in terms of what changes may be in place due to the pandemic, but its quintessential experience of camping, music from some of the biggest names today, and sets into the very late hours of the night should still be in store.
Headliners: Foo Fighters, Lana Del Rey, Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion, Tame Impala, and Tyler, the Creator
Other acts to check out: You've probably heard Flo Mili's viral hits like "In the Party" and "Beef FloMix" on TikTok, but the Alabama-bred rapper is no passing moment. She's one of the genre's latest ones-to-watch with her clever lyrics and cheeky delivery. Waxahatchee is another great artist who also happens to be from Alabama. Katie Crutchfield turns out gorgeous, introspective music with an Americana twang for her singer-songwriter project.
Where: Las Vegas, NV
When: September 17-19
What to know: Held in Downtown Las Vegas, Life Is Beautiful is as lavish and glitzy as its home stomping grounds. The three-day event rallies not just popular names in electronic music, hip-hop, and pop for live sets spanning more than a dozen blocks of the city, but also brings in comedy acts, other speakers for the "Ideas" branch of the fest, and artists commissioned to install large pieces on the grounds. Sin City and many of its hotels and casinos have been open for much of the pandemic, but Life Is Beautiful plans to share a health and safety protocol with ticket holders closer to the event.
Headliners: A$AP Rocky, Billie Eilish, Green Day, Megan Thee Stallion, HAIM, Illenium, Tame Impala, and Young Thug
Other acts to check out: California-bred Remi Wolf's take on funk-pop sounds like a hallucinogenic trip; her high, girlish voice in combination with jazzy, mind-melting production is pure euphoria. You can keep the party going at Yaeji's set, too. The Korean-American artist makes house music that has a vibe that's all its own.
Where: Chicago, IL
When: September 17-19
What to know: If you're searching for the punk as hell music festival, get yourself to Riot Fest. Mosh pits are no strangers here: The Chicago festival always touts a lineup of iconic and buzz-worthy artists primarily in indie rock, emo, punk, and hardcore. Emo legends My Chemical Romance were supposed to swing by Riot Fest to headline the show on a long-awaited reunion tour that was meant to happen in 2020—but that was unfortunately rescheduled for 2022. The fest intends to put together a very metal show regardless, though, and has already started outlining COVID-19 protocols, such as increased sanitation throughout the grounds and full compliance with whatever the state's mask and testing standards are come September.
Headliners: Pixies, Run the Jewels, The Smashing Pumpkins, and TBA
Other acts to check out: Riot Fest may be a lineup full of groups worthy of head-banging to, but few acts will get you as amped as the unadulterated Canadian pop punk band PUP. Seriously, let yourself lose your mind to their very cranky and very fun music. Plus, Beach Goons will infuse the afternoon with a bit of fast-paced surf rock, as the three-piece makes music that's both a product of their San Diego hometown and Mexican-American heritage.
Where: Los Angeles, CA
When: September 18-19
What to know: Many music fans who follow the festival circuit will tell you that Primavera Sound often has the best lineup of the bunch. The primary festival is actually a Spanish event, held in Barcelona, but always curates an eclectic mix of rising, trending artists across all genres with a commitment to gender equality. While the Barcelona version was canceled this year, Primavera Sound is still hoping to launch its first stateside fest in LA this fall after having to reschedule from summer 2020. Currently, other than the dates and the location of LA's State Historic Park, little information is known about the event.
Other acts to check out: TBA
Where: Boise, ID
When: September 22-26
What to know: Maybe Boise doesn't seem like the sexiest destination for a music festival, but it's home to one of the most exciting, treasured boutique festivals in the industry. Treefort Music Fest is a gem not only for its highly curated lineup, featuring rising acts across indie and lending the stage to up-and-comers, but because it highlights the culture right in Boise by inviting local acts and featuring shows at venues around the city. It's also made up of a handful of "forts," so you can round out your experience with its additional "filmfort," "comedyfort," and others. For this year's Treefort 9, the community-run festival launched a campaign to #SupportTheFort that raised enough funds to sustain itself for another year and they should be announcing additional plans closer to its dates.
Headliners: Andy Shauf, Armand Hammer, Built To Spill, Calexico, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Japanese Breakfast, Lightning Bolt, The Marías, Mdou Moctar, and Prefuse 73
Other acts to check out: Jilian Medford's project as Ian Sweet makes dream pop that feels healing with its euphoric, dizzying sound and introspective lyrics. She's one to catch, as is Wild Pink, who similarly makes tender, innovative music that takes heartland rock into psychedelic territory.
Where: Dover, DE
When: September 23-26
What to know: Festival fans along the East Coast looking for a big-scale fest and camping experience should make the trek to Firefly. The pop-focus fest goes down at the Woodland grounds at the Dover International Speedway and features mainstream and rising acts across EDM, pop, hip-hop, and indie rock. Last year, the fest was going to feature a bill headlined by three women artists—Billie Eilish, Halsey, and Maggie Rogers—after a history of having only one woman top-line the event since its inception in 2012. Thankfully, they were still able to book at least Eilish again this year. The fest currently has a COVID-19 section on its website, but has said it's too early to announce what mandates will be in place.
Headliners: Billie Eilish, The Killers, Lizzo, and Tame Impala
Other acts to check out: Miami-based rapper Denzel Curry always brings it. His raps are sharp and thrilling, and his Southern regional sound is sure to sound great on a festival afternoon. Kentucky's White Reaper brings it too—albeit in a very different way. They radiate a nostalgic punk, stadium rock sound that can't help but send you into a head-banging frenzy.
Where: New York, NY
When: September 24-26
What to know: Typically, summertime doesn't start in NYC until The Governors Ball. The indie fest draws New Yorkers to Randall's Island where they often have to brave June storms—but it's still utterly blissful, given the stellar lineup the local team behind the event puts together. Gov Ball will obviously be more of a summer send-off this year, but given that 2021 is its 10th anniversary, it should be a fun one. Festivities are moving to Citi Field this year, which is where the fest's promoter's held their festival The Meadows a few years back. The event isn't sure what will be required for entry quite yet (like proof of vaccination or a negative test), but it plans to work with the City and make announcements in the coming months.
Headliners: A$AP Rocky, Billie Eilish, J Balvin, and Post Malone
Other acts to check out: Indie supergroups have been a trend in recent years, and one of this year's team-up projects to watch is Jay Som and Palehound's Bachelor. They'll bring some chill, lo-fi vibes. Plus, California-based indie pop band Muna are another small print gem. The three-piece is sure to get you in a good mood.
Where: Austin, TX
When: October 1-3 and 8-10
What to know: Austin is one of the biggest music capitals in the nation, and ACL is one of the city's largest music celebrations. It might not be as expansive as SXSW, but the huge fest, which is thrown over two weekends from Zilker Park, always features a bill that's as massive as it is full of hitmakers with both indie upstarts and legacy acts filling it out. More details should come at a later date.
Other acts to check out: TBA
Where: San Francisco, CA
When: October 29-31
What to know: The Bay Area knows how to party and is known for its innovative arts scenes, so it makes sense one of the most popular and largest independent music fests is set in the city's own Golden Gate Park. Outside Lands is running later than usual this year—but that just sets it up to be a Halloween party—and its lineup that taps into impressive, new names across all genres to make for a very lively holiday weekend.
Headliners: Glass Animals, J Balvin, Kehlani, Lizzo, RÜFÜS DU SOL, The Strokes, Tame Impala, Vampire Weekend, Young Thug, and ZHU
Other acts to check out: Bartees Strange released one of the best albums of 2020 with his riveting alternative record Live Forever, and you can bet his powerhouse guitars will get you fired up. If you're looking to get emotional, though, Claud (who is a signee on Phoebe Bridgers' label, Saddest Factory) makes endearing, bittersweet indie pop.
Where: New Orleans, LA
When: October 29-31
What to know: If you've always wanted to have an absolutely unforgettable Halloween weekend, head on down to the bayou for Voodoo Music + Arts Experience. Fans of the spooky holiday and music lovers alike will find the fest to be one-of-a-kind, as it goes down in the pinnacle spirited city of New Orleans every year. Costumes are encouraged, so you can rock out to the biggest names in indie while summoning ghouls and goblins. Little is known about the fest's official plans, but maybe it's best to start brainstorming a Halloween look with a mask in mind.
Other acts to check out: TBA