The Ultimate Guide to 2020 Music Festivals
Even if you kind of sort of hate music festivals, you can't help but love 'em. Where else can you spend a summer weekend seeing not one, not two, but a days-worth of live music from your favorite artists including both exciting, rising talents and some of the biggest acts today? In recent years lineups may have continued to become oversaturated with similar bills, and certain events have reached a price point that's too hard to budget multiple cross-country trips to get to -- so what are the must-see festivals this year in the US?
Below, find our guide to the best 2020 music festivals, and who to see at each event. Continue to check back, as we'll keep updating this post as more lineups and dates are announced.
When: March 16-22
Why you should go: Made up of a conference, interactive, film, comedy, and music festival, the week-and-a-half-long SXSW has much to boast about -- but its music showcases featuring a roster of 2000 acts are the real party of it all. Unlike a traditional festival, concerts are thrown at a variety of venues around Austin and made up of lineups of emerging artists trying to catch industry and media attention. If you tried, you could basically see a year's-worth of live music over the course of several days, and absolutely discover "the next big thing" who you can brag to your friends about knowing before they blow up.
Acts to check out: With seven members, R&B collective MICHELLE knows how to put on an involved live show with their joyful pop songs that offer vignettes about city life; or if you're looking to see a band blogs have already declared as poised to blow up in 2020, make it Disq, the fuzzy alt-rock band from Wisconsin.
When: March 20-22
Why you should go: EDM may have been a staple of major music festivals throughout the 2010s, but it seems like it's slipping off lineups this fest season. So, if you're in need of an EDM-exclusive-fest, you might as well make it one of the absolute best at ULTRA. It's like a non-stop rave featuring the best of the best in electronic, and it's set in Miami, which is essentially EDM-central -- so what more could you be looking for in a dance festival?
Headliners: Flume, Gesaffelstein, Major Lazer, and Zedd
Other acts to check out: Some other big names on the bill are David Guetta and Martin Garrix who are sure to produce their radio-friendly hits live for an exciting time.
When: March 25-29
Why you should go: The coolest music festival doesn't go down in LA or NYC… it's thrown in none other than unsuspecting Boise, Idaho. While you might not be familiar with the independent festival yet, Treefort is one of the remaining fests that still feels as if it truly values art and community. The main draw is definitely its lineup that's unlike most others by including almost entirely up-and-comers from across the world and genres, but it's got something for just about everybody, too, with the additions of sects like Yogafort, Filmfort, Foodfort, and others to make for a well-rounded, creative weekend.
Headliners: Chromatics, Calexico, Japanese Breakfast, and Omar Apollo, plus indie staples like Tennis, Peter, Bjorn and John, and GROUPLOVE
Other acts to check out: Seattle's Great Grandpa put out one of the sweetest, most understated albums of 2019 and their warm, sincere brand of garage rock is sure to brighten your day. The same goes for Brooklyn's The Ophelias, who make folk music so lovely and dream-like it sounds like it's out of an earthy fantasy world.
When: April 10-12 and April 17-19
Why you should go: For a lot of people, Coachella may have become less about the music and more of a social gathering to be seen at in recent years. But, that doesn't mean their lineups never come through anymore. 2020 definitely came through with a lineup that will likely define the rest of the season, including a lot of eclectic pop and rap acts. If you can make it out to the desert, you're in for the hottest event of the spring, exclusive party lounges and all.
Headliners: Rage Against the Machine and Travis Scott, with rare performer Frank Ocean closing out night three right after Lana Del Rey
Other acts to check out: 100 gecs is not for everybody; the DJ duo's electronic music sounds like a malfunctioning robot, but it's fun as fuck and their set will probably be wilder than any after party you try to attend. For avant garde dance music that's a little easier on the ears, though, Korean-American producer Yaeji makes vibey pop mixed with mumblecore rap.
When: May 1-3
Why you should go: While most major music festivals begin to move into entirely pop territory, Shaky Knees holds its own as a rock festival with a lineup featuring primarily indie rock greats and up-and-coming guitar-based bands.
Headliners: The Black Keys, The Smashing Pumpkins, and The Strokes, plus the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, making for a lineup totally led by contemporary legacy acts.
Other acts to check out: Chicago band Beach Bunny makes emo earworms that are unabashedly feminine, utilizing surf rock sounds and making anthems out of front woman Lili Trifilio's charming musings about young womanhood. They're indie ones-to-watch this year. Another riot to watch is LA alt rockers HUNNY whose use of '80s influence make them extremely danceable.
When: May 15-17
Why you should go: Hailing directly from the Gulf Shore, this pop festival plays right on the beach to make for the perfect introduction to summer. Hangout draws the hottest names across music, especially what’s prevailing in the mainstream so you can kick off the season by dancing under the sun and in the sand to today’s hits.
Headliners: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Post Malone, and Billie Eilish, plus Lana Del Rey and Meghan Thee Stallion
Other acts to check out: Like Kacey Musgraves and Lil Nas X, Orville Peck is another contemporary country artist killing the yeehaw agenda and revolutionizing country music as a queer, masked outlaw singer. Another interesting act is rapper Doja Cat whose had her fair share of memed moments with songs like "MOOO!" but has some serious sexy bangers as well.
When: May 22-24
Why you should go: The past several seasons, Boston’s largest festival has maintained its stake as one of the most impressive music events, straying away from the same names featured on every other lineup to include more unique, emerging talent. With large and niche acts across hip-hop and rock, the fest dedicated to music and its art events is one for those devoted to actually seeing some stellar sets.
Headliners: Foo Fighters, Rage Against the Machine, and Red Hot Chili Peppers, as well as big acts like The 1975 and Run the Jewels
Other acts to check out: Before you see The 1975 on Sunday, swing by front man Matty Healy's latest prodigy beabadoobee's set. It's the bedroom pop project of 19-year-old Bea Regner who picked up the guitar just two years ago, and now she's already going on tour with the major alt rockers, so she's not one to miss. PUP's set should be a raucous in all the best ways, too. The Canadian pop punk band is lively and angry and no mosh pit will be bigger than when they play.
When: May 22-24
Why you should go: BottleRock takes the food, drink, and music fest, and combines them into a one-stop weekend. BottleRock offers the best bites and drinks from trendy food trucks and restaurateurs -- and with their lineup of the greatest bands in the indie scene, they appropriately tap into your ears’ taste buds, too, to great the ideal Cali summer experience.
Headliners: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stevie Nicks, Dave Matthews Band, as well as big names like Miley Cyrus, Janelle Monáe, and Anderson .Paak
Other acts to check out: Not every '80s Golden Age of hip-hop act is still at it, but luckily legends Eric B. & Rakim reunited and are out doing some shows again, including Bottlerock, so you won't want to miss them. To get a taste of some rising stars, though, see MUNA, an LA band whose synth pop is as heartfelt and glistening as it comes.
When: June 5-7
Why you should go: There’s an unwritten consensus in New York that summer doesn’t officially kick off until Governors Ball commences in the city on Randall’s Island. Reflective of its hometown, Gov Ball always has a diverse lineup across all genres and is run with an unapologetically New York, fun-loving attitude. This year is the fest's 10th anniversary, meaning they listened to frequent fest-goers to make some improvements (like a smart, new age policy) and it should be an unforgettable weekend in the making.
Headliners: Tame Impala, Flume, and Missy Elliot lead the charge, and other huge acts like Vampire Weekend, Miley Cyrus, and Stevie Nicks hold it down, too
Other acts to check out: To get a taste of what's exciting in the experimental space, black midi is a UK-based punk band changing what guitar music sounds like -- so figure their set to be utter chaos in the best of ways. Princess Nokia is similarly changing the rap game with her aggressive style that draws from emo sounds and preaches a fair amount of activism.
When: June 11-14
Why you should go: Even as camping festivals become more of a luxury experience, or remove that rough element entirely, the 'roo lives on and prevails because of it. With its all-night dance parties, extremely extensive lineup, and embrace of anything-goes camping culture, Bonnaroo is a sort of mecca of major fest heads, and the place to be if you’re down for just about anything. It's basically the quintessential festival experience, and 2020 has their best lineup in years.
Headliners: Tool, Lizzo, and Tame Impala, in addition to names like Vampire Weekend, Miley Cyrus, and Young Thug
Other acts to check out: Young Chicano artist Cuco is a perfect amalgamation of a Gen-Z artist: He makes woozy stoner rap fused with dream pop, and it sounds like an absolute trip in the best way possible -- and where could it be more fitting to listen to than at 'roo.
When: June 18-21
Why you should go: Just outside of the tristate area, Firefly draws in crowds from all around to the otherwise unsuspecting Dover, Delaware. Firefly is largely based in pop music, though frequently features it artists from a variety of genres as its headliners, turning the area into a youthful haven in late June, as fans are ready to camp it out in trade for afternoon to late night parties.
Headliners: Rage against the Machine, Billie Eilish, and Halsey, as well as Khalid, Blink-182, and Maggie Rogers
Other acts to check out: The headliners are pretty pop-heavy, so if you're looking to switch it up during the day, Turnover makes introspective emo music and The Regrettes combines surf rock and pop punk that'll definitely get you dancing.
When: June 24-28 and June 30-July 5
Why you should go: Go big or go home, right? If you're looking to go all in and ensure you go to the biggest festival of the year, make it Summerfest, which is literally the biggest in the world. The 11-day festival ramps up over 800 acts on a slew of 12 stages, including major shows at Milwaukee's American Family Insurance Amphitheater. Taking place on the city's scenic lakefront with activities, vendors, and solid Midwest fest food, Summerfest is like a summer fair as much as it is a music fest.
Headliners: Legacy acts Ozzy Osbourne and Marilyn Manson lead the festival, but pop contemporaries Halsey and Justin Bieber are among big names passing through during the festival, too
Other acts to check out: Full lineup TBA
When: July 17-19
Why you should go: If you're an avid reader of the music publication Pitchfork, this is like Pitchfork IRL. The site highly curates the event with some of the most eclectic artists from across all genres who are both already trending names in the music blog circle and destined to blow up within the year -- so figure this lineup cooler than anything you might find at a big corporate fest. This one's for those of us who wish festivals were still all about the music.
When: July 25-26
Why you should go: In a time when a lot of huge festivals all feel relatively the same, it can be more interesting to invest in going to a smaller, more boutique-y option. One of the best of this variety is Detroit's Mo Pop, which throws a trendy two-day party along the city's riverfront. It may be smaller in size, but that just means its able to be more selective in which hot indie acts it pulls together for the weekend.
When: July 30-August 2
Why you should go: As 'chella is to the West Coast, Lolla is to the Midwest. Held in Downtown Chicago's sprawling Grant Park, Lolla is one of the few genuinely exciting corporate fests and its gravitose and energy basically transforms the city for its long four-day weekend. It may have originally been founded as alternative music event, but its gotten away from those parameters, expanding to feature just about the best of the best from every genre under the sun. It's a massive urban festival, but "palooza" is in its name for a reason; it's just a damn good time.
When: August 7-9
Why you should go: Rather than being your typical run of the mill festival, Outside Lands is more of a celebration of the culture of the Bay Area than anything else. Hailing from Golden Gate Park, it draws comedians and artists of the indie, hip-hop, and R&B variety as much as it shines light on what the Bay has to offer in terms of its great food and drink as much as its lively art scene. It's the largest of all independently-owned fests, and this feat certainly shows in the unique, entertaining production that comes together.
When: August TBD
Why you should go: Originally conceived as a live extension of the documentary Afro-Punk about the black punk community in America, AFROPUNK is now a series of festivals across the globe highlighting non-mainstream black artistry. Its inaugural event was in Brooklyn and that's where the largest iteration remains, each year organizing a weekend of hip-hop, R&B, soul, and punk, making it one of the hippest, most stylish celebrations of just pure art and community.
When: September 5-6
Why you should go: Made in America's the one that was founded and curated by Jay Z -- so that should be is more than enough to convince you that this is a must-see East Coast fest. The legendary rapper brings together monumental and rising names largely in rap and hip-hop to hold down the lineup, and also puts an emphasis on social justice and getting involved in activities throughout the event. Take it from Jay, it's essentially the best possible way you could spend your Labor Day weekend.
When: October 2-4 and 9-11
Why you should go: Austin is the music city, and in its two weekends with over 125 sets, Austin City Limits does an excellent to reflect that. Taking place right in the city in Zilker Park, it's a massive celebration of all kinds of music with everything from legacy acts and current pop stars to experimental newbies and local talent filling out its expansive lineup.
When: October 30-November 1
Why you should go: Taking a trip down to New Orleans for Halloween would probably be like a supernatural experience, period. But Voodoo also goes down that same spooky weekend, and visiting this fest would undeniably elevate your trip to be out-of-this-realm because it's as festive as it is a solid concert. Costumes are encouraged, and the bayou event really leans into the lore as an homage to the spirit of its hometown. Oh, and the music: It's definitely not an afterthought with its lineup of up-and-comers.
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