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Coachella, Bonnaroo, Boston Calling, Solid Sound, or All of the Above?

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After seeing all of the post-Coachella videos that started popping up online at the beginning of the week (Kendrick Lamar, in particular, above), it filled us with a sense of resolve: We need to witness festival performances in person! One minute video clips from smartphones will no longer suffice! Here’s what we’re looking at, and what we’re most excited about this festival season.

Boston Calling
May 26-28, Boston, MA
$99-$999

Headliners: Tool, Chance the Rapper, Mumford and Sons

What Makes It Special: Boston Calling has always been admirable in that they recognize the artists that make up the local scene. In years past, Boston Calling has welcomed Massachusetts legends like the Pixies to the stage and also booked up-and-coming local names like Bad Rabbits, Bearstronaut, and Tigerman WOAH.

This year’s lineup features local veterans Buffalo Tom and ‘90s emo outfit Piebald. Also repping the emotive vein are Worcester’s own The Hotelier, who are coming off of their widely acclaimed 2016 release, Goodness. The lineup also showcases some Boston names you might not have heard before, like indie rockers Vundabar. Make sure to add these names to your itinerary for the full Boston Calling experience!

Can’t Miss: Weezer
Weezer at one point felt like an unhealthy relationship for many longtime fans. After a flawless run of introverted alt-rock anthems in the ‘90s, things got weird. Somewhere between featuring Lil Wayne on their songs and having the dude from Lost on their album cover, fans grew concerned that the Weezer they loved was gone forever. However, after two solid releases, Rivers Cuomo and company have found their footing and it’s time to celebrate.

Their current tour, supporting the vastly underrated Weezer (The White Album), is everything patient fans have been waiting for: new cuts that finally have potential to be classics like “California Kids” and plenty of the best songs of old for bursts of nostalgia. It’s vindication that Weezer truly is for all of time.

Favorite Opener: Whitney
You could take any song off of Whitney’s debut album, Light Upon The Lake, and utilize it as the perfect substitution for theme song to Welcome Back, Kotter. Whitney is ripe with that kind of ‘70s nostalgia and they have received endorsements from artists that defined the era like Elton John.

While they certainly could draw comparison to older groups like The Band or Steely Dan, they could just as easily bring to mind more contemporary easy listening like Real Estate or Mac DeMarco. Their sound comes together with a refreshing aesthetic and they’ll perfectly complement a breezy festival afternoon.

Lineup Critique:
This is really an awesome lineup, so this is a bit of a reach. However, unless Tool finally drops their new album, this lineup is mainly pulling from the best of 2016, not ‘17. Chance, Bon Iver, Solange, Danny Brown, Tegan and Sara, Cage The Elephant — these are just some of the 2017 Boston Calling artists who released their albums last year. This year’s lineup just doesn’t seem to be looking ahead to what could define 2017.

In terms of 2017 releases from Boston Calling artists, we have The xx. Their most recent release, I See You, came out in January. Mac DeMarco has a new album coming out soon. Sigur Ros has recently posted some photos on social media from the studio, so maybe we’ll get something from them too? Perhaps Mondo Cozmo, who is releasing a debut in July, will be the one to hang future hopes on? We know for sure that the music performed at this year’s festival will be great, but we always enjoy having the excitement of a new record backing the performance.

Bonnaroo
June 8-11, Manchester, TN
$210-$554

Headliners: U2 (performing The Joshua Tree in its entirety), Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Weeknd, Chance the Rapper

What Makes It Special: Bonnaroo is essentially its own world. While other festivals have a major city to support and anchor the appeal, the only reason you’d likely ever go to Manchester, Tennessee is Bonnaroo. To go to Bonnaroo means to immerse yourself in Bonnaroo. It means piling into a car with your friends, taking a road trip, surviving the elements, and of course seeing one of the largest music festival the US has to offer.

Can’t Miss Artist: Chance the Rapper
Chance may be everywhere this year, but his presence at Bonnaroo carries different weight. He was everywhere at last year’s festival. Not only did he hop onstage with J. Cole, Macklemore, and Miguel, he also hosted a listening party of his latest mixtape, Coloring Book. It was no surprise that he was unofficially crowned as the “King of Bonnaroo” in 2016. So if you plan to attend Bonnaroo this year, be sure to check Twitter and make sure you don’t miss a second of Chance at the farm.

Favorite Opener: Noname
Fatimah Warner, aka Noname, put out one of the best hip-hop releases of 2016. Her stellar mixtape, Telefone, was rhythmically complex and filled with sunny melodies. She’s also a frequent Chance collaborator (which means you can almost guarantee a surprise visit from him during her set!). She’s musically challenging, poetic, and sings of her city (Chicago) with great depth, all while remaining accessible. Noname is the real deal. She could be a huge name in years to come, and this could very much be an “I saw her when” moment!

 

Lineup Critique: No classic rock support for U2
U2 is currently prepping a tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of their smash album The Joshua Tree. This is a record that didn’t just go multi-platinum, it went diamond! We’re talking about 25 million people who have bought this thing. And remember, this was way before U2 was putting music on your phone without asking you about it. There is no denying The Joshua Tree‘s legacy. However, Dublin’s favorite sons seem out of place on this year’s lineup due to how young the rest of the artist base is.

Usually, there is a supporting cast for legacy acts. Look back to 2015 when Billy Joel played Bonnaroo and had acts like Robert Plant, Tears For Fears, and Earth, Wind & Fire to encourage attendance from classic rock fans. You won’t find that kind of support on this year’s lineup for Bono and crew (I suppose you could argue the Chili Peppers, but aren’t they an anomaly? How do they still mainly appeal to college kids more than 30 years into their careers? I truly admire their staying power.),

So on a lineup where Diplo, at 38, somehow looks like a veteran, there is cause for concern that not enough classic rock fans will attend the fest. It’s possible that most of the people there will only know U2 as “that band that clogged up everyone’s iPhones.”

Solid Sound
June 23-25, North Adams, MA
$50-$159

Headliners: Wilco (obviously), Television, Kurt Vile & the Violators

What Makes It Unique: Wilco can do whatever they want!
Jeff Tweedy and company not only curate this three-day fest in Western Massachusetts, they headline it every single night! Well, sort of. Wilco headlines on Friday and Saturday and the Sunday headliner is listed as Tweedy & Friends. But that’s not all – the members of Wilco are also everywhere throughout the weekend. Guitarist Nels Cline has been known to conduct guitar clinics in the past, allowing fans to see exactly which crazy pedals he uses to capture some of his stratospheric sounds. On Sunday, the Nels Cline Four get second-billing. Drummer (and inaugural Music is My Life podcast guest) Glenn Kotche brings his On Fillmore project to the stage Sunday as well. Rounding out the top billing on Sunday are additional Wilco side-projects The Autumn Defense (featuring bassist Jon Stirratt) and Quindar (featuring keyboardist Mikael Jorgensen).

Can’t Miss: Television
This quintessential post-punk guitar quartet doesn’t reunite often. For those unfamiliar with the way that Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine weave their guitars together on Telivison’s 1977 debut Marquee Moon, hearing it will be an informative “Ohhhh, so that’s where Wilco got that!” Lloyd departed the band a decade ago, but guitarist Jimmy Rip is a suitable replacement. And Tom Verlaine’s poetic lyrics are something to behold.

 

Favorite Opener: Nancy and Beth
If you perceive something comic about these two women (neither of whom are actually named Nancy or Beth), that might be because one of them is sitcom legend Megan Mullally. The other is Stephanie Hunt. Together, these two give quirky modern blues reinterpretations of songs by the likes of the Mills Brothers and Wynona Carr. What’s so special about that? Well, they also give the same sort of treatment to tunes by Gucci Mane and Rufus Wainwright. Nothing is off limits! Plus, Mullally brings her husband Nick Offerman with her, so they’ll likely be floating around the grounds during the weekend. Speaking of the grounds, it’s at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, so if you’re not into one of the bands, you can always wander off and take in some visual arts.

Lineup Critique: If you don’t like Wilco, you probably won’t have much fun. As stated previously, Wilco curates this festival and are thusly featured heavily on the bill. Even the curator of the comedy stage, John Hodgman, is very much of the Wilco world. But let’s face it — you’re probably not shelling out this kind of money if you’re not already a Wilco fan.

Pitchfork Music Festival
July 14-16, Chicago, IL
$55-$365

Headliners: A Tribe Called Quest, LCD Soundsystem, Solange

What Makes It Unique: The finger on the pulse programming
Pitchfork’s primary function is serving as a music publication. With hundreds of thousands of unique visits on the site every day, it is without question that it is one of the leading voices in music. You can see the influence from Pitchfork in festival lineups every year — a great review from Pitchfork means offers are coming your way.

So coming from an institution that is known for identifying the best in music, being featured on their festival lineup is quite the endorsement. Pitchfork doesn’t go for the sprawling lineups of some of the bigger festivals. Here, you’re more likely to discover some great new  artists who might get lost in the mix at a Bonnaroo or Coachella. For a quite literally critically acclaimed music experience, you don’t have to look any further.

Can’t Miss: A Tribe Called Quest
With the obvious cash grabs of many reunions, there has been something very refreshing about the fully realized reunion of A Tribe Called Quest. With the political climate surrounding Trump’s presidency, A Tribe Called Quest’s reunion comes with a mission statement.  Members Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad are both of Muslim faith, and the group gave an explosive performance of “We The People….” at this year’s Grammy Awards to inspire resistance of Trump’s immigration agenda. It was the highlight of the show. and the group will unquestionably be a highlight of the festival.

The recent death of founding member Phife Dawg has also set the emotional backbone of this reunion. Each time they’ve taken the stage since his passing, they have paid tribute to his mark on hip-hop. His verses are still featured in their live performances via recordings and the surviving members treat the stage like he’s there with them. These upcoming shows are likely to be their last, adding weight to importance of catching A Tribe Called Quest while you can. It’s a shame because they really are the political voice America needs in the upcoming years.

Favorite Opener: Dirty Projectors
There is a lot of curiosity surrounding the return of the Brooklyn art rock band Dirty Projectors — mostly because they’re no longer really a band anymore, as the group’s founder, Dave Longstreth, is now the sole member. This isn’t unfamiliar territory for Longstreth, as Dirty Projects began as a solo project in the early 2000s. However, the group reached a new level of success after expanding to a five-piece in 2007 with the release of their LP, Rise Above.

Longstreth found love with one of his now-former bandmates, Amber Coffman, who became integral to the band’s sound as a vocalist and guitarist. In fact, Coffman sang the lead vocals on the band’s most successful track to date, “Stillness Is the Move.” The couple broke up after the release of Dirty Projectors’ last album, Swing Lo Magellan, and the band dissolved with it. Longstreth is now back from whence he came, as the sole member of Dirty Projectors.

Projectors fans now have a lot to wonder about regarding the live performance and the songs that will be featured on the setlist. Granted, there is a brand new record, the appropriately self-titled Dirty Projectors. However, the bulk of songs that built their fan base were released during the band years, so will they be on the setlist? Will Longstreth be accompanied? With the new record being mainly electronic, it could just be him and a Macbook. Either way this is an interesting time for the group, and fans should show up to get a glimpse at the road ahead.

 

Lineup Critique: Being one of, if not the most influential voice in music discovery, it would be cool to see Pitchfork expand beyond live music at their festival as well. Their website has featured interesting content like documentaries based on classic albums and interviews with artists with fun segments like Over/Under. It would be worth the experiment to bring some of the additional content to Pitchfork Music Festival.

Maybe they could set up a screening of upcoming content that they’re working on as extra incentives for attendees. Fans of the website are attending the brand in addition to the festival, and if they had a keynote speaker, or had one of the artists performing host a live discussion in the style of their 5-10-15-20 interviews, it would be a great addition. Long story short, I would like to see them bring the full Pitchfork experience to Chicago.

Newport Folk Festival
July 28-30, Newport, RI
$20-$199

What Makes It Unique: Small town, big names
Newport Folk Festival is a national treasure. While many of our nation’s biggest festivals have a little bit of corporate grime on them, Newport Folk has maintained its roots and small town charm while still boasting some of the biggest and best names in classic and contemporary roots music.

In recent years, the festival has thrived. Founder George Wein established a non-profit, the Newport Festivals Foundation, to support the Newport Folk Festival and Newport Jazz Festival. In turn, its Newport family quite literally has a vested interest in its success. Its model is something to admire, as the festivals’ weekend passes now sell out before even the first act is named!

Newport is much smaller than something like a Coachella or Bonnaroo, but that is part of its appeal. Its vibe is like your town fair somehow got Roger Waters and Beck to play after the pie eating contest. With beautiful views of Narragansett Bay to boot, it’s an experience that’s hard to beat.

Can’t Miss: Fleet Foxes
Absence in modern times isn’t easily attained. It’s been six years since the last Fleet Foxes record — a long gap between records in the current musical landscape — but it seems even longer because the band essentially disappeared altogether during that period of time. The group haven’t even hosted a one-off show since they wrapped up the tour cycle for their last LP, Helplessness Blues. Hell, lead singer Robin Pecknold just got an Instagram account! It’s been very quiet on the Fleet Foxes front, until now – that is, unless you forgot that Father John Misty first earned acclaim as Fleet Foxes’ drummer.

With a new album on the way, it is a big deal that Newport Folk nabbed the Seattle folk rock outfit. They’re obviously excited about it too, because Fleet Foxes were the first group announced from the 2017 line up. So yeah, this show is a big deal.

 

Favorite Opener: A Tribute to Chuck
Chuck Berry played Newport Folk’s sister festival, the Newport Jazz Festival, back in 1958. The festival originally planned to put together a tribute to celebrate the rock ‘n roll legend’s 90th birthday (a tribute we can only hope would have included Chuck Berry himself). But with Berry’s recent passing, this tribute will now serve as a way to honor his life and the influence he had across American music and beyond.

This set joins the likes of past performances like their “‘65 Revisited” tribute to Bob Dylan’s infamous electric set at the festival and “For Pete’s Sake,” a tribute to the memory of festival co-founder Pete Seeger and bluegrass music. You can tell Newport loves their artists, and their celebration of Chuck Berry is one of the many qualities that make this event so special.

 

Lineup Critique: Comedy? Theater?
Newport Folk is a music festival in a very literal sense. While other festivals like Boston Calling have a film experience curated by Natalie Portman, and Solid Sound has Ron freakin’ Swanson himself, Nick Offerman, you can’t help but wonder what Newport would be like with more variety.

The environment seems perfect for say a live performance of an NPR favorite like weekly quiz show “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me,” especially since NPR partners with the festival. I mean, you can’t get more NPRish than folk music, can you? Or how about getting frequent Newport Folk performer Chris Thile to bring his newly hosted version of Prairie Home Companion to the stage? Even throwing a couple of comedians into the mix would be cool! They should give Fred Armisen and Bill Hader a call!

Wherever your summer travels take you, we hope that it includes an incredible soundtrack.

About
Eric Zawada is an Academic Advisor at Berklee Online, working with our online degree students. He holds a bachelor's degree in Music Business from Lyndon State College. In his spare time, he performs regularly in the Boston music scene as a drummer and guitarist.
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