Arts & Culture

Music + Crowds: What to Expect at This Year’s Hottest Music Festivals

By Anika Ades


Bonnaroo, Manchester, TN, June 7 – 10

Cost: $255.00 and up.

Lineup Highlights: Bonnaroo plays it safe, but you will not be disappointed with its three veteran headliners: Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Phish. Bon Iver, Foster the People, and Skrillex have broken into mainstream popularity this year and are guaranteed to put on excellent shows as well. Conspicuously absent are perennial Bonnaroo favorites, Dr. Dog, My Morning Jacket, and Mumford and Sons, as are the electronic groups that have come to define the late-night scene at the festival. To all you ecstasy-popping club kids: rage elsewhere.


People Watching: With a shift in recent years away from alternative rock and folk and toward hip-hop, dubstep, and pop, the crowd at Bonnaroo has also changed. With frat-house favorites Ludacris, Mac Miller, and Dispatch in attendance, you’ll find plenty of red-Solo-Cup-toting co-eds interspersed among the scantily clad perma-stoned set that has come to define the festival.


Don’t Miss:

Childish Gambino: You may recognize Childish Gambino as actor and 30 Rock writer Donald Glover from NBC’s Community. But before I could figure out how I recognized him, Gambino stunned me by putting on the best live hip-hop concert I’ve ever seen, out-performing and out-rapping last year’s Bonnaroo heavyweights Lil’ Wayne and Wiz Khalifa by an embarrassingly wide margin. With extensive credentials but little commercial success, Gambino still benefits from the new artist inferiority complex and works tirelessly to impress his audience. His bassist and drummer are fantastic musicians and entertainers in their own right, and as a group, they were the knockouts of last year’s festival. Look for excellent songwriting and unmatched flow, as well as catchy hooks off his new album, CAMP. Childish Gambino will not disappoint.


Umphrey’s McGee’s unique brand of psychedelic jammy goodness will be like a spoonful of colorful medicine after a long, hot day of wandering between shows, tents, and campsites. Even if you aren’t a dedicated fan, Umphrey’s will electrify with their funky sound and grooveable rhythms.


Bottom Line: Bonnaroo’s lineup once again has more depth than any festival of its kind. Despite the fact that some corporate sponsors have attempted to squeeze authenticity out of the event, the festival remains a thriving scene. Beware the paralyzing heat and dust, and try to pack in as much water, nutritious food, and souvenir cash as you can. If you are brave and optimistic, this is guaranteed to be the best weekend of your summer.


Coachella, Indio, CA, April 13 – 15 (Patriots’ Day Weekend) and April 20 – 22:


Cost: SOLD OUT (from $550.00 on eBay)


Lineup Highlights: Radiohead, The Black Keys, and Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg headline. In accordance with these two legendary West Coast rappers, the lineup appeals to both native Californians, as well as to the rest of us with Golden State sensibilities. From mellow folk rockers like Bon Iver, The Head and the Heart, and M. Ward to electro up-and-comers like M83, The Weeknd, and Neon Indian, San Francisco flower children and L.A. grunge rockers alike will rejoice.


People Watching: Even the biggest music junkies should avoid this festival if you are at all deterred by Hipster culture. You will mostly find people who use words like “fashionista,” “upcycled” and “ironic” in everyday conversation and who view being a Barista as a legitimate career path.


Don’t Miss:

Azealia Banks: This spunky, c-word dropping rapperette from across the pond is blowing up online with her new single, 212. Any chick who can beat Lil’ Kim in a cuss-off and favors Moombahton over traditional hip-hop beats earns an A+ in my book.


Radiohead has been shaping Coachella’s image as a festival since its first legendary show in 2004. A hometown favorite and festival veteran, Radiohead will pull out all the stops with this performance. They should be playing songs off their new album, The Kings of Limbs, as well as old hits from their classic albums.


Bottom Line: Unless you’re planning on skipping out on a week of classes to road trip to California, you’re going to have to fly. This means dropping the big bucks, but the too-good-to-be-true lineup may well be worth the tradeoff. If you are willing to brave the trendy masses, you will be rewarded with perfect festival weather, great facilities, and the best lineup of the season.


Ultra Music Festival, Miami, FL March 23 – 25:


Cost: SOLD OUT (from $500.00 on eBay)


Lineup Highlights: Ultra is without a doubt the best festival for seeing live electronic music in the world. The best of the best from every genre – Dubstep, Drum ‘n Bass, Trance, Electro-Rock, Mashup – will be playing their biggest shows of the year. Tufts favorites Avicii and Pretty Lights will share the stage with David Guetta, Bassnectar, Justice and Skrillex to name just a few.


People Watching: The Rave Culture of the ‘00s is alive in Downtown Miami. Though many report drug use to be relatively tame at most big-name festivals, at Ultra you’ll find neon and nudity that can only be explained by the kinds of chemicals found in Lindsay Lohan’s purse. This makes for a uniquely rowdy party atmosphere that lasts 24 hours a day, consisting of mostly college kids on Spring Break and dedicated clubbers, both in rare form.


Don’t Miss:

French rockers M83 broke onto the American scene this year with their outstanding album, Hurry Up, I’m Dreaming. With a melodic, ambient, dream-like sound and an exceptionally heavy hand on the reverb knob, M83 has achieved that rare confluence of originality and commercial potential. Their recent show at the House of Blues in Boston was a popular success, and this up-and-coming group will thrive in the huge crowds at Ultra.


Justice: This Francophone power couple has been a mainstay on the electronic circuit for years, but their newest release, Audio, Video, Disco (Latin for “I hear, I see, I learn”), ups the ante for electronic music and affirms their sizeable musical chops. They’ve even been lucky enough to have their single, “On’n’On,” which borrows heavily from Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, remixed by legendary producer Rick Rubin. If their past sets at Ultra offer any indication of their potential, seeing Justice will be a no-brainer.


Bottom Line: Coupled with Miami’s outrageous nightlife, Ultra is an unparalleled festival party. Why not get two birds stoned at once with this Spring Break/Music Festival double-whammy?


*Jumbo Bonus!* The Concrete Jungle Experiment: Tufts’ own Jimmy Sagan, Mike Latimer, and Sebastian Vik have teamed up with young DJs and rising stars in the Miami community to produce a small, pre-Ultra music festival that captures the essence of Miami’s Graffiti Culture.  Triarchy, Simon Sh:Out, and Bailey Smalls will be playing. Tickets start at $22.50, and are available at


Electric Forest, Rothbury, MI June 28 – July 1 :


Cost: $240.00 and up


Lineup Highlights: The String Cheese Incident and festival regular Bassnectar’s headline. Rising stars in the electronic community, Zeds Dead, 12th Planet, Datsik and Gramatik will also be performing.


People Watching: Electric Forest is set in a beautiful birch forest in rural Michigan, aptly named “Sherwood Forest.” Some trees come wrapped with sound-sensitive colored lights that pulse and resonate in rhythm with live music, while others are strung up with hammocks and swings as spots for tired concert goers to catch a few z’s. This ethereal setting attracts a similarly spiritual crowd of fans and music fanatics. This is a scene for earthy bohemians and free spirited hippies, or just us regular folk hoping for a taste of their groovy counter-culture.


Don’t Miss:

Thievery Corporation’s rich global sound combines talented live musicians with electronica and reggae beats. While some electronic groups fail to impress live, Thievery Corporation’s live instrumentals and ambient vocals assure a visually appealing experience to accompany their sophisticated sound.


Bottom Line: This destination festival is the weird, artsy little brother of Bonnaroo, but with a cooler venue and cheaper tickets. Since this festival remains under the radar, local vendors and merchants replace brand names and sponsors found at most other festivals. There is a wide and varied list of performers, but the one thing they have in common is that they will entertain and excite audiences in this beautiful setting.


This article has been revised to reflect the following correction on April 8th, 2012:

An earlier version incorrectly stated that the Coachella lineup would be split between two separate weekends. In actuality, the same lineup will be featured on both the April 13-15 and the April 20-22 dates.

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