The constant onslaught of music festivals these days makes it nigh on impossible to keep track of who’s playing where and when. Happily, the fall brings something of a respite — with clouds gathering and temperatures dropping, the number of festivals on any given weekend also starts to decline, leading to a more sensible distribution of acts across line-ups, and a selection of excellent (and reasonably priced) festivals to choose from. If you’re thinking of getting in a sneaky festival trip before winter takes hold, then look no further — here’s our essential guide to the best US-based music festivals this fall.
September 16-18, Austin, TX
Line-up: Arcade Fire, Fleet Foxes, Manu Chao, Empire of the Sun
This weekend, kids! If you’re still um-ing and ah-ing about the idea of a last-minute road trip/cheap flight down to Texas for the biggest Austin-based music event that isn’t South by Southwest, then rejoice, because apparently single-day passes are still available for Sunday. And The Eagles aren’t playing this year!
How much: $90 for a single-day pass for Sunday
September 21-24, Nashville, TN
Line-up: M. Ward, Justin Townes Earle, Cults, Foster the People, Big KRIT
Like pretty much everyone else, we tend to instinctively associate Nashville with country music. Clearly the city’s brain trust is aware of this fact, as this annual event seems to be an attempt to steer Nashville away from its boot-scootin’ image and reposition the city as a repository of musical talent across a variety of genres. The festival’s been held annually for the last five years, and the line-up for 2011 event is certainly eclectic: there’s a nod to the city’s country heritage in the presence of acts like M. Ward and Justin Townes Earle, but there’s also an emphasis on the modern in the form of people like Cults and Big KRIT.
How much: $65 for a four-day wristband, or $25 per single show
September 28-October 2, Seattle, WA
Line-up: Ladytron, Holy Fuck, Mad Professor, Moby (DJ set), oOoOO, Zomby
We mentioned this a while back in a previous roundup of festivals that were looking like they were shaping up well, although at that point we were really going on the strength of previous years, as much of the 2011 line-up hadn’t been announced yet. It has now, and it’s an intriguing one — there’s 113 artists playing over the course of five days, and we’ll be honest and say that there’s plenty with whom we’re not familiar. But then, that’s part of the fun of festivals, particularly when they’re held in the middle of Seattle rather than out in the desert. Right?
How much: $200 for a wristband
September 30-October 2, Asbury Park, NJ
Line-up: Portishead, Jeff Mangum, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Shellac, Mogwai, Thee Silver Mount Zion Orchestra
The big one, especially for anyone whose love of music doesn’t quite extend to staying in a tent for days on end. If you’ve never been to an ATP, you really owe it to yourself to check one out — a more civilized and pleasant music festival you never did see, and this one’s particularly good as a) they’re still selling day tickets and b) it’s two hours’ drive from NYC. Do we want to go? Yes.
How much: $60 for Friday, $99 for Saturday or Sunday. If it’s Jeff Mangum you’re super-keen to see, then you’d best check out the festival website, as there’s complications around what tickets do and don’t get you into see his set.
October 6-9, Los Angeles, CA
Line-up: CSS, Lindstrøm, Gang Gang Dance, MEN
Filter magazine’s annual festival has a decidedly danceable bent this year. While CSS’s recent albums have been lackluster, they still put on a decent live show, but in Flavorpill’s opinion, the real drawcard on this bill is the majestic Lindstrøm, whose DJ sets and live shows are both consistently top notch (we’re not sure which he’s performing here — but either way, it’ll be worth seeing). The other attraction of this event is that festival wristbands are a very reasonable $20 — shit, you could fly to LA from just about anywhere in the country and still end up spending less than you would on a CMJ pass. Food for thought.
How much: $20 for a wristband
October 12-15, Athens, GA
Line-up: Throwing Muses, Bob Mould, lots of indie bands we’ve never heard of (yet)
Athens is a city that’s made a disproportionately great contribution to the world of music — it’s home to 115,000 people, and has given us almost that many great bands (OK, so we’re exaggerating, but you get the idea). As such, it’s perhaps surprising that it’s not been a more prominent stop on the festival circuit over the years. The Athens Popfest is the city’s biggest annual music festival, and we’d love to make it down there one year to check it out. The most well-known acts on this year’s bill (which, pleasantly, eschews the idea of headliners to list bands in alphabetical order) are Throwing Muses and Bob Mould, but the majority of bands are local indie types.
How much: $70 for a wristband, or $12-$17 per individual show
October 15-16, San Francisco, CA
Line-up: Empire of the Sun, Cut Copy, Death Cab for Cutie, Beach House, Death from Above 1979
This festival takes place on a man-made island in the middle of San Francisco Bay — the eponymous Treasure Island, which has a fascinating history (you can read all about it on the the festival website.) As far as the music goes, this is a pretty competent collection of festival crowd-pleasers — the likes of Empire of the Sun and Cut Copy always bring the party for the fluoro crowd, but the real attraction here is a chance to see the resurgent Death from Above 1979 tearing up a festival stage again.
How much: $119.50 for a two-day pass, or $69.50 for a single day
October 18-22, New York, NY
Line-up: Zola Jesus, Handsome Furs, CSS, Neon Indian, Metronomy, Wombats
As with Decibel, the appeal here is as much due to the fact that this takes place smack bang in the middle of one of the US’s great cities as it is to do with who’s playing. CMJ is always endearing chaos — you can plan out your itinerary as much as you like, but inevitably, you end up stumbling from one Lower East Side venue to another, only to find that the band you wanted to see aren’t on for another two hours, and the place is full anyway. But then, that’s part of the appeal — you’re just as likely to stumble across someone great you’ve never heard of instead. We’re not a fan of the recent trend of too-cool-for-school Brooklyn venues putting on CMJ shows without recognizing CMJ badges — but all in all, this is a worthwhile investment of a few days. It is expensive, though.
How much: $475 for a full badge that gets you into everything ($280 if you’re a student), or $149 for a show pass (which covers music and film events only, and in our opinion is definitely the way to go)
October 29-30, Asheville, NC
Line-up: Flaming Lips, M83, Tangerine Dream, Suicide, Crystal Castles
Is it just us, or does seeing Tangerine Dream and the Flaming Lips on the same bill raise hopes of one hell of a tripped-out dream collaboration? Also, we are all for a festival named after Robert Moog — can we suggest that they call any festival sideshows “MiniMoogs”?
How much: $184.50 for a weekend pass, or $75 for a single day
November 4-6, Austin, TX
Line-up: Slayer, M83, Public Enemy, The Rapture, Henry Rollins
We occasionally wonder whether Austin residents get tired of music festivals. Still, it must be easier to warm to constant hordes of glow stick-toting tourists trampling through your town when they come accompanied by consistently great collections of bands. This festival is in its fifth year and is characterized by some pretty eclectic line-ups — this year’s event features an indie stage headlined by Spoon and Passion Pit, a heavily inclined stage with Slayer, The Damned and Cannibal Corpse, a hip-hop/dance stage with Public Enemy and OFWGKTA, and a comedy/spoken word stage featuring Henry Rollins, Reggie Watts, and various others. Something for everyone, indeed.
Tickets: $135 for a three-day pass, or $55 for a single day. Or you can shell out $270 for a “PIP Pass,” which gets you free beer all weekend and two meals a day. And a beach towel. Sweet.