I’ll be the first to admit it — I’m a music geek, who often plans vacations based around concert and festival dates. In my estimation, there’s no better way to truly experience a new region, and the ever-evolving, annual festivals of North America give even the most jaded travelers reasons to keep exploring.
Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival
This tastemaker music and arts festival brings tens of thousands of gorgeous Generation Yers to the sweltering Southern California desert each spring to see some of the hottest bands and DJs in contemporary music (Bjork, Radiohead), reunited bands (Rage Against the Machine, Kraftwork), divas (Madonna, Prince) and buzz bands (MGMT, Does it Offend You, Yeah?). What started out as a one-day event in 1999 has exploded into a highly blogged-about, three-day romp with highlights like stunning, interactive art installations, celebrity sightings, three decked-out dance tents and plenty of shade at the Heineken beer gardens.
Undoubtedly, no North American city knows more about partying than New Orleans, and the weekend before Halloween is no exception, when the Voodoo Experience descends on City Park with three stages blasting everything from local brass bands to mainstream acts like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Duran Duran, Snoop Dog, R.E.M., Erykah Badu, The Fugees and Stone Temple Pilots. This festival’s Lagniappe (Cajun French for a “little something extra”): There’s plenty of authentic Creole and Cajun food to nibble on while you second line from one stage to the next.
Montreal Jazz Festival
The Guinness Book of World Records dubbed this annual event the largest jazz festival in the world, and it keeps on getting grander each year. (And chances are 2009 will be the best yet, as the festival celebrates its 30th birthday.) Not only will fans get to see jazz greats like Dave Brubeck in a venue with impeccable acoustics like Montreal’s Jean-Duceppe Theatre, but there’s also hundreds of free outdoor concerts spanning the genres of big band, pop, world, soul and blues. This year’s lineup featured the likes of Aretha Franklin, Al Green, TV On The Radio, Public Enemy, Steely Dan, Taj Mahal, Gilberto Gil and The Wailers, among a seemingly endless list of others.
South by Southwest
Now in its 23rd year, the Austin, Texas, South by Southwest (SXSW) festival promises to showcase emerging and establish artists who you’ll be reading about and listening to in the years ahead. Some 1,400 bands — including The Stooges, Kings of Leon, Amy Winehouse, and Austin’s homegrown indie band, Spoon — rocked the 2007 festival, while the likes of the Black Keys and Ben Harper drew big crowds at the four-day event in 2008. In addition to hearing guest speakers like the Talking Heads’ David Byrne or The Who’s Pete Townsend, you’ll probably be rubbing elbows with your favorite bands at one of the many official SXSW daytime parties.
Originally conceived as a touring, Woodstock-like event for the grunge era, Lolapalozza brought alternative rock, punk and hip hop to venues across the U.S. in the early to mid-’90s. However, after a six-year hiatus, Perry Farrell (Lolapalozza’s creator and the lead singer of Jane’s Addiction) revived his beloved side project, since staging it as an annual festival held in Chicago’s Grant Park. Like its festival-goers from the early days (who have likely traded in their faded flannel for preppy ties and button-down shirts), Lolapalozza has matured, and kids 10 and under are invited to rock out to Pearl Jam and Nine Inch Nails with mom and dad for free.