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Your Guide to Music Festivals That Aren’t Lollapalooza

A fan watches The Vapors perform on the Sad Girls stage at Cruel World Festival at Pasadena's Rose Bowl, Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
A fan watches The Vapors perform on the Sad Girls stage at Cruel World Festival at Pasadena's Rose Bowl, Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Forget marquee festivals like Coachella, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Electric Daisy Carnival, Ultra, Governors Ball, and even Burning Man. They share similar lineups and have become bloated, inaccessible, and extortionate, making attending more of a challenge than an unforgettable (in a good way) musical experience. Also grown beyond fun level are the world-famous Glastonbury (U.K.), Rock in Rio (Brazil), Tomorrowland (Belgium), and Fuji Rock Festival (Japan). 

What’s more attractive is the boutique or destination festivals whose lineups read like you curated them yourself. Music Festival Wizard can help, trawling the entire globe to extract your dream lineup and destination. 

Pasadena, CA – May 20: Love And Rockets singer and guitarist Daniel Ash performs on the Outsiders stage at Cruel World Festival at Brookside at the Rose Bowl, on Saturday, May 20, 2023. (Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

California (Desert) Dreamin’

Thanks in part to Coachella becoming too expensive and impractical over the last few years, the Los Angeles-area festivals have multiplied, becoming hyper genre-fied in the process. There is Cruel World, BeachLife, Just Like Heaven, Ohana, HARD Summer, and the one that has everyone wondering if it’s a deep-fake with its mind-melting lineup, Fool in Love, featuring Lionel Richie, Diana Ross, Nile Rodgers & Chic, Al Green, Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Kool & the Gang, and Santana, among others.

The reliable incubator of future Coachella performers in their early raw days is Desert Daze. Held lakeside at Lake Perris about two hours east of L.A., the three-day festival comes in October, at the tail-end of the season. The underscoring energy of Desert Daze is psych rock, but there is so much more to absorb. Desert Daze culls artists from around the globe—it’s where I first heard Khruangbin, IDLES, King Gizzard, and the Lizard Wizard. It’s also where I saw Iggy Pop perform with such intensity I thought he might have a stroke, where Jarv Is… bantered the audience within an inch of their lives, and where My Bloody Valentine almost blew their stacks of speakers.

Non-EDM Dance Music in the Birthplace of Techno

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Detroit’s Movement, which takes place right in the Motor City’s downtown area at Hart Plaza on Memorial Day weekend. The electronic music festival has found the right home in the birthplace of techno and pays its respects accordingly. Movement is more about giving the original creators their due than it is jamming its lineups with predictable EDM schlager merchants. That’s not to say Movement is stuck in the past. On the contrary, it recognizes real-deal modern artists and slots them alongside their predecessor peers. Case in point, Fatboy Slim and Floating Points, Kevin Saunderson b2b Idris Elba, Ed Rush and Optical followed by the Martinez Brothers. The only drawback is not being able to be at every stage at the same time.   

04 August 2023, Schleswig-Holstein, Wacken: Lawrence Taylor, singer of the British band “While She Sleeps” stands on the Louder Stage during his band’s performance at Wacken Open Air. Photo: Axel Heimken/dpa (Photo by Axel Heimken/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Drinkers and Guitar Slingers in the Heartland

If you like guitars and you like whiskey—although that’s not a requirement—Kentucky is your destination in September for Bourbon and Beyond at Louisville’s Highland Festival Grounds. The festival’s whiskey tastings rival its smartly curated lineups, which this year feature a wide range, from Neil Young and Beck to Black Pumas and the Beach Boys. With most festival-goers a little sauced, this festival can’t help but become a relaxed and friendly social event that just happens to have 100 or so artists performing over its four-day stretch. If you’re looking for some branded musician alcohol or vittles, Bourbon and Beyond is likely the place to find it. Since you’re already in Kentucky, tack on a few days to your trip and return to the Highland Festival Grounds for the aptly titled Louder Than Life to have your head blown off by a stacked lineup of heavy rockers such as Slayer, Slipknot, Mötley Crüe, Mastodon, and Evanescence.

Hyped Crowds and Dream Lineups in CDMX

Over the border in Mexico City, Corona Capital kicks off Thanksgiving week with lineups that grow increasingly more impressive every year. Embedded in its title is this festival’s sponsor, whose deep pockets bring artists like the Cure, Blur, Pet Shop Boys, the Chemical Brothers, Pulp, Arcade Fire, and the Black Keys together in one weekend. As Noel Gallagher told me at the festival’s 2023 edition, when he saw the lineup, he said yes to the booking just so he could check out the other artists on the bill. Once an artist plays Corona Capital, it’s guaranteed they’re going to return as the reception is extremely gratifying. Vibrant Mexican festival-goers come out in droves to this event, which takes place right in the heart of the capital city. You can take a $10 rideshare to and from the festival, or, jump on the Metro that stops just outside its grounds. The number of international attendees is growing exponentially. The 2024 lineup is not announced yet, but if history tells us anything, it’s going to be a doozy.

SPAIN – JUNE 11: The singer Rosalia performs during the Primavera Sound, in the City of Rock, venue of the Primavera Sound Madrid 2023, on June 10, 2023, in Arganda del Rey, Madrid (Spain). This international music festival has for the first time had dual venues in Madrid and Barcelona. In Madrid, the Primavera Sound cancelled on the opening day, Thursday June 8th, some concerts in the main venue for security reasons, due to the adverse weather forecast and the flooding caused by the rains. (Credit: Ricardo Rubio/Europa Press via Getty Images)

From La Rambla Across the Pacific

Across the pond, Primavera Sound kicks off the European festival season with its flagship event in Barcelona the last weekend in May with headliners Pulp, Justice, Lana del Rey, Disclosure, the National, PJ Harvey, Mitski, and more. Taking place right on the seafront at the edge of the city’s tourist thoroughfare, La Rambla, it’s a whole city takeover with music and cultural programming for the entire week. The festival also has a music conference that has a built-in audience with industry folks in town for Primavera. If you can’t make that particular edition, Primavera also happens the following weekend in Porto, Portugal. The much-loved festival, which made its name because of its tasteful and gender-balanced curation, takes its brand to South America during the southern hemisphere’s spring months, with stops in Buenos Aires, Argentina, São Paolo, Brazil, Asunción, Paraguay, and Montevideo, Uruguay.

Family-Friendly Fêtes

Croatia arguably has the most festivals of the European summer with back-to-back, and sometimes overlapping, electronic music events, beginning as early as May and going through to September. The country’s stunning Game of Thrones-worthy setting on the Adriatic Sea, with multiple plum locations, is a big draw for music lovers who want to forget their troubles in the sparkling sun. On the flip side is the U.K. countryside, which rivals Croatia in number of festivals, both large and boutique. Mucky Weekender, which takes place on Vicarage Farm in Winchester, just outside of London on the first weekend of September, is a pocket-sized, grown-up dance music festival with outsized good vibes. The brainchild of Barry Ashworth of longtime party starters Dub Pistols, the 6,000-capacity, family-friendly festival doesn’t plan on getting any larger. As Ashworth says, “We are fiercely independent, and it’s a unique vibe created by the feeling that we are all one big family that makes Mucky so special to all those who attend.”