by Helen Grant
I usually keep track of music happenings by scanning specialty newsfeeds I’ve created. In the wake of the tornado my attention has been diverted. My freaky David Bowie space nipple antennae have been tuned to news on the home front: checking out info about benefit concerts for Moore and affected areas. So imagine the level of surprise one might feel to open an e-mail and discover an invitation to a little known music festival with a 2013 lineup that’s fairly impressive. Two headliners that immediately caught my attention: Wilco and Cat Power. While we’re at it, let’s add Mavis Staples, Sharon Van Etten, Calexico, Wild Belle, Gogol Bordello, and John Prine to the list.
Which festival is this you ask?
Nelsonville Music Festival.
Maybe you’ve heard of it since other bands and musicians that have played the festival are: The Flaming Lips, Samantha Crain, Wanda Jackson, The Avett Brothers, Andrew Bird, M. Ward, Roky Erickson, Kirt Vile and the Violators, Guided by Voices, The Swell Season, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, and many, many more. Maybe you haven’t.
If you’re wondering where exactly Nelsonville is, surprise: it’s in Ohio! Which in terms of expense seems a little more reasonable than flying out to one of the coasts for the Newport Music Festival (Rhode Island), The Governor’s Ball Music Festival (New York), or Pickathon (Oregon), to say nothing of how the price of the festival itself, this year a weekend pass runs $140, compared to Austin City Limits Music Festival, which is running $225 for a weekend pass right now. Both have some overlap in their lineup (Wilco and Wild Belle), which is why I make the comparison. Another fun fact: it’s been around for 8 years and it runs May 30- June 2.
With that in mind, it occurred to me to write about other “under the radar” music festivals which typically take place in summer (or around that time) and have either recently popped up or are obscure for one reason or another. For serious music nerds I’m sure you heard all about these before they were cool, although I’d like to think something on this list might surprise you yet. Bonus: a road trip is a prime opportunity to catch up on all those new releases you’ve been meaning to listen to, but just haven’t found enough uninterrupted time to do it.
Other notes: this will be broken down by geography and there might be a special category towards the end.
…My Ribbon of Highway…
Woody Guthrie Folk Festival (Oklahoma):
I’ve been out to this festival to interview John Fullbright and get some immersion time in the Oklahoma singer-songwriter folk scene. I know Okemah in July is hot, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t places you can cool off, for example there is getting a refreshing drink at the one-of-a-kind Brickstreet Cafe on 2nd and Broadway. A word of advice: I saw John Fullbright play the Crystal Theater a few years before he was Grammy nominated and the place was crazy packed, like all the theater seats were taken and you could barely find a spot to stand. Keep in mind this is Fullbright’s hometown. If you’re not going to the June 9th Summer Breeze concert in Norman, where Fullbright will be playing a free outdoor concert, I would suggest getting to the Pastures of Plenty early to claim the best spot possible.
Date and Location: July 10 – July 14 in Okemah, Oklahoma.
Who they snagged for 2013: John Fullbright, Parker Millsap, Samantha Crain, Damn Quails, Burn Sisters, and more.
Price range: Free. It’s a non-profit venture aimed at keeping Woody’s legacy alive. Funded in part by Oklahoma Arts Council and other sponsors and advertisers, it is willing to accept a donation should you feel of the giving spirit. Additionally if you’re parking at the festival there is a $15 fee to help offset some of the festival costs. There’s also a pre-festival benefit concert in Tulsa at Cains Ballroom. Headliner has yet to be announced.
Attractions: Explore all of Okemah, of course! It’s a small town and it’s totally day trip worthy if wholesome folk music is your jam. Also be sure to check the schedule to see where documentaries about folk music are screening.
Tulsa Music Festival (Oklahoma):
Here’s the deal with Tulsa Music Festival. It started just this year. And while I’d intended to check it out last weekend (May 25th), the tornadoes happened and that shifted my priorities significantly. At any rate, someone told me it was started to replace Free Tulsa, which replaced DFest (Diversafest). I don’t know if any of that was true, but I do know it has a philanthropic component: Project Reach. Essentially Project Reach aims to better the lives of children, single moms, widows, and other families in need. The festival is organized by tulsanightout.com. Reports indicate that it had a great turn out and so organizers are already planning for next year.
Date and Location: Brady Arts District in Tulsa, Oklahoma. May 25th
Who they snagged for 2013: Admiral Twin, Christine June, Jana Jordan Squires, and more.
Price range: Free.
Attractions: Vendors, food, activities, and it’s Tulsa. Finding something to do or sight-see should be easy. I hear there’s an odd auditory phenomenon called the Center of the Universe. It’s man made, but unintentionally so. Hmmm. Mysterious.
Center of the Universe Music Festival (Oklahoma):
Oh, hey what do you know! So, this festival was created to fill the void DFest left when it ended. It too was started just this year. It appears Tulsa is itching to bring back a music festival and put itself back on the summer festivals map. All of this sounds great to me. It is located in Brady Arts District and centers around, yep, you guessed it: that strange auditory phenomenon that goes by the moniker Center of the Universe. It is said if you stand there and face whichever direction you like, that whatever noise you make will echo in your ears alone. Or so they say. Also there are no structures nearby that would cause voices to echo as one would ordinarily expect. Sounds like a reason to go!
Date and Location: July 19-20. Brady Arts District in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Who they snagged for 2013: Neon Trees, One Republic, Mayer Hawthorne, MuteMath and more.
Price range: Free. But for special treatment there are two upper tier options. $135 gets you into a special BOK Zone. And $245 gets you VIP treatment and discounts on merch.
Attractions: Well, there is the Center of the Universe, but again it’s also in Tulsa so finding good eats and sight-seeing will not be difficult. If anything, you will likely have a hard time picking just one spot to visit between shows. Also in a musical vein, if folk is your thing, there’s the Woody Guthrie Center to check out too.
Schwarzstock will celebrate it’s fourth year with a few notable changes. Usually it takes place in May to celebrate Doug and Philip Schwarz’s birthdays, but this year there’s news that it’ll happen in early October. Since this is Oklahoma, that should mean it’ll be fairly pleasant outside *fingers crossed*. We’ve written about it before, and I’ll likely write a preview in advance of this year’s event, but if you love our local indie music scene, this is an excellent one-night getaway under the stars.
Date and Location: Early October on Doug’s family farm (this time it’ll be on the family’s 160 acres instead of their other 40 acre field) out near Yukon, Oklahoma. The location change is expected to better accommodate parking and camping.
Who they snagged for 2013: TBA, but I hear there’s someone big (well, of indie renown at least) headlining. That part would be a new feature too since they’re not Oklahomans, but they do have ties to Doug and other friends. And that’s about all I can say for now. Also Doug + committee do a great job curating a selection of indie Oklahoma bands. Past notables are: Horsethief, DEERPEOPLE, Feathered Rabbit, Painted Wolfe, The Wurly Birds, The Gentle Art of Floating, Skating Polly, etc.
Price range: $20-30.
Attractions: Oklahoma music, food, and all manner of goodness. For example: last year I believe a couple of Doug’s family members (or maybe they were family friends) drove a golf cart around with $1 jello shots. It was very popular, more importantly no one was injured. And because they are big on keeping it a safe and happy music party, last year once you were parked that was it. There was no going in and out, keep in mind it is only an overnight festival and they do serve food and drinks. Not sure if there is a herd of cows on this other property too, but hey, livestock! Also no molesting the livestock. But you can consensually molest each other as body painting has turned out to be a thing that’s been happening for a couple years now. Don’t forget your LED hula hoops either. Believe it or not, after the main headliner closes out the official portion night, the rave starts. Or at least that’s what Crystal Vision started at 2 a.m. during last year’s event. Do people dance party till the sunrises? You bet your sweet Oklahoman ass they do.
Those Middle States You Learned About in 5th Grade
True story, I actually lived in Arkansas during 5th grade. Anyway, Wakarusa is one I’ve known about for awhile, so it will likely not be new news to many. And I’ve seen friends posting on Facebook about gearing up for the trip this weekend. Still, if you haven’t heard of it, now is your chance to check it out if you’re in the mood for a whirlwind adventure just one “Red” state over.
Date and Location: May 30-June 2 on Mulberry Mountain “up the road” from Ozark, Arkansas.
Who they snagged for 2013: Widespread Panic, Dispatch, The Black Crowes, MuteMath, Calexico, Amon Tobin, Snoop Lion, Shovels and Rope and many, many more.
Price range: Full event runs $199, 3 days goes for $149, 2 days is $119, and the “Sunday Funday” is $59. Check the link for other options.
Attractions: Mountains. Nature. Interactive art pyramid, poster design contest, potentially you could spot big foot on a nature walk and if the nature walk fails, there’s a ferris wheel!
If ever there was a reason to visit Iowa, this would probably be it for me. It’s not that I have anything against Iowa per se, it’s that I’m not sure what else I’d want to do in that state. But I do find it heartening that this music festival started as a way to bring arts and music back into Des Moines. It’s in its 6th year and you can check the video (and others on youtube) to get a few clues about the organizers and their sense of humor.
Date and Location: July 5-6 at Western Gateway Park in Des Moines, Iowa.
Who they snagged for 2013: Check the video below, it’s more fun that way. Or you can click here. Keep in mind only Friday is listed, lineup for Saturday is yet to be released it seems.
Price range: 2 day pass is $65 in advance, $80 the day of the event. 1 day pass is $39, but goes up to $49 the day of the event. Check this link for details.
Attractions: I really wouldn’t know. But I’d be willing to find out.
Nelsonville Music Festival (Ohio):
Pretend everything I said at the beginning of this list is in this space. Let’s move onto the details shall we?
Date and Location: May 30-June 2 in Nelsonville, Ohio.
Who they snagged for 2013: Wilco, Cat Power, Sharon Van Etten, John Prine, Gogol Bordello, Wild Bell, Calexico, Mavis Staples, Cotton Jones, and more!
Price range: $140 for a weekend pass. Other festival options can be found here.
Attractions: Many things and you should harness the power of Google to look them up. Or check the links under the festival tab “At the Fest” to see the food and arts vendors. They also have kids activities. Additionally, I’m told the following about the festival:
“It’s gotten bigger each year, but it’s never lost its spirit of freedom and non-corporate nature. Also this year they’re moving into a zero waste goal. They’re hoping to recycle and compost at least 90% of all the materials thrown away at the festival.”
Midpoint Music Festival (Ohio):
You may have heard of this, it’s in its 13th year and has featured acts such as: Dirty Projectors, Best Coast, The Walkmen, Dinosaur Jr., Tom Tom Club, Ralph Stanley, Andrew Bird, Cut Copy, The Joy Formidable, Okkervil River, Booker T Jones, Felice Brothers,Those Darlins, Mates of State, Phantogram, Surfer Blood, Caribou, A Place to Bury Strangers, Holy F*ck, Fang Island, Toro y Moi, TEEN, Tennis, Lord Huron, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Cults and Heartless Bastards.
Date and Location: Sept. 27-29 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Who they snagged for 2013: Perfume Genius, Foxygen, Daughter, War Paint, Kirt Vile, Youth Lagoon, Shuggie Otis, Baths, and more!
Price range: Advance passes $69, Day of $79, and VIP $169. Click here for more details.
I Know, I Know. It’s Not in the Midwest, but IT IS Probably Worth the Effort Just to Escape the Summer Heat:
Grand Point North Festival (Vermont):
I became familiar with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals when they’d opened for The Avett Brothers in Oklahoma City a few years ago. I remember being impressed by the sheer energy they had on stage, so it doesn’t surprise me at all they’ve ridden that momentum and started their own music festival in 2011, which is something they’d dreamed of doing for 7 years prior.
Date and Location: September 14-15 at Waterfront Park in Burlington, Vermont.
Who they snagged for 2013: Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires, The Felice Brothers, Shovels & Rope, Gov’t Mule, City and Colour, Bell Pines and more.
Price range: Pre-season 2 day tickets run $69, after that it bumps up to $79. 1 day tickets run $49. Click here for more details.
Attractions: This is from the website, although I’m sure with a bit of Google-powered effort, you could find more.
AfroPunk Fest (Brooklyn, New York):
This one has been on my radar for awhile, and maybe someday I’ll actually go. If you’ve ever seen the music documentary “AfroPunk“, which used to be available on Netflix Instant Play but can now be streamed via Amazon Instant, then you’ll readily identify with this statement about AfroPunk Fest: “I would see more black people with mohawks than I’d ever seen my entire life. You see people who you thought you were the only one of.” -P.O.S., musician.
Additionally you might want to know this:
“When Mike Morgan and James Spooner joined forces in 2002, their focus was giving a voice to thousands of multi-cultural kids fiercely identifying with a lifestyle path-less-traveled. Morgan, a visionary with 15 years in the music industry, instinctively understood that the indie rock/punk/hardcore scene had powerful appeal beyond the predictable Caucasian audience; the passion evident in writer-director Spooners hours of riveting hand-shot footage was the indisputable proof. The result: 2003’s ‘Afro-punk’, the seminal cult classic film spotlighting Black Punks in America.
AFROPUNK became a touchstone of a cultural movement strongly reminiscent of the early days of Hip-Hop. Alternative urban kids across the nation (and across the globe) who felt like outsiders discovered they were actually the core of a boldly innovative, fast-growing community. The online members have been the driving force behind the exploding AFROPUNK (AP) culture, creating an authentic virtual home in www.afropunk.com, and nurturing the music’s best and brightest via expansion of the Liberation Sessions, a live performance series hosted by Spooner.
As the AP movement continued to gain momentum and influence, everyone began to notice. The Liberation Sessions went front-and-center at CMJ and SXSW, press coverage ranged from Pitchfork, URB, Vibe, and Nylon to The New York Times, Variety, Entertainment Weekly, and The Los Angeles Times.
In 2005, the very first annual AFROPUNK Festival debuted to wildly enthusiastic crowds at the iconic Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). Co-curated by Morgan and Spooner, the festival celebrated and unified the cultural cornerstones of AFROPUNK: music, film, skate, and most importantly, the fiercely independent and influential individuals that are the lifeblood of the AP community.”
Date and Location: August 24-25th Brooklyn, New York.
Who they snagged for 2013: TBA, but organizers assure us it will “melt our faces off.” But for an idea of who plays this festival this is a sample of the 2012 lineup: T.V. on the Radio, Janelle Monae, Reggie Watts, Toro y Moi, Das Racist (who’ve since broken up), Bad Rabbits, and more!
Price range: Free. Yes. You read that right. They work to make it open to the public via sponsorships.
Attractions: Well for starts, there’s this.
But there’s also a food truck round up called Bites and Beats, an arts market, a 12 best bikes Biker show, and of course the Nike Battle for the Streets competition for street skating that’s been a festival staple. Other notes? It’s become quite multicultural, so if you’re not African American or you’re a mix of many things and love the acts on their lineups, then this is quite possibly one of the most multiracial festivals you could attend this summer.
Solid Sound Festival (Massachusetts):
Ok. So it is on a coast. BUT if you ever wanted to go to a Wilco curated music festival, this would be that special summer music trip. Also nice summer weather!
Date and Location: June 21-23 at Mass MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) in Adams, Massachusetts, which is closer to New York and New Hampshire than the Atlantic Ocean. (read: Adams is pretty much in the NW corner of the state.)
Who they snagged for 2013: Story Pirates, Neko Case, Foxygen, Os Mutantes, Reggie Watts, Low, Yo Lo Tengo, and more!
Price range: 3 day pass is $149, 1 day pass is $65. Click here for more details.
Attractions: Read about the art installations and activities here.
Psssh Knew About It: But Hey Didn’t Know That!
Compared to other mega music festivals like Sasquatch, Bonnaroo, and Coachella, here are a couple of alternatives that are not too outrageously priced for what you get and have consistently top-notch lineups and are not that far from Oklahoma. Which is to say, Chicago and Austin are a lot closer than San Fransico, Portland, Seattle, New York City, and so on and so forth. Anyone with a working knowledge of a US map knows this, so let’s proceed into some familiar territory and see if we can’t discover something new.
Pitchfork Music Festival (Chicago):
I’ll be honest: I’m not a fond of Pitchfork’s music reviews. Sometimes they’re good and other times they read like clickbait. On the flip side I do like the other things they do: interviews and profiles, advance listens, videos, and their music festival. This is their 8th year.
Date and Location: July 19-21 in Chicago, Illinois. Or Illinoise, if you know what I mean.
Who they snagged for 2013: So many I want to see and/or would want to see again I can’t even list them all. But here’s a few: Toro y Moi, Joanna Newsome, The Breeders, Woods, Yo La Tengo, Mikal Cronin, Foxygen, Low, Merchandise, and more!
Price range: A pass for the weekend is $120. 1 day passes go for $50. Click here to see more details.
Attractions: It’s Chicago. Good luck finding a way to be bored between all that awesome music. I’ve been several times in the past decade for a weekend and for a week, I still have a list of things I’d like to see that I didn’t see the last time I was there, like The Field Museum. And like most festivals Pitchfork has other features too. There’s shopping for vinyl, a craft fair, and a book fort too.
What you might not know about this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival: If you kept your eyes open, you could have scored free weekend passes earlier this year. From multiple online sources even. And if you lived near Norman you may recognize two names on this lineup: Foxygen and Merchandise. Where might you have seen them? At Opolis this past Spring. Also Mac Demarco played there recently too. He’s on the lineup as well.
Austin City Limits (Texas):
I’m not going to pretend we didn’t apply for media passes, because we totally did. But if I weren’t so keen to cover it as journalist, I would make a nice end of the year music trip out of this. Also because this is in Texas, October is like the end of summer weather anyway. This year they’ve split it into two weekends. Here’s something a lot of people are confused about: is the lineup the same both weekends? Yes! Also the first weekend is sold out. So really you can only pick up passes to the second weekend at this point.
Date and Location: Oct 4-6 and Oct 11-13 in Austin, Texas.
Who they snagged for 2013: This isn’t objective, but I’m going to list what I’d want to see and then do around of names that are big draws for others. It’s fitting when you think about how it is split into two weekends, really. Remember the lineup is the same both weekends. Alright first round: Wilco, The National, The Black Angels, Local Natives, Tame Impala, Passion Pit, Neko Case, Toro y Moi, Foxygen, Widowspeak, Wild Nothing, Vampire Weekend, Silver Sun Pickups, and more. Second round: Muse, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Phoenix, Atoms for Peace, Lionel Richie, Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys, Queens of the Stone Age and more!
Price range: Weekend pass no frills: $225. For other options check here.
Attractions: It’s Austin so lack of things to do is not an issue. Honestly, I wouldn’t even assume I’d have time to go off the reservation at any point unless I needed a couple of hours to get a quiet moment. And with the sheer number of bands playing, good luck finding time between sleeping and eating to do any real sight-seeing.
What you may not know? Nerdwallet determined that Austin City Limits Music Festival was the best bang for your buck in terms of ticket prices for acts on the lineup. Although I think they got Lollapalooza’s and ACLMF’s ticket prices mixed up in their graph.
Arguably the best preview video I’ve seen from any of these festivals. Bonus: Tame Impala’s “Elephant” soundtracks it.
Let me end by acknowledging one omission: I can’t imagine there’s a reasonably well-informed teen or adult alive that hasn’t heard of Lollapalooza or seen it spoofed in some way. Actually the most recent parody of it I saw was in Bob’s Burgers. It went by the name “Lolla-pa-foods-a Festival.” There was a terrible, but spot on parody of Tori Amos too. In a scene: piano bench grinding musician with red hair singing a song with thinly veiled double entendres. So yeah, I chuckled. And while Lolla is in Chicago too, even happens in the summer Aug 2-4, you should know it is sold out. So I don’t want any grief that it is not on this list because obviously it’s not that under the radar.