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The best music festivals in America you can’t afford to miss

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Wait, it’s already time to think about music festival season?

It feels like it was just yesterday we were wiping 16 ounces of Bud Light spilled on us by a fellow fan distracted by an electrifying Zane Lowe DJ set at the Governor’s Ball Music Festival in New York City. But, thankfully, the beer cologne has faded, the memories have been stored, and once again it is time for our rundown of the best music festivals in America for 2018.

We will continually update this list throughout the year as more lineups get announced, so stay tuned.

Note: All ticket prices are for one full weekend unless otherwise specified.

SXSW Music Festival — March 12-18 ($1,125, music badge; $1,450, platinum badge)

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Here’s the thing about the massive indie festival known as South by Southwest: It lasts a really long time, because it’s more than just a music festival. An annual convergence of interactive media and film as well as music, SXSW lasts from March 9-18, with the music festival beginning on March 12. Experiencing the music portion requires intense decision-making (and exercise), as the performances are spread across multiple venues throughout Austin, Texas.

For this year’s SXSW, it would be extremely prudent to invest in some comfortable shoes because there will be an almost unfathomable 570-plus artists to try and see over seven days. Wyclef Jean, J. Cole signee J.I.D., and mysterious rising talent Superorganism are just a handful of marquee artists and rising stars hitting the show. If you can’t make it to Austin, or have no desire to shell out $1,125 to run around trying to catch live shows, you may still be able to enjoy all that SXSW has to offer. Last year, every day of SXSW, including the music performances, were live-streamed on Facebook, and the same could be true this year.

Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival — April 13-15, April 20-22 ($430, general admission; $1,000, VIP)

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Since 1999, California’s Colorado Desert has been home to arguably the most popular music festival in America. If you can deal with the sometimes bro-y atmosphere, Coachella is like Christmas for music fans. Tens of thousands of attendees have been gifted with memorable performances from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, Rage Against The Machine, Portishead, M.I.A., Outkast, and a dream list of other acts. There are numerous camping options with free showers, portable toilets, free supermarket shuttle transportation, and mobile phone charging stations, so you can party all day, sleep, and wake up to do it all again without ever leaving.

This year’s lineup may be among the biggest in the event’s storied history, including headliners Beyoncé, Eminem (get used to seeing his name at festivals), and The Weeknd alongside more than 100 other popular acts. Grammy-nominated artists SZA, Kamasi Washington, and Jamiroquai will also be jamming the stages. Unfortunately, tickets for this year’s event sold out in hours, so if you want to go, you’ll have to get tickets via third-party venders, meaning you’ll likely pay at least $600 for a one-day pass. If that’s too rich for your blood, the Coachella festival has been live-streamed on YouTube every year since 2011.

Shaky Beats Music Festival — May 11-13 ($170, general admission; $400, VIP; $1,200, platinum)

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At the Shaky Beats Music Festival, the beat is king, and the kingdom is acres of grass trampled by dancing feet. The music at Shaky Beats skews heavily to EDM (electronic dance music), turning Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, Georgia into a rave each spring. The event, produced by Shaky Festivals may have debuted in 2016, but it’s shaping up to become a prominent fixture in every EDM fan’s festival plans.

This year, 50 acts spread across hip-hop and EDM are set to perform. Marshmello, the highest paid DJ of 2017, is returning, this time to headline along with Zedd and breakout EDM artist Kygo. Playboi Carti and Ludacris will provide the same hip-hop feel that A$AP Ferg and Nas delivered at last year’s edition. Unlike a few of the festivals on this list, Shaky Beats is slim on ancillary entertainment options outside of photo booths, though there are phone charging stations. That just means you’ll have to spend more time immersing yourself in the grooves. Oh, poor you.

Hangout Music Festival — May 18-20 ($280, general admission; $1,100, VIP; $1,700, Super VIP)

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Live music along sandy beaches may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Alabama, but Goldenvoice’s Hangout Music Festival makes that a reality every year. The festival, which started in 2010, has seen the Foo Fighters, Mumford & Sons, Queens of the Stone Age, Chance the Rapper, Migos, and many others turn the beaches on Alabama’s Gulf Shores into a live-music oasis. Beyond dynamic performances, Hangout offers attendees a chance to play beach volleyball and arcade games, hammocks for lounging, and remarkable food and art to take in. There’s even a wedding chapel at the festival, in case you find love between sets.

Hangout’s 2018 lineup makes the $280 general admission ticket price a steal. Kendrick Lamar, The Chainsmokers, and The Killers will headline a lineup of popular artists that also includes SZA, Anderson Paak, Foster The People, Halsey, and Pussy Riot. If you’re able to score a VIP ticket, you’ll be able to watch all the performances from the watery comfort of a pool. Now that’s a luxurious way to jam out.

Bottle Rock Napa Valley — May 25-27 ($340, general admission; $750, VIP; $3,900, platinum)

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Anyone who said tromping around on dirt and grass couldn’t be relaxing never spent a three-day weekend at the Napa Valley Expo for Bottle Rock Napa Valley. As the name suggests, Bottle Rock isn’t just a music festival — it’s a concert of comfort. In 2017, the event held the largest silent disco in the United States, hosted dozens of wineries, placed Laura Kimpton’s 12-foot-tall sculpture that spelled out “love” among the crowd, and rejuvenated attendees with a full-service spa. Oh, and it also had performances from Maroon 5, The Roots, and the late Tom Petty.

This year’s lineup is a brilliantly divers group, including Bruno Mars, Incubus, Snoop Dogg, Earth, Wind & Fire, and The Chainsmokers, all over the course of a single weekend. The rest of the 80-plus artists on the lineup add up to an impressive collection, worth the $340 general admission price. Unfortunately, all of the VIP and three-day ticket packages are sold out. Tickets for individual days hit the market January 17. If you want to get a pedicure and sip some wine while Snoop Dogg teaches you about the benefits of a gin and juice combination, you’ll want to try and get your hands on a ticket.

Boston Calling Music Festival — May 25-27 ($290, general admission; $650, VIP; $1,100, platinum)

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A music festival may be the closest most of us ever get to attending Harvard University. The Boston Calling Music Festival hasn’t been around long, but it puts on a heck of a show. Modest Mouse, Kendrick Lamar, and Run The Jewels have all graced the stage at Harvard’s Athletic Complex in Boston. Last year, producers Crash Line Productions added a comedy experience hosted by Hannibal Buress that featured stand-up from Buress himself, One Mississippi‘s Tig Notaro, and Pete Holmes.

This year, you can expect another multifaceted entertainment affair with 45 acts, including headliners Eminem, Jack White, and The Killers. Before you jam out to the main acts, artists such as St. Vincent, Queens of the Stone Ag, and Tyler, the Creator will guide you through a musical marathon that’s sure to put your dancing feet to the test. The comedy experience returns from last year, but it has been rebranded as Comedy and Entertainment and will feature appearances from Harvard graduate Natalie Portman, popular political podcast Pod Save America, hosted by former aides of Barack Obama, and comedians Martin Urbano and Tony Hinchcliffe.

Governor’s Ball Music Festival — June 1-3 ($305, general admission; $705, VIP Regular; $2,000, VIP Plus; $2,200, platinum)

Gov Ball 2018 Lineup Announced!

For three days every year since 2011, Randall’s Island Park in New York City has been home to the Governor’s Ball Music Festival. It’s where legendary hip-hop group Outkast and rock band Tool gave their first festival performances in New York City in a decade. It’s where Kanye West debuted new music from his then-unreleased album Yeezus. The feeling that history can be made at any point permeates the air at Governor’s Ball.

This year, the festival looks primed to add to its legacy. This will be Eminem’s first time headlining a New York City show of any kind since 2010. Jack White, Travis Scott, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs will round out the headliners. N.E.R.D, Diplo and Mark Ronson’s super group, Silk City, and Damian Marley will ensure the crowd is entertained well before the final performers hit the stage. Last year’s festival had gorgeous art installations, 36 holes of mini-golf, and enough food and alcohol options to make you forget the fact you’ve been standing for hours.

Bonaroo Music Festival — June 7-10 ($300, general admission; $1,700, VIP; $5,000, platinum)

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For more than 15 years, the Bonaroo Music Festival has been a mainstay in the music festival circuit, credited with revolutionizing music festivals through its unique mixture of rock artists from multiple generations, from Bob Dylan, to Dave Matthews Band, to Wilco. In recent years, the festival has expanded to include stars from other genres; Kanye West, U2, and Jay-Z are just a fraction of the superstars that have touched down at Great Stage Park in Manchester, Tennessee.

Headlined by Eminem, The Killers, and Muse, this year’s lineup maintains the Bonaroo spirit of generationally diverse acts. Aging stars Sheryl Crow and Niles Rogers will be rubbing shoulders with streaming stars Daniel Caesar and Khalid, while the promise of “two unique sets” from indie rock sensation Bon Iver has been teased on the lineup poster. There are also yoga classes, dance parties in barns, and a parade that runs through the campground. Add in multiple ways to camp (or glamp), and Bonaroo becomes a festival where the party never stops.

Firefly Music Festival — June 14-17 ($270 general admission; $750, VIP; $2,500, Super VIP)

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For five years, the Woodlands of Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware, have been transformed into the bustling Firefly music Festival each June. That has been more than enough time for Firefly to rise through the ranks to become one of the preeminent music festivals in the country. Last year’s festival alone hosted Missy Elliott, festival recluse Bob Dylan, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Chance the Rapper, Franz Ferdinand, and The Weeknd. You can also tap into your outdoorsy side by taking a nap in one of Firefly’s hammocks at The Nook, or take in acoustic performances at Firefly’s huge treehouse.

This year’s lineup may just be the young festival’s best one yet, including Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, Lil Wayne, The Arctic Monkeys, and The Killers. The Nook and Firefly’s treehouse performances are returning this year, along with nighttime light shows in the 105-acre forest, and headphone dance parties. Within minutes of stepping onto the grounds, you’ll realize this is not your average music festival.

Update: Added the latest top music festivals for 2018

Editors' Recommendations

Keith Nelson Jr.
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Keith Nelson Jr is a music/tech journalist making big pictures by connecting dots. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY he…
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