Ranking Criteria for North American Music Festivals
Finally, some festivals seem to be more of a party or a scene than others. So when it comes to choosing which festival to go to, as a handsome Texan once told me while waiting in line for a pop-up concert in Austin after the last day of Austin City Limits was cancelled: “You gotta pick your pony and ride it.”
So how do you pick your Pony?
If you’re new to festivals and trying to figure out which one to go to, there are several factors to consider which I’ll share below.
Music Vs Party
This first thing to consider is the most important: Why are you thinking of going to a music festival? Is it for the music? Like one of your all-time favorite bands are playing Lollapalooza 2015 and you’ve waited 6 whole years to see them live and at this point you’d fly to Timbuktu for their show (ahem, The War On Drugs)? Or is it because you like the frenzied party atmosphere and don’t really mind if you miss some bands here and there?
|Getting up close for The War on Drugs at Lollapalooza was well worth the wait.|
I have never met a festival that delivers fully on one of these extremes over another, but I have found some that tip more toward being about a party or a scene than being about the music. If the party is your thing, then go for it. For myself, I go for the music above all else. All festivals are kind of a party, so I don’t feel that I need one that specializes in parties and some festivals are better at making the music accessible than others. A festival that makes it easy to move between stages and meet my needs between sets is right up my alley.
City vs Camping
Second, I prefer city festivals over camping since the camping at Coachella was truly disgusting and this comes from someone who has lived and travelled to some pretty sketchy places. The thing to remember is that festival camping isn’t like that peaceful weekend you spent beside a lake or a forest last summer. Rather, it’s tens of thousands of people crammed together on tiny camping pads in a dusty field with little to no shade, with water and port-o-potties a 20 minute walk away, and at least for Coachella, you’re not supposed to bring your own food and camp stove in. Festivals like this are designed to make you spend as much money as possible on over-priced, tiny portions of mediocre food and seem to care very little about your comfort. No thanks. I’ll get my camping fix elsewhere.
|Pictured: Not Coachella camping.|
On the other hand, when attending a city festival you can check out different neighbourhoods, sleep more comfortably, eat outside of the festival grounds and often there will be aftershows since the evening performances end earlier on account of city bylaws. This means you can check out your favourite bands in cool venues and it also gives you an opportunity to mitigate scheduling conflicts. For example, during our recent Lollapalooza experience, instead of having to choose between seeing Alt-J and The War On Drugs at the festival who were playing at the same time on different stages, we were able to get tickets to Alt-J’s aftershow at the beautiful Aragon Theatre venue. Conflict resolved.
|The Aragon Ballroom in Chicago is a wonderful concert venue,|
Finally, each festival tends to have its own vibe and that is because of the people who tend to go to it. For my part, I prefer a more relaxed vibe because to me that enables the best music viewing experience.
So of the following big-time North American Festivals: Austin City Limits, Lollapalooza, Ottawa Bluesfest, and Coachella, here is my ranking from best to worst:
Ranking North American Music Festivals
For reasons I elaborated above, I love ACL since it is above all else, about the music. It’s along the shores of the beautiful Ladybird Lake, and takes place in one of my favourite cities I have ever been to. Austin is a vibrant, quirky, affordable, beautiful and friendly city that is a must-visit for any music lover.
|Pictured: exactly how Austin makes you feel.|
ACL is actually Lolla’s younger, southern sister, so I was keen to visit the festival that inspired my favourite. I also heard many good things about Chicago as a city and it did not disappoint. For such a large city, we found it very easy to get around and there was no shortage of fun places to eat, drink and explore throughout the city.
There were a lot of these kinds of people, mostly hanging out at the Perry Stage enjoying an all-day-long EDM dance party which gave the festival a bit of a frat party atmosphere. I liked the lack of beer gardens but the sound quality at the Sprint Stage left a lot to be desired. All in all, I’m glad that I got to go once and I would go back to Chicago in a heartbeat, but I’m not sure if I would go to Lolla again.
|A nice place to watch some music.|
3) Ottawa Bluesfest
Consider ACL and Lolla as sprints, and Ottawa Bluesfest a marathon. It takes place over 10 days in a park by the river in Ottawa and a few other venues hosting smaller shows. On weeknights, the shows start around 5pm and go until 10pm and then on weekends they last the whole day. There are no beer gardens which makes it great and despite the name, there is often a really diverse lineup of artists.
Coachella is held on a beautiful, but extremely dusty patch of land that features palm trees and mountain views, weird public art installations (like a giant, inflatable astronaut because Coachella) and even a ferris wheel.
Out of all the festivals I’ve been to, I found it to be the worst organized which meant it was difficult to get from camping into the festival and then once inside, if you had to go to the bathroom, get water or something to eat between sets, it would take so long that it was
First, the organizers barely provide the basics to meet your bathroom and hydration needs both outside the venue in the camping section and inside the concert grounds. This leads to such atrocious human behaviour such as people showering in the drinking water fountains, because who wants to pay $7US for a showers, and people peeing right in the middle of grounds where everyone is walking because they don’t want to spend the 45 minutes it takes to go to the bathroom thereby missing the next set.