The last two summers of my life were spent galavanting around the United States music festival circuit slinging tacos and dancing all night with some of my best friends. Life has been good and so have the festivals.
People always ask what my favorite festivals are, which is such a hard question, so for now here’s my top 5 United States music festivals of 2015.
1. Wakarusa Music Festival
Wakarusa Music Festival in the Mulberry Mountains in Arkansas. Waka sees about 20,000 campers each year. I had anticipating going to this festival for the two years prior but didn’t actually make it there until 2015. The first big music festival (big as in, more than a thousand people) I ever attended was Harvest Music Festival held at the same location as Wakarusa, so I had been dying to get back to those beautiful mountains.
I went with the Peace Love Tacos crew but a lot of friends from my college town in Oklahoma made their way to this festival too, so I had beautiful familiar faces to see all over the place! Our vendor neighbors became our buddies very quickly. They happened to be representing the oldest vineyard in Arkansas and had plenty of yummy wine to taste. (And I did taste plentyyyyyy.)
One of the best things about this venue is that there is a waterfall about a 25 minute hike away from the main stage. Since we were there early to set up the food truck we had plenty of chance to trek down to the water before all the other festival goers got there.
I saw The Floozies, STS9, EOTO, Big Gigantic, The Roots, Lotus, Russ Liquid, and Chance the Rapper. One of my favorite performances was by Rising Appalachia, two strong women with mesmerizingly beautiful voices and a background in folk music. Nahko, from Nahko and Medicine for the People even joined for a few songs which was so awesome to see him on a smaller stage again.
Another one of my favorite sets ended up being a sunrise set that I hadn’t planned on going to. I had just closed down the taco truck for the night (yes, just before sunset) and some of my beautiful friends came to swoop me up before heading to the last set of the ‘night.’ I mustered a tiny bit of energy and trekked to the Satellite Stage only to fall in love with yet another violinist (I have a thing for violinists). This one was a guy that goes by Govinda. Classical violin meets electronic music. <—– Pretty much the key to my heart and soul. It was the perfect sunrise set to close out a very long work shift.
Another reason Waka tops out as my favorite for this past year is because as of 2016, the festival is on a hiatus; which means that Waka is a bit of a prize.
2. Summer Camp Music Festival (SCAMP!)
Summer Camp Music Festival in Chillicothe, Illinois which sees about 20,000 Scampers every year. This is the first festival that I did with the Peace Love Tacos crew back in 2014. I only went on the recommendation of who is now my best friend but was then more of an acquaintance, Ciarra. I flew into Chicago and made my way to the festival with just a backpack and a hammock to sleep in for the weekend. I was welcomed so sweetly and fell in love with Peace Love Taco’s crew real fast.
Summer Camp 2015 was a reunion of all of that. We managed the same, awesome camping spot for about 40 people that we had managed the year before. (Considering the way tents end up practically on top of each other by Friday there’s so many people, this is a serious victory.) Everyone rolled in and it felt real good to be back.
That weekend I saw Yonder Mountain String Band, Moe, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Kung Fu, Twiddle, Lettuce, Keller Williams and my absolute favorite, Griz. I mentioned that violin with electronic music is the key to my heart and soul, well, that is true but there is actually another key and that is when a sexy man with a saxophone joins with electronic music. I can’t even.
I got off work just in time to head that way for Griz and it was raining. Everyone was wearing trash bags or those cheap ponchos and everything was a muddy mess. I even feel like there was an issue with the rain and the electronics at some point, but honestly, this man could probably fall on his face right in front of me and I’d still only see perfection, so, all I really remember is getting real groovy and feeling like the raindrops had just transformed into glitter bombs falling on our heads.
This festival doesn’t have the most amazing production but it definitely has one of the most chill vibes. They also put a great deal of importance in being a conscious festival. There were permaculture workshops, displays of solar ovens, daily yoga, and live art. One of my favorite vendors is also a regular at Summer Camp, the Giant Photo Button guys. It’s like your normal photo booth, with costumes and props and whatnot, but then they put you and all your silly friends on a GIANT BUTTON. You better believe we traded tacos for like 12 buttons.
3. Hulaween Music Festival
Hulaween Music Festival at The Spirit of Suwanee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida. This was the third year for Hulaween and has been growing quite a bit as around 21,000 festival goers were in attendance this year.
This was my first time to this venue and it had been on my venue bucket list for sure. I went as general admission for this one too which was also a treat. The drive to Hulaween, however, was not the greatest experience. Read more about this challenging road trip, here.
Even though we arrived late, our crew had been on time and found a prime camping spot with plenty of space and shade only a ten minute walk from the main stage. We were in for three days of The String Cheese Incident as well as Primus, Pretty Lights, Slightly Stoopid, Railroad Earth, Elephant Revival, the Shook Twins, and my boy Griz again(:
The park is amazingly beautiful and known for it’s Spanish moss oak and cypress trees that surround the Spirit Lake, both natural elements enhanced by smoke machines and lights galore. The production in this festival was outstanding, particularly for the size. The area surrounding the lake was filled with different kinds of art, both interactive and not. I could have explored just that area for all three days.
There were some installations that I had never seen anything like them before. Things that combined light and motion to create temporary art, a life-sized Lite Brite (yeah, you remember those things) made from used water bottles, and one of my favorite installations was called Incendia. This was a geodesic structure that combined science, art, and incredible design to create an immersive and fiery experience. It was as if the roof was on fire….but like actually. And through whatever kind of science and design (or magic), the flames would sort of dance all over the roof of the structure. As some of you know, I spin fire poi. And the feeling of surrounding myself with dancing flames is something so poetic to me. This was kind of like that but no skill necessary and you could have dance parties with a couple dozen strangers while this is going on above your head. No describing will really suffice, I’ve edited this like 8 times, just go check out there site and see it for yourself…but don’t forget to come back(:
Even though it’s all the way in Florida, after my summer in Alaska, I’m hoping to be in attendance for the 4th Hulaween as well. This time, I’m flying though.
4. Electric Forest Music Festival
Electric Forest Music Festival in Rothbury, Michigan. This one is a bit larger, with an attendance of around 45,000 people.
This was my second year for EF working with the taco crew. This festival is known for the interactive forest full of art installations, fairy gardens, tree houses, vendors, a few small stages, and hammocks galore. The detail put into everything is absolutely amazing and so perfect for a little bit of post work decompression before dancing my face off.
The String Cheese Incident, Bassnectar, Skrillex, Flume, Big Gigantic, Keller Williams, Gramatik, EOTO, Shpongle, and so many others played. My two favorite performances though, other than SCI, were The Motet who played a 1970s set that blew me and a very small audience away because some other big name was playing. And of course, what I had been dying to see all summer, Lindsey Stirling. (Violon, electronic, yup, this again. Also, she’s a hip-hop ballerina.)
I had declared at the beginning of the summer that I would walk out on my job if I did not have this set off. And I remember when the time came and Ciarra had saw the time, she practically banned me from the cart so I could go catch the full set. After already working about 8 hours, I headed over to the new Jubilee Stage to fight my way up as close as I could to see Stirling (which I don’t usually do, not the confrontational type over here, but this was serious stuff). It was literally all I could to do keep from crying (or passing out, I went hard.) It was magical. And by the time I was walking away from the stage, I had to sit down and recuperate.
Earlier that day I had taken another short break to go to a Women Empowerment Panel of which Lindsey Stirling was one of the speakers. Which was also awesome, I still have my Pura Vida bracelet from that even on my water bottle. Afterwards though, I looked up and she was standing 10 feet from me and I resisted my fangirl desires by convincing myself that if by some insane chance Lindsey and I were ever faced with the opportunity to be friends, this fangirl moment could not happen. Yup. Legitimate thought process. Oye.
5. Joshua Tree Music Festival
Joshua Tree Music Festival is in Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California. This one is a small, community oriented festival with just a few thousand people in attendance. And it happens twice a year! Once in the spring, once in the fall. I attended fall festival in 2015 and will definitely be trying to make it again.
This festival is in the desert. And there aren’t many cool off elements like mister tents, so be prepared to be hot. But also be prepared for gorgeous sunsets and amazing stargazing.
This was another festival that we were just attending instead of working. So, we lounged in the mornings, I did yoga every day, even spent time reading during the low key performers during the day. With such a small number of people in attendance, I was seeing familiar faces by day 2. The best partner yoga class I’ve ever taken was even taught by the women who owned the kombucha booth. Super small world for the weekend (:
We saw The Funk Hunters and Chali 2na of J5, Turkuaz, Moon Hooch, Scott Pemberton, and Xavier Rudd. My favorite performance though (and a new one for me) was Feral Fauna. The main components are a duo that incorporate soulful vocals with acoustic instruments to create an eclectic electronic sound. And with them, they had a feature violinist. Yes please!
I love little festivals like this one. Most of the artists I saw were either brand new to me or I had maybe just heard of them recently. And there was little to no separateness between festival goers and the artists. Such a homey feel and who knew it could be found out in the middle of the desert.
In your experience, of any US festivals or even world festivals what’s been your favorite?