There’s a fundamental difference between listening to music and seeing music performed live. A live experience is physically immersive: the feeling of the music mixes with the energy of the venue to create a truly one-time, irreplicable experience.
As rabid music fans over here at Inspired – whose founding values are to give back to the arts community – we get that the “experiential” part of live music has gotten a bit corrupted as of late. Between the over-branding of festivals like Coachella and the increasingly competitive extravagance at Burning Man (where air conditioning and butlers have replaced tents and ramen noodles), the big concept-based festivals have become top targets for product placement opportunities. As festival-goers search for organic experiences – a community of like-minded music lovers – we’ve somehow arrived at the American Express Amex Platinum tent – which “featured SoulCycle classes” at last year’s Coachella. Nice try, AmEx, but not quite what we are looking for…
Increasingly, it seems like the antidote to commercialism in festival culture is to seek out smaller festivals. A few years ago, this may have meant regional bands in a community park. Now, however, more regional festivals than ever are cluing into the experiential draw of destination music festivals, and the results are really exciting. Here are our top picks for coolest regional music festival experiences in 2019.
1. Mountain Music Festival – Minden, WV
Does your summer concert come with an inflatable mountainside waterpark? Mountain Music Festival in West Virginia is hosted by the Ace Adventure Resort: the country’s largest outdoor rafting, hiking, climbing, and water sport park. The 2019 lineup is full of singer-songwriters like Tyler Childers, lending the perfect southern vibe to the beautiful mountain venue.
2. Big Ears Festival – Knoxville, TN
Rather than rent a single venue, Big Ears in Knoxville, Tennessee makes use of the entire city. Located among Knoxville’s “historic theaters, nightclubs, churches, museums, and outdoor spaces with concerts, discussions, interactive workshops, installations, film screenings, and surprise collaborations,” the festival functions as an ongoing immersive arts experience. Known for its unexpected venues, Big Ears is equally eclectic in its choice of performers: the New York Times calls it “the widest-angle music festival in the country” due to its lineup of classical, rock, alternative, electronic, and improv artists. Move fast if you want to experience this year’s iteration, though, because the festival takes place from March 21st to the 24th. To deservedly use an old cliche, there is literally something for everyone.
3. Timber! Outdoor Music Festival – Carnation, WA
Like a northwestern cousin to Mountain Music Festival, Timber! in Washington state features kayaking, paddle-boarding, outdoor art projects, and – yes, really – recreational tree-climbing. Located in a gorgeous river valley, the festival’s sound is distinctly Washington indie. With previous headliners like Car Seat Headrest and Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, Timber! attendees might expect a sound somewhere between Ingrid Michaelson and OK Go – with a little extra edge. Plus, they get points for family-friendly activities and campground accommodations for those looking for a more chill vibe.
4. Solid Sound Festival – North Adams, MA
Solid Sound in western Massachusetts is the top pick for laid back alternative fans. This year’s headliners are folksy superstars Wilco (one of the festival’s organizers) and Courtney Barnett. The coolest part? The venue is the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art – better known as Mass MoCA, in the Berkshires. Get your total fill of museum culture – without the boring side effects.
5. Eclipse Festival – Sainte-Thérèse-de-la-Gatineau, Quebec
While Solid Sound takes place among contemporary art at Mass MoCA, Eclipse Festival itself is the art. The festival is based around an “art-deco-performance” concept, in which the stage and venue design is as much a part of the show as the music. Featuring electronic artists like Audiotec, the European-EDM-heavy lineup compliments the staging in mind-bending ways. Proving that regional music festivals are not exclusively for indie fans, Eclipse takes the club atmosphere to another level with lasers, tech, and both indoor and outdoor staging experiences.