People love to argue about which music festival is best almost as much as they love to speculate their lineups. With SXSW officially ushering in festival season next week, we thought it’d be a good time to lay the arguments to rest. Having an obvious bias towards Northside (what what), we figured it’d be best to leave the regional fests out of it and shuffle through the big national names — and only those who’ve announced enough of their lineup in which to judge, i.e. no Lollapalooza, Pitchfork, Austin City Limits, etc.
Below are five of the best, ranked in descending order based on six criteria from a New Yorker’s perspective on this year’s lineups alone. For each category, 5 points represents the most ideal; 1 is the least. The scores were added up and positions were determined. If you only travel to one festival this year, it should be…
June 7-10, Manchester, Tennessee
Ticket cost: 4
Even with four tiers of advance ticket options sold out, the remaining $259.50 four-day pass means you’re still just paying about $1.73 per act, thanks to Bonnaroo’s sheer scope and size of more than 150 bands, DJs and comedians. There are fees on top of the general admission price, of course, though as long as you’re down with sleeping in a tent, camping and parking are included (a RV pass starts at an additional $180), as is access to such weird, lovely, only-at-Roo attractions as the silent disco, an air-conditioned cinema tent, a 40-foot waterslide, yoga classes, your average belly dancing workshops and more.
Travel expenses: 3
You could brave the 14-hour drive from NYC to the Manchester, but for most of us that means renting a car, and gas is crazy expensive, so this $302 round-trip flight from JFK to nearby Nashville on June 7 (arriving back on the 11th) that we just came across on KAYAK.com might be your best bet. Keeping with Bonnaroo’s initiative of reducing its carbon footprint, the fest provide shuttles for the last leg to the grounds at $60 round-trip, which we like to think involves a sing-along of “Tiny Dancer” and communal snacks.
The 700-acre farm that magically blossoms into Tennessee’s seventh largest city overnight is about as Field of Dreams as these things get: Superfly Productions built it, and people came… and keep coming… But their need to accommodate some 80,000 people understandably limits their locale options. A humongous field has got nothing on, say, Coachella’s palm trees or Sasquatch’s majestic views, and doesn’t do much for your vantage points of the stage, either. Also worth noting: Tennessee is really hot in June, and a farm isn’t known for its shade.
One of the most eclectic festivals as far as top names go, you can pretty much pool the headliners’ fans into four distinct corners. With the exception of the Beach Boys, whose reunited lineup and general pleasantness will likely elicit some crossover appeal, the average Phish fan doesn’t necessarily strike us as a Red Hot Chili Pepper diehard, who in turn isn’t known to clamor for Radiohead, leaving each of the three to attract only a sect of the festival’s attendees. With this in mind, perhaps you’d be best suited to stick around home: Phish is slated to play Jones Beach in the coming months, Chili Peppers are scheduled for two shows at the Prudential Center, the Beach Boys hit up Beacon Theatre in May, and, gasp, your pals in Radiohead just announced they’ll also be swinging by the Prudential Center on their way to Tennessee.
The certainly isn’t anything to scoff at — Big Deal bands like Bon Iver, here ranked as a second-tier act, are headlining comparable festivals throughout the summer — and with only 85 acts announced thus far of the promised 150, a significant rollout is still to come. As of now, though, it’s sorta what you’d expect from any big shindig in 2012. We suppose there are a handful of anomalies: Skrillex, Ludacris, Ben Folds Five. Alice Cooper?
Annually drawing 80,000 bros, hipsters, hippies, gray-haired folks, kids and anyone and everyone in-between to 10 stages over four days, it truly is the granddaddy of them all as far as American festivals go — the closest thing we have to competing with the European megas. The water fountain at Centeroo ubiquitous in photo recaps, the people painting themselves, the hippy dippy vibes… that’s all part of it. It’s a capital “E” Event, which is much of its appeal, and, for 20-somethings, probably the closest we’ll ever get to Woodstock. But the huge cross-section of humanity also makes it, well, a bit grubbier than some of its contemporaries. Your Mom will spend the weekend convinced she’ll never see you again.
TOTAL POINTS = 16