The Music, The Myths, The Legends of 10 Of The World's Best Music Festivals

One of the best ways to really get a feel for a new country is at a music festival. Words by Jack Tregoning

By Jack Tregoning, 27/10/2017
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One of the best ways to really get a feel for a new country is at a music festival. And there are some that are worth as much in your passport as they are in your memory.

From the northwest of India to the English countryside, this is the definitive list of music festivals worth the price of a plane ticket – and more.

Magnetic Fields Festival

Image: Magnetic Fields Festival / Facebook

Magnetic Fields

December 15 – 17, 2017. Rajasthan, India

Nothing about Magnetic Fields is run-of-the-mill. The celebration of underground electronic music takes place each December at Alsisar Mahal, a 17th century palace in Rajasthan, India, with music running around the clock for a full weekend. It’s a long, winding journey to reach the remarkable venue, so Magnetic Fields draws a committed and adventurous crowd from around India and further afield.

Alsisar Mahal is an attraction in itself, with many courtyards and rooftops for dancing, chatting, yoga, and star-gazing. This is a festival that rewards the intrepid traveller.

It’s set to return with a line-up of electronic luminaries like Four Tet, Ben UFO, and Machinedrum, along with a growing cohort of Indian artists.

Getting there: The journey is a big part of the Magnetic Fields experience. Trains leave daily from Sarai Rohilla, New Delhi to Sadulpur Junction. From there it’s 45 winding minutes in a taxi. At the festival, you can camp in Bedouin tents or upgrade to something more palatial.

Carnival Rio

Image: nateClicks / Flickr

Carnivale

February 9 – 14, 2018. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Rio Carnival has earned the title of the Greatest Show on Earth, and not for nothing. Every March, Rio de Janeiro erupts in vivid colour as millions of locals and international visitors flood the streets. For those days and nights, the city is transformed into a vast, moving festival.

The focus of the Carnival is the samba parade in Rio’s purpose-built Sambadrome. Each year, the city’s samba schools vie for the championship title, and the competition can be fierce. For spectators, that means a nonstop parade of the most extravagant, eye-popping costumes and sets you’ll see anywhere in the world.

Naturally the Greatest Show on Earth is going to attract a large number of people, so plan accordingly.

Getting there: Accommodation books out early for this giant party, so forward-planning is essential. Many hotels offer shuttles to the Sambadrome, or you can catch the Metro Rio, which runs 24 hours a day during Carnival.

Lollaplooza 2017

Image: Katrina Barber via Lollapalooza 2017

Lollapalooza

March 16 – 18, 2018. Santiago, Chile

Lollapalooza began way back in 1991 as a travelling festival masterminded by Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell. The line-ups were a perfect snapshot of ’90s alternative music, with Rage Against The Machine, Primus, Tool, and the Smashing Pumpkins among the legends to grace its stages.

These days, the flagship Lollapalooza goes down each August at Chicago’s Grant Park, its home since 2005. Farrell still looms large over the whole operation (the dance stage is called Perry’s), but the line-ups have come a long way since the ’90s. In 2017, the headliners included stars of the moment like Lorde, Chance The Rapper, the xx, and alt-J.

And while the original is hard to beat, Lolla is now an international affair. In 2018, the festival touches down in Buenos Aires, Santiago and São Paulo, each with its own tailored line-up. The Lolla offshoots attract large hometown crowds, but visitors can take advantage of the local food vendors and the unrivalled energy of a South American festival.

Getting there: Every edition of Lollapalooza – Buenos Aires, Santiago, São Paulo and Chicago – is centrally located, so there’s no camping on site. On the plus side: three cheers for hotel showers.

Coachella

Image courtesy of Greater Palm Springs

Coachella

Friday, April 13 – Sunday, April 22, 2018. Palm Springs, California

For many music fans, Coachella is the quintessential destination festival. The Indio Desert institution always sells out in a flash (even with two weekends to meet the demand), and the frenzy for tickets only deepens its cachet. Coachella attracts every type of attendee lucky enough to snag a pass, including snap-happy first-timers, high-rolling VIPs, EDM converts and savvy kids onto the next big thing.

The festival is renowned for its history-making moments, from Daft Punk’s iconic 2006 set to a Tupac hologram transported to 2012 by Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg. It’s also the place to catch unexpected guests (especially on weekend one), with everyone from Kanye West to Rihanna turning up unannounced.

Coachella has already confirmed Beyoncé as one of its 2018 headliners: a fitting queen for the king of music festivals.

And, proving it truly has something for everyone, Coachella this year debuted a dedicated line-up of food vendors, with everything from Peruvian burritos and vegan Mexican cuisine to American-style comfort food and poké bowls on offer. Given the enthusiasm with which it was received, we can surely expect more of the same in 2018.

Getting there: You can drive to Coachella from Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, and other major cities. Select flights also land at the nearby Palm Springs International Airport. There’s camping available on-site from basic to luxurious, and hotels for those who don’t mind that it don’t come cheap.

Primavera Sound

Image: Ceci Díaz via Primavera Sound

Primavera Sound

May 30 – June 3, 2018. Barcelona, Spain

A permanent fixture of Barcelona’s festival scene since the turn of the millennium, Primavera Sound has seen some of the world’s biggest pop, hip-hop and rock acts show up on its consistently sold line-up,  Queens of the Stone Age, Kendrick Lamar and Patti Smith among them.

Perched on the waterfront at the city’s Parc del Fórum, just a stone’s through from central Barcelona, it’s urban setting and eclectic bill of performers have made it a kind of hub for artists and music enthusiasts from all generations and backgrounds.

And, being in Spain, Primavera Sound is as much about food as it is about music, with a whole section of the festival’s website is dedicated to eats like paella, ceviche and tapas. There are eight restaurant and food zones, with just about everyone under the sun – gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan or vegetarian – catered for.

With a sister festival in Portugal, NOS Primavera Sound, your European tour needn’t wind up in Spain.

Getting there: Given its proximity to Barcelona’s CBD, Primavera Sound is easily accessible by public transport, taxi, bike (when in Rome) or shuttle bus from Plaça Catalunya. It costs just $3 (€2). It’s a daytime-only affair, so be prepared to get back on ya bike when things wind up for the night.

Burning Man

Image: Vincent Rommelaere

Burning Man

August 26 – September 3, 2o18. Black Rock City, Nevada

Burning Man is described by organisers as a “community” and a “temporary city”, but never as a music festival. The mass gathering in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert is not for the faint-hearted – it is, after all, a week-long celebration of “radical self-expression” in an unforgiving climate. Naturally, there’s an extensive survival guide to help you live a week in Black Rock City.

It’s also an experience with a high barrier of entry: tickets sell out in the blink of an eye and RV rentals don’t come cheap. Still, music plays a key role on the playa (the festival’s central meeting area) if you choose to seek it out.

There’s always an element of mystery around the music at Burning Man. The line-up is kept mostly secret, although sound collectives like Mayan Warrior and Robot Heart will let names slip, if you’re lucky. Black Rock City’s otherworldly conditions have even popularised a dreamy, sunrise-friendly strain of house and techno referred to as “playa tech”. However, as seasoned burners will tell you, Burning Man is about much more than DJs.

Getting there: You really need to prep for Burning Man, and that includes accounting for the drive in and out, when traffic can be brutal thanks to the 60,000 punters making the pilgrimage. Try carpooling from nearby major cities like Reno, Las Vegas or straight up from Los Angeles. Or save your sanity and take the Burner Express, which travels to and from Reno and San Francisco. Tickets start at $95 ($75USD) per person.

Glastonbury

Image: Iwona Pinkowicz via Glastonbury Festivals

Glastonbury

Somerset, UK

Glastonbury is world-renowned for several reasons: the huge headliners, the depth of its line-ups, the near-impossibility of finding tickets, and, of course, the mud. While there’s such thing as a sunny Glastonbury, when it rains, it really rains, turning Worthy Farm into a squelchy obstacle course. The changeable conditions attract a hardy kind of festival-goer who knows to pack gumboots and ponchos first.

There’s a good reason why people brave the inclement weather: Glasto is truly a festival for all tastes. The headliners are always flashy, but there’s an incredible breadth of options, from an Acoustic Stage occupied by singer-songwriters to the giant Arcadia spider booming out dance music all weekend.

It’s taking a well-deserved year off in 2018, but it’s back in 2019.

Getting there: It’s possible to drive from London to Worthy Farm, but not really encouraged. There are several better transport options, including a train/shuttle combo and National Express coaches. A spot in the camping fields is included in the ticket price, and sleeping in a tent is pretty much mandatory.

Tomorrowland

Image courtesy of Tomorrowland

Tomorrowland

Boom, Belgium

There are countless big dance festivals dotted around Europe, but none quite as big as Tomorrowland. The festival was always popular in its home of Belgium, but its international mystique has swelled in recent years, thanks partly to its big-budget after-movies.

For many travellers to Tomorrowland, it’s all about the main stage. Set in a natural amphitheatre, the design of the vast structure changes dramatically each year. (In 2017, it resembled a huge circus tent, with hundreds of performers and intricate details framing the world’s biggest DJs.)

If bombastic EDM isn’t your thing, the festival includes every dance sub-genre under the sun, from classic trance to underground techno. As you’ll see from the many flags waving in the crowd, Tomorrowland is on bucket lists all over the world. Count yourself lucky if you land a ticket.

Getting there: You can fly into Brussels, where it’s a 20-minute drive to Boom. (There are shuttle buses from the city.) For the true Tomorrowland experience, though, there’s the DreamVille campsite, which gets its own open-air pre-party just for campers.

Voodoo Fest

Image courtesy of Voodoo Festival

Voodoo Music + Arts Experience

October 25 – 27, 2018. New Orleans, USA

New Orleans is a music city all year round, but few weekends are bigger than Halloween. That’s when the Voodoo Music + Arts Experience, or just Voodoo Fest for short, takes over the sprawling City Park for three tightly-packed days.

Voodoo started small back in 1999, growing into an institution that attracts some of the top names in music. The 2017 edition has Kendrick Lamar, The Killers and Foo Fighters leading a line-up that nods to the city’s rich musical history. Now produced by festival giant C3 Presents, Voodoo dials up the Halloween spirit with themed stages and art installations. Some artists dress up for the occasion, but the most impressive costumes can be found out in the crowd.

Getting there: Once you’re in NOLA, it’s easy to get to City Park. There’s no camping on-site, but you’ll find special Voodoo rates at hotels around town. (Oh, and come on an empty stomach.)

Fuji Rock Festival

Image: Kevin Utting / Flickr

Fuji Rock Festival

Niigata, Japan

In the same fortnight that Australia’s Byron Bay hosts Splendour In The Grass, Japanese music lovers make the pilgrimage to Fuji Rock. The long-running festival, which goes down at the picturesque Naeba Ski Resort in the Niigata Prefecture, has rightfully earned a reputation as one of the world’s best.

A few hours travel out of Tokyo brings you to a one-of-a-kind festival site, where the mountain views are beautiful, but rain is always likely. The location is complemented by a famously clean and orderly festival site, with serious attention paid to recycling and waste disposal.

Then there’s the music, which mixes international headliners (2017 brought Aphex Twin, Gorillaz and Björk) with Japanese acts. Despite the big names, the atmosphere is much more chilled and kid-friendly than other festivals. If you want to prepare for Fuji Rock like a local, don’t forget your durable shoes, poncho, and a bucket hat.

Getting there: There are several travel packages available for Fuji Rock first-timers, whether you’re reaching the site from Tokyo or elsewhere. It’s a good opportunity to catch the Shinkansen (bullet train), but the festival offers buses too. You can camp on-site, stay at a local hotel, or make it a day trip.

(Lead image courtesy of Tomorrowland)

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