They’re Back! A Curated Guide to Summer and Fall Music Festivals

music festivals
Pearl Jam headlines the Ohana Festival in September (photo by Danny Clinch)

For us here at Boca mag, there may be no better sign of a return to normalcy than the number of musical festivals being rebooted across the fruited plain this summer and fall. With travel beginning to pick up again and restrictions easing, concert promoters are once again cautiously scheduling powerhouse lineups.

Here are a few of the major events set to return in one form or another, including two here in Florida. Each event has its own health and safety parameters in place, so read the fine print before booking plane tickets. We tried to filter out festivals that are already sold out, which is why Miami’s Rolling Loud, Vegas’ Life is Beautiful, Sacramento’s Aftershock and San Francisco’s Outside Lands didn’t make the cut.

NEWPORT FOLK FESTIVAL

July 23-28 in Newport, Rhode Island

This historic festival, with its roots dating to 1959, has become a signature fest in the Northeast, one that has expanded its generic footprint well beyond folk while remaining geared to serious audiophiles. This year, because of COVID-19 capacity restrictions, Newport consists of, instead of a giant one-weekend gathering, “two unique 3-day events of surprise performances, storytelling, and workshops at Fort Adams.” If you’re anticipating the typical grand headliners, I would temper those expectations. The same concept applies to the scaled-back Newport Jazz Festival on its immediate heels (July 30-Aug. 1).

SUMMERFEST

Sept. 2-4, 9-11, 16-18, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The sheer numbers of this Milwaukee gathering are staggering: 800 acts, 1,000 performances, 11 stages, nine days. Unlike say, Coachella, the three extended weekends of concerts do not appear to repeat any artists, so to see everybody, you need deep pockets and plenty of vacation days. Genre-traversing headliners span from Luke Bryan to Chance the Rapper, Dave Matthews Band to Run the Jewels, along with such Boca mag-approved artists as Wilco, Pixies, Liz Phair, Drive-by Truckers and the Weather Station.

BONNAROO MUSIC & ARTS FESTIVAL

Sept. 2-5 in Manchester, Tennessee

If there’s a festival that needs no introduction, it’s this legendary Tennessee celebration, a kind of Woodstock throwback that, this year, celebrates “20 years of magic on the farm.” The boldest names include stadium fillers like Foo Fighters, Megan Thee Stallion, Lizzo, Tame Impala, Tyler, the Creator and Lana Del Rey. For me, the most exciting event might be the chance to hear psychedelic funk upstarts Turkuaz joining King Crimson’s Adrian Belew and Talking Heads’ Jerry Harrison to perform the latter’s masterpiece Remain in Light straight through.

BOTTLE ROCK

Sept. 3-5 in Napa, California

“Music, Food, Wine, Brew,” are all on tap at this wine-country festival, which typically also features a culinary stage and spa. Bottle Rock’s aborted 2020 lineup included some impressive headliners, among them Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stevie Nicks, Khalid and Janelle Monae. But the fact that no entertainers have been released for the September ‘21 rescheduled dates gives us pause.

RIOT FEST

Sept. 16-19 in Chicago, Illinois

The Smashing Pumpkins, Run the Jewels and Pixies are at the top of the bill for this beloved Chicago festival, a crunchy and largely guitar-driven affair with a penchant for punk, alt-rock and hardcore bands from the ‘80s to today. As a result, the undercard is filled with artists you won’t see on other festivals, among them Circle Jerks, Thrice, Les Savy Fav, Best Coast, L7 and PUP. At least two of the main headliners haven’t been announced yet, so check back with Riot Fest’s socials early and often.

THE GOVERNORS BALL

Sept. 24-26 at New York City, New York

Scheduled for the first time at Citi Field in Queens, this relocated and refreshed NYC staple has its fingers crossed for another heaving lineup, including large-scale headliners from the pop world that few other festivals have: Billie Eilish, ASAP Rocky and Post Malone among them. Rufus Du Sol, Leon Bridges, Megan Thee Stallion, Phoebe Bridgers, Big Thief, Ellie Goulding and Carly Rae Jepsen are on the docket too.

OHANA FESTIVAL

Sept. 24-26, Dana Point, California

This is the festival for which Pearl Jam fans from around the world are coming out of hibernation. Not only is the band itself headlining the closing night, but an Eddie Vedder solo set headlines the evening prior. Also featured is a broad slate of rock royalty, including Pretenders, Kings of Leon, My Morning Jacket, Maggie Rogers and Sharon Van Etten.

GASPARILLA MUSIC FESTIVAL

Oct. 1-3 in Tampa, Florida

No talent has been announced yet for the return of this festival just a few hours’ drive from the Palm Beaches, but with dates announced just last week, we have a modicum of confidence that this one will actually happen. Stay tuned.

III POINTS

Oct. 22-23, Miami, Florida

The innovative, tech-forward Miami festival with one of the most curated lineups around continues to hope for the best, with these October dates constituting its third rescheduling since May 2020. Hip-hop, indie and electronica gel with fluid ease throughout this sleepless Wynwood festival, with the Strokes, Wu-Tang Clan, Rufus Du Sol and Eric Prydz at the top of the schedule. We’re especially excited about some of the more esoteric artists down the bill, including Khruangbin, Devendra Banhart, Yves Tumor and William Basinski.


For more of Boca magazine’s arts and entertainment coverage, click here.