So, I think I have some explaining to do. We’re coming off the longest break in publication that I’ve ever had, which is hardly great for my readership. As it turns out – and come on, who could have guessed – a laptop imploding in the middle of the rainforest does not a productive writing schedule make. But I’m back. I’m on schedule again. So let’s catch up on what I’ve missed.
We’ve reached the point in Summer where I couldn’t possibly cover every music festival without turning this article into a fluffy list of banal events you won’t end up visiting anyway. I’m going to downsize. If none of these here suit you, you can check out even more May 2015 festivals here.
And as usual, subscribe to the Elsewhere Plans Festival Calendar via an easy-to-read Google Calendar version, as well as a downloadable iCal version. Don’t forget to tweet any that I missed to @theElsewhereman, and I’ll add them in.
The Elsewhere Man’s Top 5
2-3rd – Rose Festival (El-Kelaâ M’Gouna, Morocco) – Morocco’s famous for two things. Well, one thing, mostly. Here’s looking at ya, kid. But it’s also one of the biggest growers of roses in the world. The Rose Festival celebrates this, so you can visit and pick out whatever roses of whatever colors you want. It’s a bit like the Tulip Festivals of the Netherlands, except instead of canals and loose morals you get camels and a slinking suspicion that every single local in the area is watching you intently. But hey, it’s Morocco. Cross a continent off your list. Play it again, Sam.
22-30th – Festival of World Sacred Music (Fes, Morocco) – Sometimes it’s easy to make fun of the festivals I’m encouraging you to attend. Sometimes it’s not. The Festival of World Sacred Music is one of the latter. I mean, sure, I could make jokes about Casablanca and all that, but the FFWSM has literally been appointed by the UN as one of the cultural events doing the most to encourage interfaith and intercountry dialogues. One of those, “music is the universal language,” kind of things, which sounds so hippie-esque that it actually works. There’s music of all kinds, from Balinese gamelan orchestras (which, apparently, is a thing) to whirling dervishes to Björk. When Björk has the least ridiculous sounding title, you know there’s some good world mingling going on.
29th-June 6th – Mawazine (Rabat, Morocco) – Everybody knows Morocco, but few people could name a city there. Mawazine is trying to put the city of Rabat on the world map as a modern, open, liberal city. To this end, the festival itself is put on by the personal secretary of the Moroccan King and features huge name international acts. This also gives it a bit of controversy in the country, since other people in the conservative areas say that Mawazine encourages “immoral behavior.” Like, no shit. No objections there. The question is, are they willing to put up with the immoral behavior if it also brings in that tourist moolah?
4th – Full Moon Party (Koh Phangan, Thailand) – I’ve written about this several times, but for the best information on it, I recommend reading the Partake of the World post on it, which outlines the amazing and horrible things that happen on the island every month. It’s a fantastic event to see (especially if you’re under 21), but it does bear research.
8-10th: Thrissur Pooram Elephant Festival (Thrissur, Kerala, India) – A lot of India’s festivals tend to either gravitate towards the weird (camel festivals, anyone?) to the holy (pilgrimages, holi, etc). The Thrissur Pooram Elephant Festival is as American as it gets – neon lights, fireworks at three in the morning, dancing, and 30 elephants all done up parading through the crowds. Fuck yeah. Kerala is basically festival central in India, but this one is one of the biggest and coolest. You’ll also be bopping around different temples just to make sure you get that cultural side as well, but we know why you’re really there. Elephants dressed like Daft Punk.
8-10th – Bun Bang Fai Rocket Festival (Northeast Thailand, Laos) – Oh God. Northern Thailand is dangerous enough as it is, with backpackers passing out from buckets in the streets and getting fondled by not-quite-sanitary ladyboys. Throw in a shit ton of homemade fireworks, and you have a recipe not unlike giving a middle school boy a bottle of ammonia and bleach and telling him to go to town. The Rocket Festival is basically an excuse to launch fireworks into the air at all times of the day. It’s ostensibly in connection with an aspect of Buddhism, but different villages through Northern Thailand and Laos celebrate it in different ways at different times, which kind of dilutes the festival into its most raw element – the chance to be an absolute adrenaline junkie and blow some fingers off in the name of fun. The biggest celebration is in Yasothon, but you can find a tree waiting to be set on fire just about anywhere.
25th – Cheung Chau Bun Festival (Cheung Chau, Hong Kong) – You know what? I’m still not entirely sure what this festival even is. It takes place on the island of Cheung Chau near Hong Kong, and coincides with the celebration of Buddha’s birthday. To celebrate, three 60-foot tall bamboo mountains are built and covered with buns. Men then run up the bun mountains and snatch the highest one they can – the higher the bun, the better the luck. Of course, some of them fall, so maybe the whole luck thing is a bit of a placebo, but whatever makes people happy, right?
1-3rd – Tomorrowland Brasil (São Paulo, Brazil) – Tickets to Tomorrowland in Belgium went on sale back in February and sold out faster than the guy who invented the Oculus Rift. Personally, I think Brazil has a much better venue and setting, and while nothing beats the original Boom festival (which has won best event something like four years in a row now), you can’t go wrong with a spinoff festival that features smaller crowds with the same production value.
24th-August 4th – Crop Over (Bridgetown, Barbados) – Cropover takes place over the entire Summer, and while most of the biggest events aren’t until August, the festival does start kicking off here with an annual church service. If that’s not your thing, feel free to wait around for the rest of the summer, where there are whole months dedicated to celebrating the harvest with music, dancing, and all that sweet Barbados rum. And when you’ve got those three things, you don’t need some structured final weekend to have a great time.
1-2nd – Estrella Levante SOS 4.8 (Murcia, Spain) – A couple of months ago, I went on a tangent about dumb festival names. And that was for such inspired copy like Festival No. 6, which at least makes sense in context. Estrella Levante SOS 4.8 is the seventh edition of the festival, and unless it’s some viral marketing for a new Android OS, I’m not really picking up on the reason for the number system. I don’t know, everything’s in Spanish. From what I remember from college, I think we’re at “Eastern Star SOS 4.8.” Roll with it. I guess. Kick off the European festival circuit with a resounding “huh?”
7th – Cocullo Snake Festival (Cocullo, Italy) – I’ve always liked the scene in Raiders where Indy jumps in the plane after coolly escaping from a tribe of killer pygmies, only to freak out at a snake in the seat. So many people are afraid of snakes. So I really want to see this little procession, where an entire Samuel L. Jackson movie’s worth of snakes are paraded through the city as a determination of harvest worth. The snakes are all defanged and released into the forest afterwards, so one can only assume how fun it is walking home in the country after dinner.
9th-Nov 22nd – Venice Bienalle (Venice, Italy) – So, missing this event is hardly a problem, as it goes on for literally half the year. If you wind up in Venice anytime before November, you’ll have a chance to see this massive art display. The catch is that it only happens once every other year (which I guess still means that it’s on for one month out of every four, mathematically speaking). The shows are scattered across the city, so if you make it to Europe and are down for a casual wander, you’re sure to find something cool.
10-11th: Combat des Reines (Valais, Switzerland) – There’s something delightfully weird about Switzerland. If my write-ups don’t specifically have to do with international bands or snow, they’re usually about cheese and cows. I guess cows are a big deal in the Alps. The Combat des Reines (Fight of the Queens) is a cow-fight, which is like a cat-fight but with any sexy implications replaced with big heifers slamming into each other with horns. Tickets are pretty cheap, but the real money is in the gambling, where even the winning cow’s calves can be worth their weight in golden cheese. It’s packaged with all the usual Swiss stereotypes, which I assume means you cheer on the cows by yodeling.
10-17th – Feria del Caballo (Jerez de la Frontera, Spain) – Ernest Hemingway was a man’s man. Drank too much, smoked too much, shot himself in the face with a shotgun. People grew mustaches just by looking at him. There’s a reason he loved Spain so much. There’s fewer things manlier than a cowboy. Except a cowman, I suppose. The Feria del Caballo (Horse Fair – come on, didn’t you take any Spanish in high school?) is a week long celebration of these ideals: horses and cowboys, bullfighting and food. Not to mention it’s one of the biggest fairs in Spain, and one of the first major post-Easter celebrations for the country. Yee-haw.
13-14th – Cannes Film Festival (Cannes, France) – You’ve heard of Cannes before – the massive film festival where all your favorite stars gather in their nicest outfits to show what a better life they lead. Red carpets, diamond gift bags, and private screenings of movies you’ll never see. It’s like watching the Oscars, but you can’t put on your own tuxedo and cry into your ice cream while watching from the comfort of your couch. You’ll never be able to attend most of the main events (especially if you’re only just now finding out that it exists), but like SXSW, the entire town gets involved, so if you really want to get a feel for the movie star life, you might as well walk in and see what you can get away with.
14-16th: The Great Escape (Brighton, England) – The first girls I ever met abroad were from Brighton, England. They said it was the most fun place in England, and I believed it just because it was the only thing I’d ever heard. But everybody since then has confirmed it. Great Escape is a big festival covering the beach area of the town, which at least tells me the organizers have some logic when it comes to putting this thing on. And hey, maybe the sun will even come out for it. I mean, I know, it’s England, but a guy can dream.
15th – Corsa dei Ceri (Gubbio, Italy) – Corsa dei Ceri, also known as the Race of the Saints, is probably the only holy parade that involves desperately trying to shove the other person to the ground in the name of getting to church first. It’s a race of giant statues of saints (hence the name) being carried by teams clad in that saints colors. The goal is the bring the statues to the church before the others, and the course can be long and full of obstacles, not to mention lined with belligerent bystanders. I’m not sure if backpackers can actually join in the festivities, but they can definitely get in on the watching action. It’ll be the only time you don’t feel bad for laughing at a saint breaking his nose.
21-31st: Hay Festival (Hay-on-Wye, Wales) – Wales is like the annoying little brother of England – whenever it does anything wrong, it’s described as Welsh, but whenever it does anything right, it’s described as British. Never any respect. The Hay Festival is one of Wales’ unique festivals that celebrates its location as much as any of the artists that are performing there. Throw in the chilled out vibe of any of England’s bigger festivals, and you’ve got a good answer for whenever anybody asks you, “why the hell are you going to Wales?” Because you will get asked that. A lot. English people just don’t find Wales very worth while. Change their minds.
22-24th – Liverpool Sound City (Liverpool, England) – Liverpool gets the honor of being the first music festival I write about after Coachella, when I’m still buzzing at the gills to go to another one. So I have no idea how great this one is – it claims to be the largest metropolitan festival in the UK with 350 artists over 25 venues, plus conferences, art, and films – but I’m gonna say it’s worth it regardless. A festival that large couldn’t fuck up an entire weekend worth of memories if it tried booking an Adolf Hitler art appreciation panel as a headliner.
23rd – Le Guess Who? (Utrecth, Netherlands) – You guys! I found the non-electronic festival in the Netherlands! I never thought I’d see the day! I gave the Dutch a lot of shit about being a one trick pony when it came to music festivals, but this one actually has a pretty nice, chilled out lineup. The festival is celebrating May Day, so lay down in the tulips and enjoy some chilled out Netherlands vibes.
23-July 10th – Stars of the White Nights (St. Petersburg, Russia) – There are White Nights events all over the world now (I went to one in Melbourne in January, for example), but the original and biggest is still in Russia. For three weeks, the city turns into an all-night light festival, illuminating the sides of buildings with fantastic colors and patterns. I got too drunk and passed out early when I went (what can I say, goon), but supposedly the event extends from 7 PM to 7 AM, giving you plenty of time to watch the colors at night turn into the colors of sunrise. If you stay awake all night, you can’t get a hangover, right? That’s how Russian vodka works?
25th – Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll (Brockworth, England) – Most festivals have a fairly standard evolution. One person does something that looks fun, more people join, and suddenly it’s got its own hashtag and everything. But I have no idea how the Cheese Roll caught on. One person chased a wheel of cheese down a hill so steep you could base jump off it, and more people decided, “hey, I could really go for an ambulance ride today,” or what? Who gets sucked into that? Myself, apparently. See you there.
28-30th – Primavera Sound (Barcelona, Spain) – I’ve written about Primavera Sound before in several different places. It’s probably the best festival nobody seems to know about. It lacks the major branding of Glastonbury or Coachella or Tomorrowland, and yet, every year, it manages to book better lineups than all three. This year, they’re the only festival that managed to get the newly reunited Sleater-Kinney. Now, I’m not one to recommend festivals based on lineup alone (especially when there are so many crossover acts at every alternative), but consistent quality means there’s something there. When I go this year, I’ll be able to give a better rundown on why this so clearly works.
14-16th – Jacob’s Ladder (Ginosar, Israel) – In Biblical mythology, Jacob’s Ladder is a stairway to heaven. I like the idealism in naming a music festival after it – a chance to forget about the troubles of the world (especially, you know, in that region). This music festival actually goes down twice a year, and the Spring event is all about friendly vibes and world music. Being in Israel is an interesting exercise in extremes. So depending on the political climate next month, Jacob’s Ladder may be a good chance to look up that staircase to Heaven and see what could be in the future.
1-3rd – Beale Street Music Festival (Memphis, Tennessee) – The Beale Street Music Festival is a relatively small gig that managed to pull in an absolutely massive lineup this year. Maybe because it’s not an isolated event – it’s part of the Memphis in May festival that covers the entire city for the entire month, featuring events like the International Salute to Poland (okay?) and the World Championship BBQ Cooking Contest (awesome). It’ll be pretty easy to show up for a good time and find yourself planting roots for several weeks just taking in the scenery.
1-10th – Canadian Music Festival (Toronto, Canada) – Fun fact: the Canadian Music Festival prides itself on having a great deal of international acts in attendance. Haha, right? I don’t get it either. I mean, it’s not like there’s only one music festival in all of Canada. If anything, Shambalah is the one to go to. If you want to call yourself the Canadian Music Festival, you’d think it would mean that you only have Canadian music. But what do I know? I wonder if the Biebs will be there.
2nd – Kentucky Derby (Louiseville, Kentucky) – Ah, the Kentucky Derby. It’s like Cannes meets your drunk uncle’s family gathering. The perfect way for the upper and lower class to stare at each other through contempt-soaked fences while simultaneously bonding over losing all their money on slow ponies. It’s one of the biggest sporting events in the world. Of course, high society attends in fancy hats and pretends it’s a classy affair. For the lower class – which I assume includes you, fair backpacker – it’s a shitshow of belligerent drunks having the time of their lives while being too blacked out to watch a single race. If you’re charming enough, you might be able to experience both.
4-5th – Electric Zoo Mexico (Mexico City, Mexico) – Mexico is becoming one of the biggest countries in the world for electronic music. Side note; it’s also becoming one of the biggest countries in the world (fatties!). Massives like Electric Zoo, Electric Picnic, and Electric Daisy Carnival (we get it, raves are electric) have all started to move entries south from America for some reason that I’m not privvy to. Maybe it’s just economical. Maybe there’s some connection between drug use and music festivals, if that doesn’t sound too crazy. Why do I always tie my Mexican events to the cartels? I’m starting to sound like a one-trick pony.
5th – Cinco de Mayo (Puebla, Mexico) – I did a little digging and was shocked, shocked I tell you, to discover that Cinco de Mayo was not, in fact, invented by drunk Americans wearing clothe mustaches and giant sombreros. I know, it rocked my worldview too. If you want to get a taste of the real holiday (which commemorates an important win by the Mexican army over the French), then head to Puebla, the town where the battle took place. You’ll replace beer bongs and chants of “cinco de drinko!” with some legitimate nationalism and history. And, yeah, probably a cerveza or dos.
8-10th: Austin Psych Fest (Austin, Texas) – Nowadays, psychadelic music leans towards people like Ott and Shpongle, with big electronic shows and visuals that look like somebody took six tabs of acid and forgot to look at anything besides their own eyelids. Maybe all of music has an EDM tilt these days, but they stand on the shoulders of giants, and Austin Psych Fest is there to celebrate those roots. The days when velvet posters had such crazy font that only those in the know could even be bothered to lean in and see where the gig was. When those acid visuals still came from guitars and drums. It’s the true predecessor to the aesthetic so many festivals try to copy these days, so you know that it’s authentic.
8-16th – Rock In Rio USA (Las Vegas, Nevada) – South America isn’t really showing up on the Festival Circuit lately, which is a shame, because when they do throw a party, the world takes notice. Rock in Rio is the largest music festival on Earth, and over a million people attend every year. With capacity issues like that, it’s easy to see why they’d move to America, although I’m not really sure they should have kept the name. Rock In Rio is the exact opposite of what they are doing.
15-17th – Joshua Tree Roots Festival (Joshua Tree, California) – Outside of music festivals, I have two favorite places in the world. Phong Nga Khe Bang National Park in Vietnam is the newer entry on the list, but the original champion is Joshua Tree. There’s something magical about the prehistoric ocean desert with its truffula trees and Hexagonian (don’t look up that word) rock formations. But like I said, those are my favorites – outside of music festivals. But Joshua Tree hosts its own music festival: a blues and roots festival set within the very park I already love so much. It’s one of those obvious combinations that you’ve always wanted without realizing it already exists, like prosciutto and cantaloupe. Seriously, try that, guys. It’s bomb.
15-17th – Hangout Music Festival (Gulf Shores, Alabama) – I like nonsensical festival names. Gives them a sense of intrigue (I still don’t know what the hell a Bonnaroo is). When you ask if I want to go to Hangout Festival, I think you’re asking if I want to go sit on lawn chairs in some dude’s front yard while a guy in a wifebeater strums the first three chords to Wonderwall before apologizing and starting over. And lo and behold, it’s in Alabama.
17th – Bay2Breakers (San Francisco, California) – Bay2Breakers is the longest consecutively-run footrace in the world, being held every year since 1912. I use the word “race” fairly lightly here, because while there are a lot of people that take it seriously, a good chunk of the people taking part are only there to get drunk and dress up in silly costumes. The organizers are strict about not allowing alcohol on the racecourse, but that doesn’t stop people from hosting parties in all the domiciles along the way.
21-25th – Lightning in a Bottle (Temecula, California) – The first time I went to Coachella, I tried acid. I was tripping bear balls when I wandered into the Do LaB, a performance art collective that sets up a tent at the festival every year. The only way it can be described is a Dubstep Cirque du Soliel, a Cirque du Dirt if you will, a combination of everything glorious about Burning Man and Coachella in one. My addled mind could barely take it. That was just one tent, but fortunately, the Do LaB puts on an entire festival espousing everything it puts into its Coachella digs and more. Lightning in a Bottle is four days of music, art, and communal living. It’s the aesthetics of Coachella and the vibes of Burning man without those judgmental looks from your older coworkers.
22-24th – California Roots Music and Art Festival (Monterey, California) – If you ask any foreigner which states in America have legalized marijuana use, they’ll probably list California. Erroneously, of course, but there’s definitely a certain aesthetic that people pick up on. Especially in Northern California. I only say this because if you plan on going to California Roots, you should know what to expect. With a lineup like this, in a place like this, you’d almost expect High Times to be an official festival sponsor.
22-24th – Summer Camp (Chillicothe, Illinois) – Memorial Day Weekend is a huge deal in America, and obviously there are going to be a lot of music festivals to choose from over the three day weekend. They’ll normally be centralized on the coasts (I recommend going to either Lightning in a Bottle or Sasquatch, personally). But there’s always a chance that you’ve forgotten to plan, and somehow you’re going to be stuck in the center of the country wondering how the hell you got there and why you didn’t know. And in that case, you should go to Summer Camp. It’s a great consolation prize.
22-25th – Sasquatch (George, Washington) – Sasquatch is one of those legendary American festivals that, along with Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza, comprise the big four nonsense names that people travel thousands of miles to attend. The Gorge Ampitheatre is one of the most gorgeous venues in the country, which explains one of the huge draws. And with places like Coachella drawing more and more flak (for some reason, Sasquatch is quickly becoming the festival you need to see in America.
23-24th: Electric Daisy Carnival New York (East Rutherford, NJ) – EDC in Las Vegas is the single largest electronic music festival in the world. Sorry, Ultra. But even with the full force of Vegas, its casinos, and even its politicians backing it, there’s just not enough to go around. They’ve thus expanded to Orlando, Mexico, and New York – and yes, East Rutherford isn’t in New York, but how many tickets do you think it would sell if EDC NJ was written on the banner? Come see our scenic smoke stacks and guidos? At least it’s not Orlando. And since the weather is gonna be warm this time of year, you don’t even need to tell anybody you weren’t in Las Vegas when you change your profile to yourself on some fucked-up dude’s shoulders.
23-25th – Movement (Detroit, Michigan) – I’ve always liked the logic behind music like grunge and metal. Moshing to angry music gives young people a healthy outlet to express their frustration and rage in a way that doesn’t necessarily hurt anybody. I gotta assume that’s the same logic for putting a major music festival in the warzone that is Detroit, but then again: It’s Detroit. I see people crying because Coachella is over and they have to go back to their homes in Beverly Hills. How do you think it’s gonna go when Movement’s over and people realize they’re still in Michigan?
24th – Indy 500 (Indianapolis, Indiana) – If you’re already in the American South, there’s a good chance you went to the Kentucky Derby. I described that as Cannes meets your drunken uncle’s family gathering. If that’s the case, then the Indy 500 is your drunk uncle’s family gathering meets your other drunk uncle’s backyard go kart track. It’s all the redneck of the Kentucky Derby, minus the dressings of horse racing society and class. No, here at the Indy 500, it’s pure, unadulterated Larry the Cable Guy quotes, greasy food, exposed butt cracks, and loud cars. For once, you can let the animal out of the cage, and you still won’t be the most ridiculous person in the immediate vicinity.
29-31st – BottleRock (Napa Valley, California) – You gotta give points for trying. BottleRock premiered last year in the Napa Valley, and the organizers really shot for the moon. Or maybe the sun would be a more apt analogy. Icarus style. Dudes booked talent they couldn’t afford and paid for it by screwing over the caterers, builders, and every other backstage employee they thought they could get away without paying. There were a lot of lawsuits, and I’m not entirely sure how they worked out. If the event is going on this year, I’m going to assume it worked out for the best. Or maybe it didn’t. Use your best judgment when you’re deciding if you want to support these guys. But by all accounts, at least the festival itself was fun.
30-31st – Sweetlife (Columbia, Maryland) – Sweetlife may not be the biggest festival you’re gonna see on my calendars, but it’s got a pretty damn good story. It started as a healthy alternative store. A couple college kids got together to do something they loved, and once it took off a bit, they threw an anniversary party in the parking lot. The idea stuck. Now, Sweetlife is drawing ever-bigger names, expanding from the parking lot to the legendary Merriweather Post Pavilion venue. Not shabby for a couple of young dudes a few years out. Maybe in a couple of years you’ll see an Elsewhere Man festival. The gears of Inspiration are turning…
2nd, 3rd, 9th, 10th – Groovin’ The Moo (Bendigo, Canberra, Maitland, Townsville, Australia) – Having spent a lot of time living in the middle of Bumfuck, Nowhere, I can tell you that big name acts don’t exactly tour in the Boonies. But Groovin’ The Moo changes that – one of the few festivals that specifically only tours to small town Australia (though not exactly far from the backpacker circuit). The lineup is stacked with both up-and-coming locals and big name international guys, so it’s worth a visit no matter how far you have to hitchhike.
22nd-June 8th – Vivid (Sydney, Australia) – Melbourne has the White Night festival in February, where the entire city is lit up like the Fourth of July. But Melbourne’s most iconic bit of city are the trams that trundle through it’s streets, so as impressive as the light show can get, it doesn’t really scale. Meanwhile, Sydney’s got an entire harbor to work with, and a giant finned Opera House that was practically designed to be a projector screen. White Night is a rainbow of color and art – Sydney is a rainbow viewed through the eyes of a mofo’in Mantis Shrimp as portrayed by Jackson Pollack.
23-31st – Melbourne International Jazz Festival (Melbourne, Australia) – You’d think Sydney, as the most iconic city in Australia, would be the place to go for festivals. But nope. Turns out, the only cultural leg-up Sydney has on Melbourne is a crazy looking opera house that movie monsters love to smash. Having lived in Melbourne for six months now, I’ll say that there’s always something going on. And while the southern city may be heading into its winter by this time, the cold has always been the best time to listen to some Johnny Coltrane. Good enough for Nas, good enough for you. Since it takes over the entire downtown area, you might as well put on a coat and check out the music you might not have known you loved.
So goes May. Again, subscribe to the Elsewhere Plans Festival Calendar via an easy-to-read Google Calendar version, as well as a downloadable iCal version. Don’t forget to tweet any that I missed to @theElsewhereman, and I’ll add them in. Cheers to your adventure.