Party hard: great US music festivals

Born in the USA

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Jules Pearson

Kai Sedgwick
HomeAway travel expert

SXSWFor many people, a music festival is the crowning glory of the summer. A chance to witness their favourite performers on the same stage as they craft moments of pure, pop perfection before a clamouring crowd. But here's the thing: you no longer need to sleep in the mud, shirk the shower and subsist entirely on cereal bars for a week to revel in the festival atmosphere. Music festivals have never been more accessible, and with a little planning you can experience an outdoor festival in comfort and class.

The USA holds solid claims to being the birthplace of the modern music festival, both conceptually (Monterey Music Festival, 1967), and spiritually (Woodstock, 1969). Whether you ascribe to this or not, what is undeniable is that America hosts some of the largest, most exciting and eclectic live spectacles on the planet. So saddle up and prepare to hit the US festival scene without compromise. Along the way, you’ll witness some awe-inspiring performances, experience world-class food and drink and meet inspiring people. Best of all, at the end of a day spent trudging around the festival site, you can retire to your HomeAway rental for some well-earned R&R and a chance to reflect on the magnificence of everything you've just witnessed. That’s how you party smart.


Five of the greatest US festivals at a glance


South by South-West (SXSW) - Austin, Texas South by South-West (SXSW) - Austin, Texas

Undeniably one of the largest arts spectacles on the calender, SXSW takes over Austin for roughly two weeks each spring. The organisers refer to this festival as a 'conference' due to its urban location - think Edinburgh's Fringe Festival - with over 700 venues across the city hosting artists from all genres. In recent years SXSW has gained a reputation as the place for music fans and industry professionals alike to uncover the next big thing; James Blunt, Willy Mason and John Mayer all shot to fame on the back of relatively low-key performances at SXSW. A great place to discover a hidden gem.

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Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival - Nashville, Tennessee Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival - Nashville, Tennessee

Since its seminal year in 2002, Bonnaroo has become internationally regarded as one of the best music festivals in the world, both by fans and the media. This feeling is due in no small part to the sheer calibre of artists that the festival attracts: Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen have all graced the stage here. Made in the image of Glastonbury, Bonnaroo is a four-day festival staged on a farm just a short drive south of one of music's holy cities - Nashville. Consequently, rock and folk proliferate here, though recent years have seen a surge in the number of hip-hop and electronica acts.

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Electric Daisy Carnival - Las Vegas Electric Daisy Carnival - Las Vegas

EDC has exploded across several venues worldwide since 1997, including Colorado, New York, London and Puerto Rico, but it is the Las Vegas event - incepted in 2011 - that wears the neon crown as 'The World's Largest Electronic Music Festival'. An explosion of colour and light, the festival is revered (even in the pyrotechnically saturated Vegas) for its stunning and innovative fireworks. The sheer size of the event - which saw 350,000 plus attendees in 2013 - makes it an obvious stage for dance music's finest. David Guetta, Paul Oakenfold and Calvin Harris are among the most notable acts to have topped the bill previously.

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Summerfest – Milwaukee Summerfest – Milwaukee

An event billing itself as 'The World's Largest Music Festival' may sound like a case of good-old-fashioned American hyperbole, but no. In 1999 this title was made official by Guinness World Records, and Summerfest has lived up to it ever since, with around 1,000,000 people flocking to the shores of Lake Michigan each June for a festival that runs for 11 days, with more than 700 bands across 11 stages. The Big Gig - as it is more affectionately known - is primarily a mainstream pop festival, and is also one of America's longest running, with the first event taking place in 1968.

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Newport Folk Festival – Aquidneck, Rhode Island Newport Folk Festival – Aquidneck, Rhode Island

A short ferry-ride from the city of New York is not necessarily where you might expect to find America's foremost folk festival, but since its revival in 1985, the Newport Folk Festival has been the party of choice for fans of folk, blues and country-inspired music. A relatively intimate affair, the festival has previously hung its style on performers such as Johnny Cash, Howlin' Wolf and Bob Dylan (though Dylan was famously booed at this venue in 1965), but today attracts the biggest names in traditionally-styled contemporary music, such as Fleet Foxes, The Lumineers and My Morning Jacket.

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SXSW imageCopyright All rights reserved by Peter Tsai Photography
Second SXSW image AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by bre pettis
Bonnaroo image Copyright All rights reserved by TonyLanda
Electric Daisy image AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Caesar Sebastian
Summerfest image Copyright All rights reserved by Government Cheese


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