10 Best Music Festivals of 2013
Festival season has come and gone, which means it’s the perfect time to reflect on the biggest and best of 2013. With so many new and unique festivals seemingly appearing out of thin air these days, it seems only fair to replace some of the usual suspects with new blood — and lucky for us, several of the new arrivals on the scene actually turned out better than their higher-profile rivals. With that in mind, we bring you our 10 Best Music Festivals of 2013 list. If nothing else, maybe this will inspire the Coachellas and the Bonnaroos of the world to up their games in 2014.
Leave it to the open-minded booking agents of New York’s Governors Ball to pull together a lineup this radically diverse. In addition to featuring the superstar headlining triumvirate of Kings of Leon, Guns N’ Roses and Kanye West (huh?), this three-day fest also included indie go-tos like the xx, Beach House and Animal Collective. The setting — an island with sweeping, panoramic views on the Manhattan skyline — certainly doesn’t hurt its cause, either.
The 2013 Voodoo Music + Arts Experience didn’t fall on Halloween this year, but that didn’t stop the 15th edition of the annual urban party from maintaining its spooky rock vibe. Tens of thousands of festival goers descend on City Park in downtown New Orleans each year, and this gathering is known for its unique blend of high-profile national acts and standouts from the deep and diverse local NOLA scene. The top of the 2013 line-up was especially stellar, with Nine Inch Nails, the Cure and Pearl Jam turning in memorable sets.
This year marked the second annual Firefly Music Festival, held at the Dover International Speedway in Dover, Del., a sprawling, 87-acre plot with plenty of room for the 70-plus bands that performed across four stages. Tagged “the East Coast’s Premier Music Experience,” Firefly 2013 offered up headliners the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers — two acts that made the rounds at many of this year’s best known fests — but it did so with the added option of camping, a luxury rare at East Coast fests.
Captured Tracks Five-Year Anniversary Festival
It may not seem like it on first blush, but hitting the five-year mark is quite an accomplishment for any fledgling record label. Brooklyn-based indie Captured Tracks did just that in 2013 and celebrated the milestone in style with a two-day outdoor festival that took place at the end of the summer in their home borough. DIIV and Wild Nothing headlined a stellar bill rounded out by fellow CT acts like Minks, Widowspeak and Heavenly Beat, but the real highlight was a surprise set from impromptu indie supergroup S—father, featuring Mac DeMarco and members of DIIV, Wild Nothing and Beach Fossils.
Electronic music is huge these days. If you don’t believe us, just check out the massive EDM festivals like Ultra Music Festival and Electric Zoo that have sprouted up like magic mushrooms in recent years. New Millennium dance bashes that attract tens of thousands of revelers are a far cry from the small underground rave parties that helped spawn the electronic scene back in the ’80s and ’90s, but Nocturnal Wonderland deserves props for maintaining that intimate vibe while exposing exponentially larger crowds to DJs like Das Berlin, Fathoy Slim and Datsik.
A festival’s setting goes a long way in establishing the vibe of the thing — think Bonnaroo’s lush cow pastures or Coachella’s arid desert climate — and settngs don’t get much better than Mountain Jam’s: a natural amphitheater nestled in upstate New York’s gorgeous Catskill Mountains. Add in the stellar sets turned in from the likes of Widespread Panic, the Lumineers, Primus and the Avett Brothers, and what you have is a solid candidate for our Best Music Festivals of 2013 list.
Mexican Summer: Five Years Festival
Captured Tracks wasn’t the only Brooklyn label to reach the five-year mark in 2013. Mexican Summer also celebrated a half-decade in business with a Brooklyn bash, bringing two days of “music, mirth and merriment” to the gorgeous and ginourmous Pioneer Works arts space. Soulful shoegazers (and Summer associates) Spiritualized toplined a lineup that showcased the wildly eclectic MS roster: Bobb Trimble’s Flying Spiders, the Fresh & Onlys, Lansing-Dreiden, Tamaryn, Ariel Pink and many others.
Newport Folk Fest
Few musical gatherings can boast the historic bona fides of the Newport Folk Festival. Established back in 1959, the Rhode Island shindig soon evolved beyond its acoustic, folk-centric roots, thanks to Bob Dylan’s iconic 1965 performance, which introduced electric folk rock to the scene. These days, Newport balances old-school folk and new-school indie folk and alt-country, and the 2013 lineup boasted Beck, Feist, Jim James, Phosphorescent, Father John Misty and Bonnie Prince Billy.
Bigger isn’t always better. Case in point: the Austin Psych Fest, which comes nowhere near the size of its better-known brethren on the Texas capital scene yet managed to blow SXSW and Austin City Limits out of the water in 2013. It did so by blowing minds with a lineup of psych, shoegaze and experimental heavy hitters like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Acid Mothers Temple and the Black Angels. Don’t get us wrong: We love ACL and SXSW — both just seem to have been experiencing growing pains in recent years, victims of their own success.
This year’s Riot Fest could’ve featured just one band and topped our Best Music Festivals of 2013 tally — and that band, of course, was the Replacements. It had been 22 years since the legendary and beloved indie outfit last hit the stage, though there was more to Riot than the ‘Mats. Where else can you see Danzig, Violent Femmes, Fall Out Boy, X, Joan Jett and Pixies — plus dozens more — in the same weekend?