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Top 10 Music Festivals: Fall 2017 Power Rankings

Like Bananarama once sang in The Karate Kid, it's been a cruel summer

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    It’s September, summer’s gone, and we now know the lineups to most of 2017’s music festivals. If we’re being honest, though, we’re drawing a fuzzy blank as we try to recall the highlights of this year. For starters, it wasn’t a particularly strong outing for reunions, save for Jawbreaker, and even worse, it wasn’t a particularly riveting year for headliners, either, outside of graduation stories for the likes of Lorde or Cage the Elephant.

    But it’s more than that. For awhile, we’ve noted how the biggest festivals with the longest histories have lost parts of their identity, namely due to so many of them being owned by the same companies. Because of this, boutique and destination festivals have started to feel more and more appealing, offering slices of culture that extend beyond music.

    Look, if it sounds like we’re coming down on music festivals, we’re not. Even outside of the top 10 below, we’ve found many events this year that are doing something special within the festival landscape, from the relaxed, mature vibes of San Francisco’s Outside Lands to the punk rock nostalgia of Chicago’s Riot Fest to the 90’s-inspired mass appeal of San Diego’s KAABOO.

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    Gripes aside, there are still many special events happening in the United States and around the world, only the field is more crowded than ever, as we’ve been saying for years. Sometimes, though, you have to make your way through the weeds to find the flowers, and let’s just say, we channeled our inner Ralph Fiennes for this one.

    –Philip Cosores
    Executive Editor


    10. The Growlers Six

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    MVP Headliner: Yeah Yeah Yeahs have been pretty quiet since wrapping its touring behind 2013’s Mosquito. Karen O released a solo album and Nick Zinner has been recording and touring with Head Wound City, but the band has been doing little with regards to their main project. That will end this fall with select tour dates, including this headlining slot. Long one of the most captivating live presences in music, this has particular luster as a long-awaited return.

    Best Gets: Up and down the lineup, there is much that you just don’t see at other festivals. This could mean veteran eccentrics Butthole Surfers, recently formed Jenny Lewis project Nice As Fuck, or underutilized legends like The B-52’s and Bad Brains. It’s not that they seem like particularly difficult grabs, it’s just that it takes a little imagination to come up with them.

    Added Value: Headlining both nights will be The Growlers, who come off as kind of an afterthought at their own festival, but still draw a devoted crowd. Other great lineup additions include headliner worthy like Modest Mouse and The Black KeysDan Auerbach as well as hip-hop trailblazer Danny Brown and indie legends Guided By Voices.

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    Can’t-Miss Rookies: Both Rostam and Alice Glass are better known for their old bands, Vampire Weekend and Crystal Castles, respectively. But with recent solo releases, both will be trying to prove that they can stand on their own at this festival.

    Final Thoughts: Despite the fact that one name on the lineup, Mystikal, is currently in jail, the bulk of The Growlers Six lineup is inspired. Maybe they have something to prove after losing their old festival name, Beach Goth, in a lawsuit. Moving to a new location, the LA Waterfront, and stacking the bill with acts ranging from indie to rap, the festival maintains a unique vision of its curator. The Growlers Six looks like no other festival happening this year, and that’s the way it is intended.

    –Philip Cosores

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    09. Rolling Loud

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    MVP Headliner: King Kendrick reigned supreme at the apex of Rolling Loud, carrying all the cache and power of To Pimp a Butterfly and adding then-brand-new album, DAMN., to the fold. This was the rapper’s second high-profile date following the album’s release, which was quite a coup for the festival.

    Best Gets: While having stars like Future and Lil Wayne around didn’t hurt, there was also Migos. The “Bad and Boujee” trio have become highlights of the festival circuit this season, and their massive buzz, hooks, and charisma have warranted fascinating, powerful sets all season. This was one of the earliest glimpses.

    Added Value: The Rolling Loud organizers did a great job nabbing both established crossover stars (everybody knows enough Wayne and Future to sell tickets) and millennial favorites like Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert, and Kodak Black. Snapchat and Instagram had fun that weekend.

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    Can’t-Miss Rookies: Up-and-comers from scenes around the continent peppered this lineup, giving attendees a varied taste of hip-hop flavors. Chicago’s Mick Jenkins and Toronto’s Jazz Cartier were standouts in that respect, but there was some serious variety in the rookie department.

    Final Thoughts: All ma ladies put your hands up! Oh … hang on … wait. Where did everybody go? There was one female performer on this lineup — plus, reportedly a DJ set from adult film star Uma Jolie — and with no disrespect (only massive praise) meant to Polly A, that’s just disappointing. Kehlani, Kamaiyah, Noname, Jamila Woods … there’s been a deep talent pool from which to draw, and this lineup failed that entirely. Still, there has been a palpable hole in the festival market for a best-in-class rap-centric offering, and this year’s Rolling Loud stepped up to fill that gap. It just would’ve been nice to see it do so with more female representation, especially in a genre often dogged with accusations of misogyny.

    –Lior Phillips


    08. Festival of Disruption

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    MVP Headliner: David Lynch so often exists behind the curtains. So when he does come out to talk, he’s likely to turn some heads, and that’s exactly what his Festival of Disruption did when they announced the acclaimed auteur would be sitting down for a full-length conversation. That’s quite a 180 from last year’s inaugural installment, where he acted more like Oz, poking his head out at the very end for a good minute before disappearing into the night, never to be seen again by the general public. Couple that sense of mystery with the fact that this will arguably be his first major interview following this past summer’s Twin Peaks: The Return and you have arguably one of the most valuable bookings of any festival out there.

    Best Gets: It’ll be interested to hear from Sheryl Lee, who’s been put through the ringer as Laura Palmer over the years. She’ll undoubtedly have some incredible stories to share, and given how things ended for her character on The Return, a few anecdotes may even prove quite revelatory. On the musical front, however, one has to imagine Sharon Van Etten will have some new tunes to share, seeing how it’s been two years now since her last release, 2015’s Don’t Want to Let You Down EP. And we’ll never not want to watch Rebekah Del Rio burn down the house with her lungs.

    Added Value: Well, TV on the Radio hasn’t released anything since 2014’s Seeds, so they’re due for something new. Moby’s DJ sets are always a thrill, and his ties to Lynch go deep, so he could easily take us for a ride through the Black Lodge. Then there’s Bill Hader, another recent addition, whose career runs the gamut from writing to producing to acting. He’ll no doubt have plenty to talk about, especially since his new HBO series, Barry, is right around the corner and finds him playing against-type as a low-rent hitman living in Los Angeles. Should be fun.

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    Can’t-Miss Rookies: There aren’t too many rookies on this lineup, admittedly, so we’ll go with Shepard Fairey. Who doesn’t love that guy?

    Final Thoughts: At this point, festivals are either going to evolve or die. As more and more juggernauts get picked up by the Live Nations and the AEGs of the world, lineups will only continue to look more and more homogenized. That puts the pressure on the boutique festivals to change the game, and while Goldenvoice has been doing most of the heavy lifting in that area, they’re fortunately not alone. Lynch’s Festival of Disruption is quickly becoming a part of that pack, shaking things up by eschewing the traditional and aiming for more fringe fare. Last year’s festivities felt very emblematic of Lynch’s signature brand, programming artists and creatives who are challenging the ways we might attempt to resolve the future, not just with performances but elaborate talks, intuitive galleries, and engaging installments. That’s the case for this year, too, which bodes well for the festival’s vitality, and seeing how they have major plans to expand into other markets, that’s not only good news for them, but for the industry as a whole.

    –Michael Roffman


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