From Total Trash to High Sierra

Our staff recommends the best summer music festivals in the Bay Area and beyond.

Outside Lands

Now entering its fifth year, Outside Lands keeps managing to surprise us — this year, most notably by its so-crazy-it-just-might-work headliner pairing of (wait for it) Stevie Wonder and Metallica. But while the festival always manages to go big and occasionally risky) remember Tenacious D?) on its headliners, it’s the secondary acts where the festival really shines, and which tend to bear big names way down to the very bottom of the bill. This time around, we’re particularly excited for Zola Jesus, Geographer, YACHT, Washed Out, The Walkmen, Big Boi, and Die Antwoord, but there’s also about sixty other acts to choose from, spanning all genres, not to mention a full slate of food and wine vendors, artists, and various other distractions. That’s the beauty of Outside Lands: There’s truly something for everyone. — E.C.

Fri.-Sun. Aug. 10-12, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. $225 three-day tickets.

Reggae on the River

Regardless of whether or not you’re a connoisseur of Jamaican music, the annual Reggae on the River festival is well worth a drive to Humboldt County. For one thing, the environs are beautiful — a woodsy area surrounding the Eel River, where the weather is always idyllic (especially during July), the air is always crisp, and all the plants have a lustrous green hue. Not to mention that the people are often beautiful, too, even if many of them look like they could have been transplanted from a college fraternity. And if your knowledge of reggae stretches beyond the Marley catalog, you’ll appreciate the music, as well. This year’s headliners include St. Croix act Midnite — a band that favors live instrumentation over studio adornments and “overdubs” — and Toots and The Maytals, a ska band known for its exceptional, choir-like harmonies (for a primer, go to YouTube and search for The Maytals’ ska version of “Louie Louie”). And, as always, several scions of the Marley dynasty will round out the lineup. — R.S.

Saturday-Sunday, July 21-22, Benbow Lake Recreation Area, Humboldt. $105 weekend pass, single-day tickets available at the gate.

Art & Soul Oakland

If you haven’t been to Art & Soul Oakland in a while, you’re missing out. There was that Hammer appearance a couple years ago, and the gospel stage alone is worth the price of admission. This year’s 12th-annual event, co-presented for the first time by the Express, will feature more homegrown talent (from the up-and-coming to the well-known), ambitious entertainment, and an incredibly diverse party. It will also feature extended hours (until midnight) on Saturday, plus an art installation courtesy of de Young Museum and American Steel, film projections, light-based art, artisan booths, food trucks, and more to be announced. — K.R.

Saturday-Sunday, Aug. 4-5, Frank Ogawa Plaza (14th St. and Broadway, Oakland). $8-$15.

Huichica Music Festival

Founded three years ago by vintner Jeff Bundschu and Fruit Bats singer/frontman Eric D. Johnson, the Huichica Music Festival is an idyllic wine-country escape for California’s softhearted indie-rockers. The Gundlach Bundschu Winery proprietor and Sub Pop-signed bandleader found common ground at Bundschu’s Sonoma vineyards, a landscape that fulfilled their desire to bring great folk and rock music to an easy, bucolic setting that wedded their appreciation of music with amazing food and wine. Performing at the day-long festival are mostly Californians, bands that walk the line between older music and popular styles, such as Sonny Smith (Sonny & The Sunsets), Sea of Bees, Cotton Jones, The Donkeys, and Little Wings. The day-long event features wine- and food-tasting, and is preceded the night before by a full-course wine dinner. The facilities include a 150-year-old wooden stage, plus stone cave cellars that festival-goers can wander in at their leisure. The concert will also include the performance of a live film score and a DJ set from Vetiver’s Andy Cabic. — W.B.

Saturday, June 2, Gundlach Bundschu Winery (2000 Denmark St., Sonoma). Noon, $75-$240.

High Sierra Music Festival

If you caught Ben Harper at The Greek Theatre ten years ago, your first reaction might have been: “Wow, what amazing bone structure.” Or, barring that: “What an amazing version of ‘Sexual Healing.'” Indeed, Harper’s ability to channel Marvin Gaye — albeit a slightly deeper-voiced, grainier version — landed him a featured spot in the documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown, and secured his place in the soul canon, even if Harper is known more as a rootsy singer-songwriter than as a bona fide crooner. He’ll headline this year’s High Sierra Music Festival, along with such acts as the Hammond B3 funk trio Soulive, indie-rock quintet Built to Spill, jazz pianist and pop music cannibalizer Marco Benevento, and the seemingly ubiquitous (this year, at least) Sixties reggae band, Toots and The Maytals. A true RV-style, drive-and-camp festival, High Sierra also features late-night indoor shows, workshops, film screenings, parades, fire dancing, and many attractions for kids. — R.S.

Thursday-Sunday, July 5-8, Plumas Fairgrounds, Quincy, Calif. $40-$185, $105-$1350 VIP.

Woodsist Festival

Whether or not you’re familiar with the Woodsist record label, its annual festival at the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur promises to be the perfect kind of summer event — out of town, in the woods, with the kind of lineup you might find at a bigger indie music fest, but in a much more intimate environment. Which is undoubtedly why Woodsist Festival 2012 is already sold out. Bummer, yes, but that doesn’t mean one of your friends (or Craigslist) won’t have an extra at the last minute. It’ll be worth it to see Real Estate, Pierced Arrows, Woods, White Fence, The Mantles, Thee Oh Sees, Fresh & Onlys, Michael Hurley, Peaking Lights, and Ducktails — some of today’s most popular young bands in the garage, psych-rock, and indie-rock scenes. It’s co-presented by the popular production company ((folk yeah!)), which is known for inventive, tasteful lineups; rest assured that they sound even better in this unique environment. — K.R.

Saturday-Sunday, Aug. 4-5, Henry Miller Library (Highway 1, Big Sur).

KMEL Summer Jam

Last year’s Summer Jam was defined by artists both local as well as female, but that’s not quite the case this time around. The most seasoned of the bunch is the most exciting: six-foot, three-hundred-pound Rick Ross will drop his MMG tag onto the Oracle Arena so many times that its sound system will forever echo with the voice of Jessica Gomes saying, “Maybach Music” like it’s a holy mantra. Hearing Tyga do “Rack City” live could potentially be transcendental. Wiz Khalifa will cushion the lineup with clouds of smoke and plenty of Pittsburgh pride. New dudes and Jay-Z/Kanye protégés J. Cole and Big Sean will be in attendance, as well as Run DMC progeny Diggy Simmons. And that’s not to mention Elle Varner and Wale! Most surprising, though, are the Oaklanders: the re-appearance of hyphy rap group The Team, who haven’t thrown an album together since the salad days of the movement. With Clyde Carson at the helm, The Team will no doubt take audiences back several years, hopefully with celebratory slumpers like “Bottles Up” and “Hyphy Juice,” and maybe even some new ones. — W.B.

Sunday, June 10, Oracle Arena (7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland). 7:30 p.m., $23.50-$119.

Tidal Wave

Small music festivals are basically a labor of love because they don’t make any money. They require huge amounts of staff time and usually lack budgets for it, which means they’re often volunteer-run and, by nature, uneven in output. So it’s somewhat amazing that Tidal Wave will be celebrating its thirteenth year this summer (not consecutive years, mind you). And judging from the “tentative schedule” on the festival’s Facebook page, it sounds promising: Huntress, Dreaming Dead, Spiral Arms, Skitzo, Hellfire, Abrupt, Paranoid Freak Out, Ghoul, Morta Skuld, Slough Feg, D.H. Peligro, Haunted By Heroes, Beercraft, and DC3. Needless to say, this isn’t your mother’s metal festival. The two-day event is free and relies on donations; they could probably still use help, so if you’re interested call 415-368-2909. — K.R.

Saturday-Sunday, July 14-15, John McLaren Park, San Francisco

Total Trash 4

It’s not just a festival, it’s a whole genre unto itself — fuzzed-out guitars; screaming drums; reverb-drenched effects — and old-school pop melodies that tend to have more in common with Fifties rock, Sixties surf, and Wall-of-Sound-style girl groups than the straight-ahead punk and garage the instrumentation might suggest. It’s also representative of a certain live-performance ethos, steeped in irreverent messiness and DIY to the core: Last year’s festival — which featured Mean Jeans, Shannon and the Clams, Black Jaspers, and Personal and the Pizzas, among about sixty others over the course of nearly a month at various venues around the Bay — was organized on a shoestring and ended up being the summer’s sweatiest, sloppiest, unequivocal best bet; at press time, details for this year’s iteration were characteristically unclear, but if it’s anything like previous years’ festivals, it’ll be … trashy. And that’s a good thing. — E.C.

Dates, times, and locations TBA. Most shows $5-$15.

Support the East Bay Express, local news, donate

Newsletter sign-up

eLert sign-up

overcast clouds
47.8 ° F
50 °
45 °
81 %
90 %
68 °
76 °
70 °
64 °
61 °