Underground to Campground

We recommend the best music festivals to spend your cash on.

Art & Soul

Even before the Uptown craze and the Old Town craze and the resurgence of Jack London Square, Oakland’s annual Art & Soul Festival boosted the city’s hipness quotient. In the decade since its inception, Art & Soul has featured such headliners as Joan Osborne, Ziggy Marley, Lucinda Williams, Will Downing, and the Indigo Girls. Originally it ran for three days over Labor Day Weekend, packing Frank Ogawa Plaza with international food, artisan vendors, and musical acts that covered everything from blues to hip-hop to gospel. Last year the organizers changed their format to accommodate a Bay Bridge shutdown, opting for a leaner two-day fest in mid-August, and expanding the festival grounds to include a wider swath of Frank Ogawa and City Hall. Evidently, it worked. This year’s Art & Soul takes place, once again, over a two-day weekend, and includes a wide variety of music, dance, art, food, merchant vendors, and family activities. Festival planners won’t release their lineup until July, but we have reason to be optimistic. (R.S.)

Sat.-Sun. Aug. 21-22, Frank Ogawa Plaza, Oakland. $10. ArtandSoulOakland.com  

High Sierra Music Festival

The name might elicit images of washboards, parachutes, group yoga, VW bugs, hand drums, skiffles, and fire dancing. And rest assured that the two-decade-old High Sierra Music Festival has all of those things in spades. But it also has a consistently creative music lineup that mixes contemporary folk and roots rock with jazz, Indian tabla, and New Orleans second line. This year’s fest includes East Bay drummer Scott Amendola and organist Will Blades, the terrific free-jazz trio Nels Cline Singers (also featuring Amendola, alongside guitarist Cline and bassist Devin Hoff), the African American string band Carolina Chocolate Drops, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue (a brass band led by Louisiana’s most enterprising 23-year-old trombonist), San Francisco guitarist Eric McFadden, and a powerful three-piece ensemble with percussionist Zakir Hussain, banjo player Bela Fleck, and bassist Edgar Meyer. It’s well worth a drive up north. (R.S.)

July 1-4, Plumas Sierra Fairgrounds, Quincy. $16-$195. HighSierraMusic.com 

Kate Wolf Memorial Music Festival

This festival, now in its fifteenth year, was founded as a one-day celebration of the folk-singer who recorded classics like “Love Only Remains,” and inspired female artists like Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch. It has since evolved into a three-day camping festival held on Black Oak Farm just outside of Laytonville, Mendocino County. As music festivals go, Katefest is small, only attended by a few thousand each year, and there is only one stage. So although it has grown from its original form, it remains one of the most intimate settings to see so many legendary folk, bluegrass, and traditional musicians, often performing more than once over the course of the weekend. This year promises performances by Little Feat, Steve Earle, and Ani DiFranco, in addition to some lesser-known gems like Poor Man’s Whiskey, the Waifs, and Hot Buttered Rum. (T.S.)

June 25-27, Black Oak Ranch (50350 North Hwy 101, Laytonville). $25-$160. KateWolf.com/festival 

Mission Creek Music and Arts Festival

The Bay Area has no shortage of festivals for all tastes, styles, and proclivities. If Outside Lands is the mother of all festivals, then Mission Creek Music and Arts Festival is the little engine that could. Not that it’s inexperienced. Now in its fourteenth year, Mission Creek, started by musician Jeff Ray, aims to create “ample performance opportunities for emerging music artists who reject mainstream commercialism in order to expand and to explore the possibilities of their own art form.” In other words, expect the unexpected in music, art, and multimedia. More than 100 bands will perform in a variety of venues — including a two-day outdoor event this year in McLaren Park. Past performers have included Extra Action Marching Band, the Pillows, the Aimless Never Miss, and Ty Segall. (K.W.)

July 14-18, various venues (San Francisco). Time and cost varies. MCMF.org 

Monterey Jazz Festival

Like Yosemite Valley, Monterey Jazz Festival is one of the few things in California that qualifies as a national draw. Every year the three-day event honors titans from the jazz canon, along with artists just starting to build pop culture currency. This year’s lineup includes more than 85 performances by musicians as wide ranging as Dianne Reeves, Ahmad Jamal, Roy Haynes, Chick Corea, Christian McBride, Roy Hargrove, Angelique Kidjo, Billy Childs, Les Nubians, and the suddenly ubiquitous Trombone Shorty. Among the slightly lesser-known but equally worth acts are stride pianist Marcus Roberts, Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition (which appears to be generating quite a buzz), and the Bay Area’s own Brass, Bows & Beats. These artists will be the stuff of NPR interviews and New Yorker profiles for the next several years. Better catch them while they’re hot. (R.S.)

Sept. 17-19 Monterey County Fairgrounds (2004 Fairground Rd., Monterey). $15-$280. MontereyJazzFestival.org 

Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival

The Outside Lands Music & Arts Festival has pretty much established itself as the Coachella of Northern California. Now in its third year and pared down to two days from three, the event draws top headliners (Radiohead and Beck in year one; Black Eyed Peas and Pearl Jam last year) amid the glorious backdrop of Golden Gate Park. Last year’s event corrected the first year’s issues (foot-traffic flow, transportation, sound) for a pretty seamless event as far as monster festivals go. And despite the Beastie Boys bowing out at the last minute, 2009’s Outside Lands was still a memorable weekend, with an eclectic lineup to boot — Dead Weather, Ween, Mastodon, Tom Jones, Mars Volta, Thievery Corporation, Band of Horses, among others. High-quality food vendors, a chill yet vigilant staff, and a very helpful iPhone app made the festival seem damn near luxurious. The lineup for this year’s fest won’t be announced till June 1, but it’s guaranteed to be great. (Weather is the only variable.) (K.W.)

August 14-15, Golden Gate Park (San Francisco). Time and cost TBA. SFOutsideLands.com 

Sierra Nevada World Music Festival

If you can only afford to go to one festival this summer and you’re intent on getting your money’s worth, then the obvious choice is the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, held annually at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville. Besides boasting a stellar lineup of acts from around the globe — including New Zealand dub all-stars Fat Freddy’s Drop, Jamaican reggae legends Barrington Levy and Don Carlos, and Senegal’s Baba Maal — every year, the festival is held on the summer solstice, ensuring that not only will you get three days full of music, they will be the longest days of the year. And if the lineup is not enough to entice you, the location definitely ought to sweeten the deal. Boonville is nestled in the wooded hills of Mendocino County, and home of the delicious Anderson Valley Brewing Company. (T.S.)

June 18-20, Mendocino County Fairgrounds (14480 Highway 128, Boonville). $55-$145. SNWMF.com 

Tidal Wave

Metal bands have largely dug out loyal followings without any major-label or commercial support. Maybe it’s the extremity of the music that incurs such extremity in its fans, but this very linked-in, DIY community is known to show up in droves to events — even on a weekday night. Expect no small outpouring for this year’s Tidal Wave, a free, daytime all-ages concert held for two days at McLaren Park Amphitheater in San Francisco. After skipping last year due to financial constraints, Tidal Wave resumes this year with a lineup that so far includes Abysmal Dawn, Stone Vengeance, Near Life, OR3O, Giant Squid, Anvil Chorus, and Go Like This. This isn’t some half-baked metal fest, either; past performers have included Exodus, Ludicra, Grayceon, and Old Granddad, among others. Folks are advised to BYOB and food, as the location is a bit out of the way. (K.W.)

July 24-25, McLaren Park Amphitheatre (40 John Shelley Dr., San Francisco). Noon-6 p.m., free. TheTidalWave.org  

Vans Warped Tour

The band names on this year’s Vans Warped Tour evoke a lot of wonderful, exciting phenomena, such as corrosive chemicals, militant groups, and body parts of venomous snakes. Yet they also promise a thoroughly wonderful lineup at Shoreline Amphitheatre this year. This year’s tour includes oldies-but-goodies like Swingin’ Utters, Dropkick Murphys, and Everclear, alongside offbeat acts like the bizarre rap outfit, Brass Tackz. There’s even a Grind Time Now emcee battle, on-site tattooing, and, of course, a skateboard contest, so Vans can make good on its name. (R.S.)

June 26, Shoreline Amphitheatre (One Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View). Noon, $33. WarpedTour.com 

Wanderlust Festival

Sun salutations during the day, body-rocking bass at night is the basic premise behind this year’s Wanderlust Festival at Squaw Valley in North Lake Tahoe. The yoga retreat and music festival appears to have undergone a significant metamorphosis this year. While the 2009 lineup featured a more folkie offering (Andrew Bird, Jenny Lewis, Broken Social Scene) this year it is decidedly more danceable: Moby will be headlining with a DJ set, along with electronic act Pretty Lights and San Francisco remix master Bassnectar. Yoga and music also share equal billing this year, with a star-studded lineup of celebrity yogis like Shiva Rae, Baron Baptiste, and Seane Corn to instruct you in the proper pose-positioning. After you’re limbered up, you can dance or chill out and among the fire-spinners, hoop-dancers, and slack-liners. (T.S.)

July 29-August 1, Squaw Valley (1960 Squaw Valley Rd., Olympic Valley). $29.50-$450. WanderlustFestival.com 


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