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Top 10 Music Festivals in North America: Spring 2014 Power Rankings

on April 07, 2014, 9:34am
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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Welcome to Festival Outlook, a new supplemental column that will provide more in-depth analysis for the rumors found on Consequence of Sound’s Festival Outlook. In this installment, Michael Roffman and Frank Mojica break down this year’s top 10 festivals so far and discuss the pros and cons for each lineup. You can think of it as Sports Center for festivalgoers.

Michael Roffman (MR): Now that Lollapalooza’s announcement is behind us, it’s time we start sorting out this year’s top lineups. So, what we have below is our first collection of power rankings based on a number of votes from our small festival committee. We took into consideration a series of items, specifically each festival’s headliners, rare gets, undercards, eclecticism, and location.

The term “power rankings” means these are subject to change. Headliners might fizzle on-stage — after all, we haven’t seen OutKast perform in almost a decade — and lineups might shift around, as we saw two weekends ago at Ultra Music Festival. It should be noted that this list also includes festivals that have already past us this year (e.g. Tomorrow Never Knows, SXSW). With that in mind, expect this to evolve throughout the year.

Now that we’ve parsed out the details, Frank, what do you have to say about festivals this year? I think right now it really boils down to Bonnaroo and Governors Ball. Both have an incredibly diverse lineup in addition to some wild gets. We have Kanye West’s return to the farm, a potentially pre-hiatus gig from The Strokes (in their hometown, no less), and an exhaustive undercard that should make for some of this year’s worse conflicts. But hey, what catches your eye?

lollapalooza 2014

Frank Mojica (FM): I feel that most of the major players (and some of the smaller festivals) each have a few acts that make me wish I could attend, rather than one fest completely dominating. Coachella has always been the place to catch reunions, but that isn’t as true anymore. So far, in regards to domestic festivals, Slint and Slowdive are only appearing at Forecastle and Pitchfork, respectively, and Cibo Matto and Failure are frustratingly absent from Coachella and everywhere else. However, they still have first dibs on OutKast, and even though The Knife and Friends doing Sparkle Motion isn’t nearly as enticing as the Silent Shout show was, it’s still The Knife and many of us have been waiting far too long to see them.

Governors Ball has OutKast as well, plus Damon Albarn, and the always brilliant Janelle Monáe (“Call the Law”, anyone?). Bonnaroo has both of those, as well as Elton John. His set is not something to be underestimated. Just think of all the hits and potential for grand singalongs. And, of course, Lionel Richie and the return of Yeezus H. Christ.

I saw St. Vincent twice recently, and that next-level performance will be difficult, if not impossible, to top. Unfortunately, she’s absent from most festivals this summer. One fest that really stands out to me is NXNE because both she and Swans are playing. Annie Clark contributed vocals to their new album, so there is a possibility for a live collaboration that likely won’t be seen elsewhere.

govballday Top 10 Music Festivals in North America: Spring 2014 Power Rankings

MR: Well, Governors Ball already unveiled their day-to-day lineup and I have to say… it’s a weird collection of slices. The whole thing works out like an American’s trip to the buffet. Big plate on Friday with Outkast, Phoenix, and TV on the Radio, while seconds just pile everything on just in case: Jack White, The Strokes, Skrillex, Spoon. Wow. These two days by comparison make Sunday look like the scraps, what with Vampire Weekend, Axwell, Foster the People, and Interpol? Hopefully, Bonnaroo evenly distributes things. Then again, Sunday — our wonderful day of our wonderful Lord and Savior — is typically light for some festivals.

Frank, you make a valid point about Bonnaroo and its guarantees. I’m one to really put stock into headliners and they have a series of sure-fire winners. You won’t walk away disappointed from Kanye West (I hope), Elton John, Lionel Richie, and, of course, Jack White. Whereas, who knows how The Strokes, or OutKast, or even TV on the Radio will fare. Given Julian Casablancas’ erratic performances at SXSW, what might become of his original outfit?

My one condition with St. Vincent — and I found her recent live performance thrilling — is that it’s also incredibly calculated. So, if you’ve caught her on tour, odds are you’ve seen her through and through. And what’s more, at a festival, you’re going to get even less. I will say that a potential collaboration on-stage with Swans does add some stock to NXNE.

FM: I just looked at the day-to-day breakdown for Governors Ball, and there are only three acts I want to see on Sunday. Having said that, it’s been my experience that even the best music festivals usually have one day that’s weaker than the others. For example, at Coachella last year, I had a lot of downtime on Sunday compared to the rest of the weekend. I think the final day works best as the dumping ground for scraps because at that point I’m too tired to get very enthusiastic about anything, anyway. Plus, people start leaving early to return to the horrors of everyday life.

St. Vincent // Photo by Heather Kaplan

Photo by Heather Kaplan

In regards to St. Vincent, I agree that a traditional festival set would be a lesser experience because, frankly, I want a full two hour set of that incredible show. However, I think the choreography, creative light show, and demented sounds of her performance would go over especially well at a fest, considering the, ahem, state of mind of many in attendance. Still, outside of the headliners and special bookings, who are some of the acts on the circuit this year that will go above and beyond in making the most of the abbreviated set time? And which festival did the best job of loading their lineup with such acts?

MR: Good question. So many of my favorite albums this year are best reserved for smaller venues: Cloud Nothings, The War on Drugs, Todd Terje, and together PANGEA. I haven’t heard too many albums from acts that might excel in a festival setting. Even someone like Chromeo would do better in an intimate club rather than, say, a large outdoor festival under an unforgiving sun. With that in mind, I think it really boils down to setting and how unique of a timeslot you can offer — and that’s where Bonnaroo excels. Could you imagine a late night set with Frank Ocean? How about Disclosure? Even an act that’s gathering dust like CHVRCHES would benefit from something after two. You just can’t rival Bonnaroo’s flexibility in its schedule.

On the same point, you also can’t ignore the terrain of Sasquatch!, which produces the sort of awe-inspiring moments that Christopher McCandless searched for prior to his death (see/read: Into the Wild). This gives some added umph to any act, though I can’t imagine a better place to watch tUnE-yArDs — well, other than the African Serengeti — or even a colossal metal act like Queens of the Stone Age. Speaking of Sasquatch!, they’re in a particular position to move up here. They’ve slowly been adding acts from their recently canceled second weekend, and if I was Adam Zacks, I would try to squeeze in as many as I could.

sasquatch 2014

Personally, I thought the second weekend had more eclecticism than most festivals this summer — specifically the booking of Robyn and Röyksopp. What a peculiar inclusion and one that almost had me grabbing a flight for July. (Thank god I didn’t.) Still, if they can add them to May, you can bet I’ll be upping their placement some.

One thing to consider is the flow. Now, we don’t have schedules for most of these yet, but judging from the day-to-day breakdowns, I can only imagine there will be some major conflicts for each festival, as there always is. However, on the flip side, there might be few lulls at some of these festivals — especially at a place like Forecastle. Look at their day-to-day lineups, it’s really impressive. There might be conflicts, sure, but you won’t be walking around Louisville kicking the dust for something impressive. That’s a strong factor to consider.

FM: Warpaint is always incredible live, and the new songs really come to life onstage. At Coachella, if they perform on the Outdoor at around 6:30-7:30 p.m. while the sun goes down, it would be something for the ages. I feel that this magical hour was largely wasted last year. And thanks to their tendency to jam out and extend songs, they would also benefit from the longer set times found at Bonnaroo. I’m not sure how Cloud Nothings would go over in the open air, but maybe I’m spoiled from having seen them with a hundred people on the S.S. Coachella.

CHVRCHES would absolutely excel while playing a packed, sweaty tent at night, whether it’s an after hours set at Bonnaroo or late evening in the Mojave at Coachella – where dance parties often ensue as people seek refuge from underwhelming main stage offerings. Considering how wild the crowds have been whenever I’ve seen a DJ drop Disclosure during their set over the past year, I imagine the energy will be overwhelming for the real thing this season.

Image (1) chvrches620.jpg for post 334114

Photo by Danielle Renee Buhr

It’s a shame that the second weekend of Sasquatch! was canceled, because Neutral Milk Hotel at sunset with that gorge-ous backdrop would have surely been legendary. Queens of the Stone Age are a desert band, so it will be interesting to see them in such an environment at Coachella, and it’s been over a decade since they last played.

MR: Yeah, all of those sets would bring tears to my eyes. I’m still kicking myself for not being able to go to Coachella or Sasquatch! this year. Bonnaroo, on the other hand, I just can’t handle the heat… and I’m from Miami.

One festival we haven’t really discussed yet is Shaky Knees out in Atlanta. What a lineup. It’s not exactly an extravagant collection, but it’s very cohesive, and I like that about certain festivals. When they know their identity and stick with it — something Moogfest has done with style, even post-AC Entertainment — that says a lot about their brand. Having Alabama Shakes, The National, Deer Tick, Modest Mouse, and The Replacements, there’s a certain pride exhibited. They not only know their scope, but their audience. I feel so many big name festivals forgot about that, which explains why some might complain about Bonnaroo hosting Kanye West or Lollapalooza grabbing Kings of Leon.

Looking ahead, what are some festivals you think could shake up this list? Of course, we have to consider the duds in the earlier festivals, and what that might do to the power rankings, but what about unannounced lineups for, say, Outside Lands, Riot Fest, or even Austin City Limits? Something tells me the latter is going to be really, really solid this year. Maybe I just love Austin, TX too much. #TexasForever

gathering of the juggalos

FM: We still have the full lineup for the Juggalo Gathering coming, as well. #woopwoop

My estimation is that the smaller fests such as Fun Fun Fun and FYF are not to be underestimated. The lineup possibilities this season are highly promising. There is seemingly a growing dissent that the big festivals have gone too mainstream, and it will be interesting how these lineups will reflect that.

MR: Agreed. Now, how about we tackle these rankings, huh?

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