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Top 10 Music Festivals and Headliners in North America: Summer 2015 Power Rankings

on September 22, 2015, 1:00pm

Top 10 Headliners

10. The Weeknd

05-The-Weeknd

Photo by David Brendan Hall

There isn’t a day that goes by in which I don’t hear “Can’t Feel My Face”. Whether it’s at Chipotle, or the gym, or every time I step into a Lyft, The Weeknd does his whole Michael Jackson schtick and everyone just goes apeshit. Probably because the song’s ludicrously catchy, but also because it’s just sticky enough to not become an irritating earworm that begs for a screwdriver to the brain. All year, that lustful adoration has translated into overwhelming crowds that would have been unthinkable for the PBR&B singer back in December. So, you can thank Fifty Shades of Grey and an album that can’t stop/won’t stop, because Abel Tesfaye is one of the hottest commodities on the market. –Michael Roffman

Top 10 Headliners

09. Tame Impala

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

“Mystery loves company, as the saying goes, and Tame Impala are about to yank rock ‘n’ roll back into the great unknown.” That’s what I wrote back in May, literally hours after their headlining set closed out Shaky Knees. This wasn’t a sensationalized moment; this was the makings of a believer. A couple years prior, I had seen them play at Austin City Limits, and while their live set was certainly impressive then, it didn’t carry the weight it does now. At the moment, Kevin Parker’s band of Australian misfits are working with their best material yet and, in turn, it’s informed their live performances to evolve their sound past the confines of anything they’ve ever recorded in the studio. That’s what makes them the most exciting act to see right now, if only for the fact that you won’t hear anything like it anywhere, not even on their own records. It’s also the only time that I can remember using the words “soulful” and “mindfuck” in the same sentence. –Michael Roffman

Top 10 Headliners

08. Chance the Rapper

Nina Corcoran, Chance the Rapper 1

Photo by Nina Corcoran

No genre gets more ostracized at a festival than hip-hop. A rapper’s WPM ratio turns into an unofficial duel between fans and the artist, seeing who can keep up while many, especially those vaguely or entirely unfamiliar with the act, stand awkwardly, unsure if they should really be there. Chance the Rapper manages to eradicate this altogether. During his hometown headlining set at Pitchfork Festival, the young rapper launched through a medley of work both old and new, encouraging everyone to make those minutes full of joy, love, and energy in whatever that means for them — no matter what else anyone thinks. Chance prioritizes your comfort and enjoyment from start to long after he finishes. Feeling welcome has never felt so wonderful. –Nina Corcoran

Top 10 Headliners

07. Kendrick Lamar

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Kendrick Lamar should be No. 1 on this list. But he’s still articulating his own feelings about his album — this year’s year-end hopeful, To Pimp a Butterfly — and it’s that hesitation which keeps rattling him around on this list. Because really, we’ve seen when he can fully “bring it,” as he recently proved on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, but we’ve also seen when he’s sat comfortably on the ice, as he did during his headlining slot at Sasquatch! back in May. He’s always great, no doubt about that, but he’s not always essential. Which, to say the least, is a shame given that he’s working with this year’s most engaging material yet. One could argue for next year, but you know how the times work. Yesterday’s business is tomorrow’s lost thoughts. Hmm, I should write that down. –Michael Roffman

Top 10 Headliners

06. Billy Joel

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Photo by Ben Kaye

Of all the legacy artists out there this year, Billy Joel was poised as the relative underdog. But anyone who doubted him must’ve forgotten how deep his catalog of hits really is. How can you not be all smiles with an encore that goes “Uptown Girl”, “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me”, “Big Shot”, “You May Be Right”, “Only the Good Die Young”? It’s true that you can see Joel playing most of these songs every month at Madison Square Garden, but only at Bonnaroo do you get 70,000 people belting along to “Piano Man”, and it’s hard to top that feeling. –Ben Kaye

Top 10 Headliners

05. Beyoncé

Beyonce - Killian Young (6)

Photo by Killian Young

Every year, Beyoncé’s name gets floated around as a potential festival headliner and every year most festivals miss on her, either from a lack of booking interest or an inability to get the price right. But her willingness to headline, and impress, at her husband’s Made in America Festival is further proof that Bey needs to do more festivals in the coming years, and that pop stars at major music festivals are not as taboo as they once were. Bey even went as far as to debut a new show at her summer fest appearance, indicating that a booking of Beyoncé wouldn’t just be the recycling of her previous arena run. –Philip Cosores

Top 10 Headliners

04. Kanye West

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Despite his ever-growing fame, Kanye West was the underdog of the festival season. Glastonbury festivalgoers signed a petition against him, and at FYF, he was merely a replacement. Despite the adversity, he still delivered increasingly explosive performances that not only silenced critics, but reaped new fans. People often forget that behind the egotism, he has a huge catalog of amazing albums, years of live performance experience, and an unmatched vision for stage production. Thus, festivalgoers can’t help but turn over a new leaf when they see Yeezy live; he’s the d-bag that just keeps on giving. –Danielle Janota

Top 10 Headliners

03. Florence and The Machine

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

We all have that one personal friend that we adore because no matter what, anytime we’re around them they leave us smiling with a warm full heart. This is the same way most of us feel after experiencing Florence and the Machine perform at a music festival. Even the most judgemental festival patrons would have a hard time coming up with negative critiques after witnessing Florence Welch light up a stage. It’s hard to imagine Florence and the Machine not making this list as long as they’re touring. Florence will continue to be a sure bet for a memorable and radiant festival headliner. –Nick LeTellier

Top 10 Headliners

02. Paul McCartney

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Okay, so Paul McCartney didn’t bring out Kanye West or Rihanna during his headlining set at Lollapalooza this past August. But, he played a snippet of “FourFiveSeconds” and he sang alongside Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard (see above) for a fun and sassy rendition of “Get Back”. Plus, as expected, the whole “Hey Jude” sing-a-long proved to be another religious experience, a rare, spiritual moment that very few headliners (if any) could ever hope to offer. Strangely enough, however, it was “Back in the U.S.S.R.” that brought the crowd to Cloud9. Well, same with “Helter Skelter”. And the Abbey Road medley. Oh bollocks, the whole thing’s fucking great. Sir Paul, what would we do without you? –Michael Roffman

Top 10 Headliners

01. Roger Waters

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Photo by Ben Kaye

We were all mightily impressed when Roger Waters appeared on this year’s Newport Folk Festival bill — after all, the Pink Floyd founder hadn’t performed in two years, and hadn’t played a US fest in seven. But seeing his name on the bill was nothing compared to actually seeing him on stage. Joined by the unannounced My Morning Jacket, SNL’s legendary G.E. Smith, and at various points Lucius, Amy Helm, and Sara Watkins, the set was pure legend. There was a new original song (“Crystal Clear Brooks”); Floyd and solo rarities; and covers of Bob Dylan, John Prine, Levon Helm. With that sort of setlist and those guests, the performance was not only unique in the festival landscape, but in musical history. You just can’t beat that. –Ben Kaye

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