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Top 10 Music Festivals: Winter 2017 Power Rankings

on February 01, 2017, 1:00am
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We’re only four weeks into 2017, and yet we could already map out the summer. There’s nothing really shocking about that, though. By now, it’s become customary for major festivals to drop their lineups before Walgreen’s even has a chance to start stocking Valentine’s Day goodies. And really, it’s a relief in the sense that we get to plan ahead and start to put the pieces together on how the entire festival season is going to look.

So far, it’s a pretty mixed bag. That’s not to say there aren’t some intriguing lineups — what the hell do you think this list is for? It’s just that nothing really leaves us looking like this:

mask gif Top 10 Music Festivals: Winter 2017 Power Rankings

Aside from a few banner names, most of the festival offerings look pretty similar. Chance the Rapper is headlining everywhere. So is Frank Ocean. And if you thought Kendrick Lamar was ready to step away from festivals to hit the studio, think again. Of course, none of us are complaining about seeing these names atop the posters; it’s just that they don’t exactly scream 2017. Where is St. Vincent? Isn’t Sky Ferreira putting out an album? Aren’t Gorillaz coming back?

Perhaps we have to wait for the second half of the year to find out — you know, when the Lollapaloozas, the Pitchforks, the FYFs, the ACLS, and the Voodoos put out their lineups. Or maybe, and let’s hope this isn’t the case, more acts have opted out of festivals to tour on their lonesome? Again, it’s too early to find out. The good news is that we have more than enough lineups to sift through, and there are some must-attend events coming up in the months ahead. To help us pare down the offerings, we even teamed up with our good friends over at Your EDM.

Shall we?

–Michael Roffman
Editor-in-Chief

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10. Middle Lands Festival

middlelands Top 10 Music Festivals: Winter 2017 Power Rankings

MVP Headliner: At a festival as unique as Middlelands, the lineup almost comes second to the experience itself … almost. There’s no headliner distinction on Insomniac lineups, so you have to look a little harder, but they’re there: Major Lazer are known for their showy performances. So putting them in a medieval festival setting is almost guaranteed to bring about exciting results.

Best Gets: But as anyone who’s been to an Insomniac festival knows, sometimes the best sets don’t come from the headliners. To everyone’s surprise, Jurassic 5 was booked for Middlelands, as was Rae Sremmurd, Rich Chigga, and Pouya, representing a strong hip-hop showing that you wouldn’t ever expect. Then there’s still Phantogram, Bonobo, Lido, and more to contend with, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Added Value: To make things even more interesting, Middlelands booked popular actor Kristian Nairn for the festival, better known for portraying the character Hodor on Game of Thrones. Nairn is actually an accomplished producer and DJ and somewhat of an ambassador to the festival, making it all the more authentic.

Can’t-Miss Rookies: And there are even more rising artists you can’t afford to miss, like Elohim, Quix, MSCLS, Pham, Carlyle, Moksi, Sikdope, and more.

Final Thoughts: With Insomniac and C3 Presents, the promoter for festivals like Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits, teaming up together, there’s no doubt that Middlelands will be one of the best music festivals of the year for electronic music, or at least one of the most unique. And with an extra camping component added, you can expect a lot of themed activities to be going on well into the night.

–Matthew Meadow

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09. Governors Ball

gov ball 2017 Top 10 Music Festivals: Winter 2017 Power Rankings

MVP Headliner: Tool might have a younger generation turning to Wikipedia, but there might not be an act with a more dedicated fanbase in music today. Take into account the fact that the group hasn’t played NYC in 11 years, and you have the makings for a single set that could move tickets regardless of the rest of the lineup.

Best Gets: With the release of the best album of his career in December, Childish Gambino was pegged by many to be a fixture on festival lineups this year. But that hasn’t been the case (maybe blame the Han Solo movie for that), and Gambino’s set at Governors Ball, along with appearances from the likes of Phoenix, Mark Ronson Vs. Kevin Parker, Wu-Tang Clan, Charli XCX, and The Avalanches all stand strong for the New York event.

Added Value: Chance the Rapper is one of the hottest new headliners for the year and figures to bring a massive set as he closes out the first night of Governors Ball. A strong mid-tier, which includes Rae Sremmurd, YG, Air, Cage the Elephant, and Lorde, bodes well for music fans coming out to the three-day fest.

Can’t-Miss Rookies: Electronic wizard The Range is magnetic live and figures to win a lot of new fans on Randall’s Island. On the other side of the spectrum, Los Angeles rising stars Muna figure to become fixtures of music festivals as their career continues, and this might be a good time to get in on the ground floor.

Final Thoughts: With a competing festival taking place just a month later, the remarkable thing about both Governors Ball and Panorama is that they both managed to put together festivals better than many others that don’t have to split the talent pool in two. Following the rainout on the final day of last year’s fest, Govenors Ball is hoping things run smooth and that the festival can rebound. With this lineup, they’re off to a good start.

–Philip Cosores

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08. Panorama

panorama 2017 Top 10 Music Festivals: Winter 2017 Power Rankings

MVP Headliner: It’s a tie between Nine Inch Nails and A Tribe Called Quest with the latter having a slight advantage. Both aren’t booked anywhere else in North America, and both are supporting new material. But aha, here’s the difference: Whereas Nine Inch Nails couldn’t exactly muster up the magic for its recent Not the Actual Events EP, Tribe put out one of the best albums in their critically acclaimed discography last year with We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service. How they’re paired side by side should present quite the scheduling conflict for any attendees with a love for industrial and hip-hop.

Best Gets: It’s pretty wild that in addition to both NIN and Tribe, Panorama also have Frank Ocean, Solange, and surprise headliner Tame Impala. That’s a stacked bill on any given year, but especially now seeing that Ocean and Solange are coming off of two major releases and Tame is currently the most intriguing rock act on the planet. Seeing how Stranger Things will likely be back on Netflix around this time, Austin electronic masterminds Survive will be a nice touch.

Added Value: The range of talent is one of Panorama’s better strengths. It’s a colorful smorgasbord of brazen hip-hop (Vince Staples, Tyler, The Creator, Isaiah Rashad), stellar rock ‘n’ roll (Cloud Nothings, Spoon, Angel Olsen), addicting synth pop (Future Islands, Justice, MØ), and even cutthroat electronic music (Nicolas Jaar). Sure, there’s some festival fat that’s everywhere this summer — see: Glass Animals, Vance Joy, DJ Shadow — but it’s offset by these more muscular inclusions.

Can’t-Miss Rookies: It’s always a relief to see female acts being represented on any festival lineup, and this bill puts a spotlight on some incredible up-and-comers, specifically Los Angeles fuzz pop trio Cherry Glazeerr, British alternative multi-instrumentalist Bishop Briggs, Brooklyn-born wizard behind the decks DJ Heather, and Chicago R&B stunner Jamila Woods.

Final Thoughts: It’s apparent that Goldenvoice wants to keep Panorama separate from Coachella. With the exception of a few names, there aren’t too many overlaps with the Indio juggernaut. In fact, one might argue Panorama’s the cooler of the two given that Coachella has mostly become a populist adventure. And considering that Panorama lands between Chicago’s own Pitchfork Music Festival and Lollapalooza, the festival is in quite a prime position to grab the best of the best — and they did.

–Michael Roffman

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07. Ultra

ultra 2017 Top 10 Music Festivals: Winter 2017 Power Rankings

MVP Headliner: Ultra is known as one of the biggest electronic music festivals in the world for a good reason: It gets the best acts. Booking Justice for 2017 is easily one of the biggest grabs in dance music right now, coming quickly after the release of their new album. And with Daft Punk’s Alive 2017 tour still just a rumor, Justice is the next best thing.

Best Gets: It’s also great to see The Prodigy back on the lineup this year after having to cancel their performance last year. Adding Sasha and John Digweed is a powerful acknowledgement of techno and its resilience at a typically “EDM” festival, but Resistance has always been one of their strongest stages. Rounding out the headliners with Ice Cube and Underworld also shows a diverse appreciation of music, even at a festival like Ultra.

Added Value: And as always, there are plenty of sponsored stages for you to happen upon. Between the live stage and A State of Trance, not to mention UMF Radio, Ultra Worldwide, Resistance, and more, you’ll be seeing a lot of acts you either never thought you’d see or have never even heard of before.

Can’t-Miss Rookies: Ultra hasn’t released a second phase of the lineup just yet, so it’s hard to say who’s going to be on the undercard worth seeing. That being said, Ultra is notorious for blowing up producers, e.g. Kandy, who rocked the 7UP stage last year to become the most trafficked set at the stage all weekend.

Final Thoughts: As one of the most highly regarded electronic music festivals in the world, there’s almost as much negative attention put on the festival as there is positive. However, anyone who’s been to Ultra can attest to the crazy parties and wild crowds, and most of all, the insane production of the festival each and every year. And considering 2016 was such a massive year for Ultra, we can only expect them to go even bigger in 2017.

–Matthew Meadow

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06. Mad Cool Festival

mad cool festival Top 10 Music Festivals: Winter 2017 Power Rankings

MVP Headliner: Three rock titans take over each day at Mad Cool, but there’s absolutely no missing the Foo Fighters. Even when he’s broken, frontman Dave Grohl is a total beast on stage, and this time he’ll be sans crutches, which means he’ll be back to his old self, hopping around like Bugs Bunny on meth. Here’s hoping their new album is more Saint Cecilia EP and less Sonic Highways.

Best Gets: Considering North American festivals have all but given up on rock, it’s nice to see veterans like Dinosaur Jr. and Rancid on lineups again. Unlike their peers, J Mascis and co. translate very well to the festival setting, namely because the band’s amps are traditionally set to “Bludgeon.” And with Green Day nearby, perhaps there will be two Armstrongs around during Rancid’s set.

Added Value: Because it’s such an assuredly lean lineup, there really isn’t too much fat to skim off, which means every act has to count, and they kind of do. Diamonds like Ryan Adams, Wilco, and Spoon are all supporting new material and will undoubtedly put on some can’t-miss sets that will likely rival the three headliners. And hey, you can always dance off the riffs with Röyksopp.

Can’t-Miss Rookies: CoSign rockers Wolf Alice were already worth seeing two years ago, but now that their hit, “Silk”, has been soundtracking the T2: Trainspotting trailers, there’s an added oomph to their sets. Don’t miss Deap Vally do their thing, either.

Final Thoughts: One common misconception among festivalgoers is that lineups need to be bigger and broader. Not always; after all, you can only be at so many places at once and conflicts suck. What many forget is that experience is key, which is why there’s something so alluring about Mad Cool Festival’s bite-size lineup. This is a very focused and well-curated weekend, one that speaks to a certain kind of listener and one that should warrant a friendly, like-minded crowd. That’s pretty great.

–Michael Roffman

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05. Rolling Loud

rolling loud 2017 Top 10 Music Festivals: Winter 2017 Power Rankings

MVP Headliner: King Kendrick reigns supreme at the apex of Rolling Loud, carrying all the cache and power of To Pimp a Butterfly even this far removed from its release. His viscerally personal and socially important messages have never felt as essential as they do today, which gives his spot here that much more weight.

Best Gets: While having stars like Future and Lil Wayne around doesn’t hurt, everyone right now is talking about Migos. The “Bad and Boujee” trio aren’t exactly unknown in the festival circuit, but their recent spike in attention will surely garner a larger crowd in hot anticipation of that tune. When you’ve got the buzz like they do (and considering their massive hooks and charisma, that blush is unlikely to fade anytime soon), a fascinating, powerful set is sure to follow.

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 are going to be blowing up that weekend.

Can’t-Miss Rookies: Up-and-comers from scenes around the continent pepper this lineup, sure to give attendees a taste of a bunch of different hip-hop flavors. Chicago’s Mick Jenkins and Toronto’s Jazz Cartier are standouts in that respect, but this one has 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 is 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 a deep talent pool from which to draw, and this lineup fails that entirely. There has been a palpable hole in the festival market for a best-in-class rap-centric offering, and this year 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

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04. Boston Calling

boston calling 2017 lineup lo res Top 10 Music Festivals: Winter 2017 Power Rankings

MVP Headliner: Any lineup with Tool right now is going to turn heads, and while Chance the Rapper is currently being hailed as the greatest living rapper, there’s something admittedly unique about seeing Mumford and Sons in the middle. They don’t do much for this writer — okay, to be fair, “I Will Wait” tugs at a few heartstrings — but they’re guaranteed crowd-pleasers and also haven’t been overbooked … yet. Odds are Chance will reign supreme at Boston Calling, but those Mumford boys will draw a mammoth crowd.

Best Gets: Sigur Rós is going to have a new album out, and they’re always a spectacle live, so there’s that. Oh, there’s Bon Iver, too. They skipped over both Governors Ball and Panorama, so they’re a steal. Same goes for The xx. Then there’s Run the Jewels. Whoa, there’s also Solange? In many ways, this lineup’s like a Magic Eye picture in that the longer you stare, the more likely you’re going to find one of your favorite acts. Ha, there’s Wolf Parade!

Added Value: If the best gets weren’t enough to fill out your weekend, well, you can always lean on a superb undercard that features some signature additions like Mitski, Modern Baseball, Pup, Piebald, and Danny Brown or a who’s who of every lineup this summer, specifically Car Seat Headrest, Tegan and Sara, Cage the Elephant, Major Lazer, etc. It’s your choice.

Can’t-Miss Rookies: Even the lower line is great. Singer-songwriter Lucy Dacus will have a whole new collection of tunes to absorb, and Chicago outfit Whitney are always good for a little summer love. Wait, what the hell is Strand of Oaks doing at the bottom there? Good lord.

Final Thoughts: If you couldn’t tell from the exasperated read, Boston Calling is a lineup full of surprises, and much of that is indebted to how the festival has really taken its time to curate a dense bill. Maybe it’s because they solidified their offerings into one festival as opposed to two — always a smarter idea — but this year feels stronger than ever. Granted, we’ve yet to see what Newport Folk Festival has in store for us, but this is currently the essential fiesta to attend on the East coast.

–Michael Roffman

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03. Coachella

coachella 2017 Top 10 Music Festivals: Winter 2017 Power Rankings

MVP Headliner: If you wanted to talk about who the biggest music star on the planet is in 2017, Beyoncé would be a prime contender. Not only is she coming off the most acclaimed album of her career, but pop stars of her status haven’t been playing music festivals in recent years, making her Coachella appearance the biggest festival set announced so far this year.

Best Gets: Because of when Coachella announces it lineup, it’s initially difficult to judge just how unique their lineup is. Now a month later, certain bookings (Father John Misty a week after his album drops, Porter Robinson & Madeon, Gucci Mane, Nicolas Jaar, No Doubt/AFI hybrid DREAMCAR, New Order, The Belleville Three, Royksopp, Hans Zimmer) glean more inspired than others. And though Radiohead comes after a year of touring and Kendrick Lamar is completing his Goldenvoice trifecta (having already headlined Panorama and FYF), those lineup toppers still look great when considering few others have them this year.

Added Value: In terms of the acts that Coachella has that aren’t particularly unique, there is still strength in the numbers. Bon Iver, The xx, Lorde, and Future are all massive in both their appeal and their current prestige, tapping into veins that can appeal to the festivalgoer across dividing lines like age or genre. And if you listen to the radio even a little bit, the Coachella grounds will likely feel like a rapidly turning knob through the stations.

Can’t-Miss Rookies: Newcomers big and small populate much of the bottom half of the Coachella lineup. Mitski, NAO, SURVIVE, and Sampha all enter the festival with tons of buzz, but look for even smaller-font acts like Tacocat, Bishop Briggs, Hinds, Ezra Furman, and The Lemon Twigs to leave the two-weekend event with people talking.

Final Thoughts: More than any other festival, Coachella’s lineup is a yearly statement about both the current state of music and where it’s heading. So, by delivering one of its most commercial bills to date, it’s easy for some of us critics to scoff at just how radio-friendly it all seems. The fact of the matter is that no American festival announced this year has the potential to please the standard music fan more than Coachella, and for crafting a fest that knows its audience, it should be commended.

–Philip Cosores

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02. Primavera Sound

primavera Top 10 Music Festivals: Winter 2017 Power Rankings

MVP Headliner: There isn’t a single jewel in the Primavera Sound crown that shines brightest, but Arcade Fire certainly packs the biggest capability. While the band will be headlining a fair share of more mainstream fests over the course of the year, there’s reason to believe that this marquee performance among like-minded artists might result in something truly special.

Best Gets: When Aphex Twin played his first concert US concert in eight years in December, there was reason to speculate that it might mean widespread touring for the reclusive electronic artist. But, that doesn’t appear to be the case, making his appearance at Primavera all the bigger of a deal. Add to the equation artists like Grace Jones, Van Morrison, Slayer, Descendents, Seu Jorge, and Broken Social Scene and you have a festival defined by its good gets.

Added Value: Yeah, Frank Ocean, The xx, Bon Iver, and Solange aren’t exactly rarities at festivals this year, but they are still a representative of the best recent releases in the music world. With the addition of artists like Skepta, Angel Olsen, Grandaddy, Japandroids, and Flying Lotus, Primavera is a remarkably dense lineup with top-tier artists represented at every level of the lineup.

Can’t-Miss Rookies: The small fonts of the Primavera lineup is like a treasure trove of up-and-coming musicians. The fact that they book artists like LVL UP, Operators, Nikki Lane, Weyes Blood, and Swet Shop Boys speaks to the attention to detail that the curators pay to even the littlest bookings. And it bodes well for the dozens of artists that are unfamiliar at first glance.

Final Thoughts: Primavera Sound is more than a lineup. It’s a party that goes all night in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But the fact that they get it so right every year, tapping into the most exciting musical acts of the past, present, and future without watering things down for ticket sales, makes it the standard bearer for fests worldwide. There’s a reason we called it the best festival of 2016. Who knows, maybe it will repeat?

–Philip Cosores

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01. Rock Werchter

Rock Werchter

MVP Headliner: The perfect trifecta: Arcade Fire, Radiohead, and Foo Fighters. Need we shout and/or sob more? Probably not, but we will anyway. These are three of the biggest, if not the three biggest, rock bands of the last two decades, taking turns bringing tears of joy to the eyes of the blissfully lucky attendees. Whether you’re personally more into the indie glory of Arcade Fire, the continuously evolving wonder of Radiohead, or the feel-good alt power of the Foos, you’ll find all three out on life-altering performances. Haven’t seen any of the three? (Or even if you have!) Rock Werchter is a bucket list situation folks; don’t miss your opportunity.

Best Gets: Though they’ve only started to release their lineup, the fact that they stacked the top of it with every single artist a fan could ask for has to qualify as a major get. In addition to the big three, the organizers added in fellow heavy hitters like Lorde, Future Islands, James Blake, and more. There may not be a single booking that sets them apart as unique, but they’re certainly on their own in having nabbed every imaginable festival star and jammed them together into a dizzyingly top-strong lineup.

Added Value: After sorting out the top couple of tiers, having any value is a blessing. And, while they might not be critical darlings, the next few lines on the lineup feature the kind of bands that everyone can recognize as an interesting spectacle, even if they’re not favorites. Wouldn’t you want to catch five minutes of Imagine Dragons or Linkin Park, even just for the story? Or better yet, System of a Down or Kings of Leon, who might just turn in a great show?

Can’t-Miss Rookies: As announced so far, this lineup is so top-heavy that we need to single out the lesser-known artists more as sophomores than rookies. Danish singer-songwriter Agnes Obel will surely wow with her tender yet powerful piano. Belgian indie pop outfit Bazart will also surely charm and impress. But these are acts with substantial followings internationally. With the bar set this high, Rock Werchter’s eventual rookies will surely only continue the wow factor.

Final Thoughts: With a recent announcement adding, among others, super-fun festival acts like Royal Blood and Bonobo, it’s hard to see this one losing any steam any time soon. Rock Werchter are just adding sparkling layer after layer to their lineup, and we’re just sitting, jaws dropped, waiting for the next one. Add to that beer and baguettes, superb stages, and gorgeous grounds, and you’ve got the complete package. Rock Werchter was ahead of its time in 2008 with Radiohead and Kings of Leon (and an absolutely amazing festival experience), and this one appears to be topping it threefold!

–Lior Phillips

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