Exclusive Features
Anniversaries, Cover Stories, Editorials,
Interviews, Lists, and Comprehensive Rankings

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

on September 22, 2015, 1:00pm

Top 10 Music Festivals

10. Made in America

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

With Jay Z as its founder, Made in America has cultivated its reputation as a festival with unique lineups due to the eclectic tastes of its patrons, as well as his vast network of musician friends. It doesn’t hurt that Mr. Carter is married to Beyoncé, who delivered this year’s jaw-dropping, headlining performance (which was also her first full concert in about a year). Situated in the scenic Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the fourth year in its original host city of Philadelphia, Made in America also worked as a strong showcase for local talent (Marian Hill, Hop Along) and stars from hip-hop’s past (De La Soul) and present (Mick Jenkins, Vic Mensa). The full-force arrival of the Beyhive pushed the grounds to the limits in terms of capacity, but navigating the jam-packed crowd was worthwhile to see the likes of Beyoncé, The Weeknd (in one of his first performances after the release of Beauty Behind the Madness, no less) and J. Cole. –Killian Young

Top 10 Music Festivals

09. Sasquatch!

sasquatch2015 Top 10 Music Festivals and Headliners in North America: Summer 2015 Power Rankings

Sasquatch! managed to do a few things very right this year. One was adding Sleater-Kinney for a rare festival appearance. Another was crafting a remarkably solid top-to-bottom lineup, with acts like Modest Mouse, Lana Del Rey, St. Vincent, and Robert Plant topping a bill that featured smart, well-received bookings of Kate Tempest, Natalie Prass, and The Districts at the bottom. One of the most disappointing aspects of the festival was the faith they put in Kendrick Lamar, who has now put in a series of disappointing festival headlining spots. If Kendrick had delivered, Sasquatch! might be near the top of this list. –Philip Cosores

Top 10 Music Festivals

08. Austin City Limits

acl weekend 1

Explosions in the Sky notwithstanding, there’s little missing from this year’s lineup of Austin City Limits. C3 Presents assembled an ideal hodgepodge of this year’s must-see headliners (Florence and The Machine, The Weeknd) and rock ‘n’ roll staples (The Strokes, Foo Fighters), in addition to some fancy autumn sparkles (Disclosure, Kurt Vile and the Violators). Now that Drake’s gone ahead and dropped that collaboration with Future, his appearance looks all the more interesting, and with Alabama Shakes in tow, perhaps Brittany Howard will want to do a fun Thunderbitch pop-up show in Austin. There’s also a vigilant undercard of folk, alternative country, and folk rock to satiate the purists who still shake in their boots at seeing Bassnectar on the lineup. It’s cool, you’re not alone, y’all. –Michael Roffman

Top 10 Music Festivals

07. Bonnaroo

Bonnaroo 2015 lineup

It’s hot. It’s dirty. It’s exhausting. Yet, anyone returning home from experiencing a weekend at Bonnaroo immediately begins to miss The Farm. Performances by Kendrick Lamar, Billy Joel, Mumford and Sons, Slayer, Alabama Shakes, two Superjams, Florence and the Machine, and Earth Wind and Fire featuring surprise appearances from Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper are just a few top memories from a long list of special moments that occurred in Manchester, TN this year. Bonnaroo provides a unique, immersive, and non-stop four-day festival experience that defines what a North American music festival should be. –Nick LeTellier

Top 10 Music Festivals

06. Pitchfork

pitchfork 2015 lineup

Even a torrential downpour and a evacuation couldn’t put a dent in this fine-tuned festival. Since its inception 10 years ago, Pitchfork has become a staple for Chicago’s music scene, and this year, organizers wanted to celebrate that fact. Pitchfork gave special attention to Chicago-bred acts like Wilco, Vic Mensa, and Chance The Rapper who would be able to connect with fans in a local, personal way. Pair those Windy City vibes with an impeccable lineup, perfect crowd size, and grade-A experiential marketing from Topshop, Dark Horse Wine, and Goose Island, and you’ve got one of the best fests of the year. –Danielle Janota

Top 10 Music Festivals

05. Eaux Claires

Eaux Claires Admat Final-2015 (1)

It’s hard to know what to expect from a brand new music festival, but when the curators happen to be two of the biggest names in indie rock—Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner—chances are it’s going to be an experience. Those who ventured to Eau Claire, Wisconsin this past July found a festival off the beaten path in both the phrase’s literal and figurative meaning. Located away from the city proper, Eaux Claires thrived along the banks of Chippewa River, which provided a unique space for creativity in all forms. As was reiterated by almost every act on the lineup, the festival was for the music — it wasn’t a scene. Sufjan Stevens boasted that he never plays festivals, namely because he “is agoraphobic and terrified of contracting lyme disease or an STD or whatever.” But more to the point he doesn’t play them because the appreciation wasn’t there. The consensus was that Eaux Claires was a special place for musicians and their fans, for art to breathe and be enjoyed. –Amanda Roscoe Mayo

Top 10 Music Festivals

04. Newport Folk Festival

newport 2015

Newport Folk Festival formed in 1959, spinning off from George Wein’s successful jazz festival, with its focus on rock and folk making it the earliest non-classical festival in the United States — that alone makes it iconic. Throw in massive headliners like Roger Waters and a superstar combo (Gillian Welch, Blake Mills, Deer Tick, Robyn Hitchock, etc.) honoring Bob Dylan, incredible surprise sets (James Taylor, My Morning Jacket), and the Atlantic Ocean lapping against the festival’s edge, and you’ve got yourself an epic weekend without all the cutthroat barrier drama. It’s as relaxed as a festival can get, making it a perfect fit for Sufjan Stevens, Angel Olsen, and anyone who, honestly, just wants to enjoy music from the comfort of a beach chair with their toddlers in lap. –Ben Kaye

Top 10 Music Festivals

03. Shaky Knees

1421363404 shakyknees15 poster web jan16 Top 10 Music Festivals and Headliners in North America: Summer 2015 Power Rankings

Tim Sweetwood got a lot of things right this year. The move to Central Park in the middle of downtown Atlanta, Georgia was a godsend, providing an accessibility and the proverbial leg space that just didn’t exist in years past. It also helps that his headliners truly delivered, from The Strokes’ vintage, career-spanning set to Tame Impala’s glimpse of a future for rock ‘n’ roll. The genre is admittedly a little shaky right now (no pun intended), but the three days at Shaky Knees felt like a friendly consolation that things are going to be alright for those who just want to hear dudes and dudettes tell stories with guitars. They could probably stand to use a few more female singer-songwriters — even if Zella Day and The Heartless Bastards were very, very solid — but altogether this might be the most honest festival to ever hit the South. –Michael Roffman

Top 10 Music Festivals

02. FYF

fyf fest 2015

This summer, FYF and founder/organizer Sean Carlson got a lot of flak from the true believers because they deigned to book an eclectic festival that strayed further away from the all-punk formula of years past. Whatever. It’s hard to pay too much attention to the haters when your fest has the clout to pull Kanye West in as a last-minute headliner. And it’s not like punk is entirely missing from FYF’s double helix — Joyce Manor and Metz saw huge crowds on Saturday, while Hop Along, Andrew Jackson Jihad, and Title Fight made sure Sunday was anything but lazy. But the best part about this iteration had nothing to do with the bands, punk or otherwise. After years of allergy-inducing dust storms and mile-long treks between stages, FYF finally grew up and started acting like a proper festival, complete with local food vendors, surprisingly decent bathrooms, and all-around chill vibes. We’ll be back next year, for sure. –Collin Brennan

Top 10 Music Festivals

01. Coachella

coachella poster updated

Now a full six months removed from Coachella (meaning we’re now half a year away from the next one), the desert festival’s traditional booking of three headliners looks more like five or six, what with The Weeknd and Florence and the Machine, and maybe Tame Impala and the Alabama Shakes ascending to the heights that AC/DC, Drake, and Jack White had previously occupied. And while a number of acts would pop up on festival lineups throughout the year, Drake only played a few and both Jack White and AC/DC only did the one.

And even if we take the lineups out of the equation, Coachella as an event where the music world’s focus is in one singular location never happens at another festival, with other fest’s determining of “must-see acts” getting settled by simply watching the Chella live stream at home. It’s weird that with a whole year to top Coachella, no one did. But, that also speaks to why Coachella is what it is: the music festival in America by which all others are measured. –Philip Cosores