Why I’m Also Skipping Coachella: My Picks for the Best Regional Music Festivals in 2016

Photography by Mike Mauger, excepting where noted

Last weekend, a New York Times piece titled, “Why We’re Not Making Plans for Coachella and Bonnaroo,” made its way around the internet.  In the article, three NYT writers explain, essentially, that Coachella and Bonnaroo, and similar large-scale “Pop” festivals, were no longer worthy of their time.  For lack of a better way to do this, and for the sake of digital readers with short attention spans (OMG how is there no video here yet??), here are some bullet points from the piece:

  • Instead of covering Coachella and Bonnaroo, the NYT will be covering smaller festivals with “purpose.”
  • Coachella and Bonnaroo, and similar pop festivals are too homogeneous, and seem to often lack any theme other than “hugeness.”
  • While the festivals like Coachella and Bonnaroo are certainly newsworthy social events, rarely are they musically newsworthy.

My first thought?  Well, after I stopped to think if I ever even knew that the New York Times covered either of these festivals, I couldn’t help but wonder, what took them so long to notice?


Camp Bisco 2015

My first Bonnaroo was in 2005, and since then, I’ve covered dozens of festivals for several outlets.  But I haven’t truly enjoyed a large-scale festival in years.  Of course, there are great acts to be seen at festivals like Firefly, and certainly, great times to be had and parties to be partied.  But the NYT authors hit the nail on the head when they complain of a lack of theme, other than “hugeness.”

That’s what you get at a pop festival, though.  When you want to include everyone, you can’t alienate anyone, so you have to create a lineup and an experience that doesn’t leave anyone out.  And that’s what themes do.  Themes, for better or worse, alienate those who are disinterested in that particular theme.

It’s like movies.  Or, films.  Or, whatever you kids call them these days.  There are the mainstream films that have a little of everything: romance, comedy, drama, and action.  And, then, there are genre-specific films that dive deeper into these specific themes.  The mainstream film will get a huge audience of people who like the movie.  The genre film will alienate most, but will be truly adored by many.

Camp Bisco 2015 Main Stage

Camp Bisco 2015 Main Stage

Music fans in the Philadelphia-area should consider ourselves quite lucky.  We have so many niche music festivals, that you could hit almost a dozen of them and not hear a single Top 40 hit.  These smaller festivals do not get the attention of Coachella, Bonnaroo, or Firefly, but they are hugely popular among the their loyal fanbases. And, with many music fans feeling alienated by the lack of cultural, spiritual, or even artisanal substance at the majors, these niche festivals are growing year after year.

The following festivals are all within a short car ride of Philly, and, come in all shapes, sizes, and genres for a fraction of the price of one of the big ones!


Photo courtesy of Ardmore Music Hall

Live from the Lot

Okay, we’re starting you off easy.  No camping with this one, so you can take a hot shower every night.  And it’s right in your backyard.  Ardmore Music Hall’s outdoor festival, Live from the Lot, had such a successful debut in 2015, they extended it to two days.  Killer lineup. Great people. Great tunes.

When: May 21-22 (with before and after parties starting on May 20)

Where: Ardmore Music Hall – Ardmore, PA

Headliners: The Revivalists, and (Grammy award winning) Snarky Puppy

Price: $80 (2-Day Pass)

Pro Tip: The AMH staff is the nicest, hardest working crew around. Go give ’em a big, sweaty, festy hug and buy ’em a beer.



Photo courtesy of Mad Tea Party Jam

Mad Tea Party Jam

Head out west and get real weird with this festival. The smallest camping festival on our list, this jam-centric camping festival nestled just above the PA-MD border in the Allegheny foothills has everything you need for a weekend of letting loose and rocking out.

When: June 16-19

Where: Four Quarters Farm – Artemas, PA (3.5 hrs West of Philadelphia)

Headliners: Papadosio, Twiddle, TAUK

Price: $135 (Weekend Pass)

Pro Tip: Let your cell phone battery die.  You’ll be okay, fam.  It’ll be lit.

Above the Waves Stage – Camp Bisco 2015

Camp Bisco

If you like your rock to have a little jam, and a lot of untz, then Camp Bisco is for you.  It was my personal favorite festival from 2015.  Oh, and your ticket includes unlimited waterslides.

When: July 14-16

Where: Montage Mountain – Scranton, PA

Headliners: The Disco Biscuits, Odesza, Big Grizmatik

Price: $195 (Weekend Pass)

Pro Tip: You may not know what a Big Grizmatik is, but trust me, you want one.


Photo courtesy of The Peach

The Peach

Same location as Bisco, with a greater variety of rock, and just slightly less untz.  The Peach is celebrating its 5th year, and is far and away my pick for best lineup of 2016.  Did I mention waterslides? Included with admission.

When: Aug 11-14

Where: Montage Mountain – Scranton, PA

Headliners: Trey Anastasio Band, Gregg Allman, The String Cheese Incident

Price: $160 (Weekend Pass)

Pro Tip:  Wake up early, and don’t miss anyone.  Black Pistol Fire will be your favorite surprise.



Photo courtesy of the Catskill Chill

Catskill Chill

Although many in the Chill Fam mourn the move away from its old home in New York, we couldn’t be more excited for this highly touted festival to move to the Keystone State.  For this festival, think Bisco, but more intimate.

When: Sept. 23-25

Where: Lakewood, PA (3 hrs. North of Philly)

Headliners: TBA, but 2015 had moe., Lettuce, and our Philly boys, Lotus!

Price: $150 (Weekend Pass)

Pro Tip: They’re serious about the Chill Fam, thing.  It’s a tight knit group, and they’re very loyal.  I have not yet had the pleasure of hitting up Catskill Chill, but every single person I’ve ever talked to has said the Chill is their favorite festival every year.  Must be something to it, then, right?


All Good 2015 (Check out Merryland Music Festival in 2016!)

Honorable Mentions:

Some Kind of Jam (4/24-4/26 – Schuylkill Haven, PA)

Susquehanna Breakdown (5/20-5/21 – Scranton, PA)

Beardfest (6/16-6/18 – Hammonton, NJ)

Merryland Music Fest (7/9-7/10 – Columbia, MD)

Luna Light Festival (10/1-10/4 – Darlington, MD)

As you can see, there’s plenty to choose from and we didn’t even scratch the surface! Need recommendations?  Did we miss one?  Comment below!

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: 5 Female Artists You Don’t Want to Miss at Coachella 2016 - Rock On Philly

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