By Kit Kiefer
When people ask me if I was ever on an album cover, I say, “Why, yes. Yes, I was.”
Check the album above. The top picture. I’m by the sound board. I’m waving. Can’t you see me?
While the fact is that I am there, right by the sound board waving my fool head off, the way of music festivals is that the individual is totally subservient to the megalithic whole of the experience. Of course there are too many people, and the sightlines are wack, and the mix is muddy, and the grounds are muddy, and more than a few people have had more than a few too many of one thing or another, but there’s a certain magic to the shared experience that can’t be duplicated in a recording or in an indoor venue. The best music festivals are some of the best places to experience the power of music, period. And here are six of our favorites you can experience in the next several weeks.
Montreux Jazz Festival, Montreux, Switzerland, July 4-19: There was a time in the late ‘60s and ‘70s where you just weren’t taken seriously as a jazz artist if you hadn’t released a “Live at Montreux” album. That trend has thankfully cooled, but the festival is still a vibrant source of recordable live music. Over the years it’s taken the term “jazz” more and more loosely, so that the current edition of Montreux includes such hardcore non-jazzers as Lionel Richie, The Alabama Shakes, Mary J. Blige, and Tommy Castro. Still, there’s Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, and of course there’s David Sanborn, and the whole sipping-champagne-by-the-lake thing can’t be beat. Even if it’s Aloe Blacc on the stage, you can still convince yourself it’s jazz.
Red Wing Roots Festival, Mt. Solon, Va., July 10-12: More folky than the Newport Folk Festival by a factor of about five, this festival uses bluegrass as a starting point to explore old-time country, western swing, rural blues, and their modern counterparts. The mountain setting is magical, the ambiance is refreshingly laid-back and gentle, the food is local and good, and if you haven‘t heard of a lot of the bands (the main headliners are the Punch Brothers, this year’s Best Bluegrass Band In The Universe, along with sly Texas songwriter Robert Earl Keen and the Wood Brothers), you’ll remember their music … and the time you spent with them.
Eaux Claires, Eau Claire, Wis., July 17-18: Consider this a music fest for the artisanal-pickle crowd. The big news here is that festival organizer and all-around auteur Justin Vernon will be reuniting his Grammy-winning band Bon Iver for a rare public appearance. There’s more to Eaux Claires than Bon Iver, thankfully; the inaugural edition includes not-to-be missed gloom-rockers The National in addition to critical darlings Spoon, Low, the Blind Boys of Alabama, and serial music-fest players Sturgill Simpson and The Tallest Man On Earth. Expect a few glitches, but any music fest that signs on the local brewer — and that brewer happens to be Leinenkugel’s — is off to a good start.
Newport Folk Festival, Newport R.I., July 24-26: One of America’s oldest folk festivals (born 1959) and unquestionably the most historic (Newport was where Bob Dylan broke out in 1963 and two years later was booed off the stage for bringing out electric guitarist Michael Bloomfield and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band), the 2015 NFF goes all-in on New Folk, with a lineup that includes the Decemberists, Lord Huron, the Barr Brothers, Courtney Barnett, and Angel Olsen, with J. Mascis, Hozier, Sufjan Stevens, and Roger Waters around to steer the festival back towards the mainstream. The Newport Folk Festival continues to grapple with the question, “What is folk?” This year’s answers are as complex as ever.
Lollapalooza, Chicago, July 31-Aug.2: Lollapalooza singlehandedly resuscitated the music festival and brought it kicking and screaming (screaming mostly) into the 21st century. While the artist list has veered more towards the mainstream in recent years (this year’s festival has Sir Paul McCartney, for crying out loud, and Sam Smith, who’s basically Adele without a piano), there’s still plenty of loudness on tap, courtesy of Metallica, The War On Drugs, The Weeknd, and Bassnectar. Florence + The Machine, Of Monsters And Men, Alabama Shakes, Kid Cudi, Charli XCX, Gary Clark Jr., and Walk The Moon are also on hand to add critical and/or chart cred. Regardless of your attitudes towards the headliners, one thing’s for sure: Lollapalooza lives up to its name.
Cropredy Convention, Cropredy, England, Aug. 15-17: How could I not list the music festival prescient enough to put me on an album cover? The creation of seminal Brit folk-rockers Fairport Convention (imagine if the Byrds never broke up, and they influenced everyone), Cropredy brings together an eclectic mix of British and American folkies, jazzers, jazz-folkies, folk-rockers, jazz-rockers, and other hyphenated types for four days of camping, intake of local fluids, and swirling, skirling, always enjoyable music. Approximately one-third renaissance fair and two-thirds music fest, this year’s version of Cropredy is headlined by Emmylou Harris, with Level 42, The Proclaimers, and Paul Carrack along for the ride – in addition to four or five of the 72 incarnations of Fairport Convention, plus some last-minute special guests.
At least one of the artists is bound to release a live album culled from one of these festivals, so take it from a vet: If you want to be on the cover, stand near the sound board. And wave.
Kit Kiefer is a contributor to The All Music Guide and the author of They Called It Rock: The Goldmine Oral History of Rock ‘n’ Roll. He directs content for BHTP.
Editor’s Note: If you’re planning to land on the cover of a music-festival live album, you’re going to need to protect that trip. Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection can insure all your trips. Get it here.