Beyond Coachella: 10 Smaller Festivals Beloved For Their Homegrown Vibes & Huge Lineups
With genre-specific stages and unique locations, these 10 under-the-radar, independent and locally loved American festivals offer an alternative to major events like Coachella and Lollapalooza.
Coachella’s two-weekend festival in April is the unofficial kickoff of music festival season in the United States — a party period generally stretching from late spring to mid-fall. After a few years of risky, restricted and canceled events due to pandemic uncertainty, the 2023 festival season looks pretty unbeatable.
But between general admission and VIP ticket options, festivals of Coachella’s magnitude can easily cost thousands of dollars to attend for a few days, if tickets don't sell out completely.
Luckily, there are plenty of other options for those who seek a different sort of music festival experience — one that might be smaller, independent or more musically specialized. To assist in your planning, GRAMMY.com has some suggestions for unique and beloved music festivals taking place around the country in 2023, including one that’s absolutely free!
May 12-14 - Salt Lake City, Utah
Promoters expect 10,000 revelers per day to fill the Utah State Fairpark in Salt Lake City and enjoy the thoroughly stacked lineup of performances from artists like Pixies, Japanese Breakfast, Caroline Polachek, Deerhoof, Cuco, Run The Jewels and the Walkmen.
May 19-21 - Gulf Shores, Alabama
This premiere beachside music festival has been rocking in the sand since 2010. Major artists performing this year include Red Hot Chili Peppers, SZA, Calvin Harris, Paramore, Lil Nas X, Flume, Skrillex, The Kid Laroi and GloRilla.
Goldenvoice, which produces Coachella, has been an event partner since 2015. Other planned experiences include a roller disco, art installations and an onsite wedding chapel, should you want to tie the knot.
June 9-11 - New York City
What began as a one day affair in 2011 is now a three-day highlight of the East Coast summer festival circuit. First launched on Governors Island, the event is now held at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in the borough of Queens.
July 1-2 - Oakland, California
The incomparable filmmaker John Waters plays host to this quirky annual indie fest that takes place over two days in the San Francisco Bay Area. If you're a Waters fan, admission to the small festival is worth it to catch a glimpse of him alone.
Otherwise, perhaps you’ll be tempted by the fierce woman and non-binary energy of bands like Le Tigre, ESG, Bratmobile and Twompsax (the latter band fronted by trans skating star Cher Strauberry). Vegan food is also a highlight at the event, which despite its name usually takes place during relatively mild summer temperatures in the Bay Area.
Aug. 3-6 - Happy Valley, OregonThe 24-year-old event takes place over four days and is billed as an "experiential" music wonderland. Located 16 miles from Portland, the woodsy Pendarvis Farm offers an idyllic and immersive setting to help attendees connect with nature, music and art.
This model makes the participants just as important as the musicians and other artists involved, which is part of the reason why Pickathon draws loyal regulars every year just as much as the biggest mainstream fests. Those who go this year will get to see Lee Fields, Watchhouse, Dehd, Madison Cunningham and Florist, to name a few.
Sept. 15-17 - Fort Monroe, Virginia
The Supernova International Ska Festival began in 2014 in Fredericksburg, Virginia and has since moved two hours south to Fort Monroe, home to the country’s largest stone fort.
This year’s event is basically a masterclass in multigenerational heroes in ska and far, far beyond, with performances by acts such as Fishbone, Sister Nancy, the Toasters, Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra and the Untouchables. There’s even a planned DJ set by Don Letts, the celebrated filmmaker and collaborator of the Clash who’s cited in the early cross-pollinations between the punk and reggae worlds.
Sept. 14-17 - Louisville, Kentucky
Louisville — a city with its own Bourbon District — of course boasts the world’s largest bourbon and music festival. Launched in 2017, Bourbon & Beyond now books world-class talent such as Bruno Mars, the Killers, Duran Duran, Brandi Carlile and the Black Keys to the Highland Festival Grounds.
The "Beyond" includes culinary events and additional spirits tastings. Last year’s event brought an estimated 140,000 revelers over four days.
Sept. 29-Oct. 1 - San Francisco
The second of two major music festivals to take place annually in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park (the other being Outside Lands), Hardly Strictly Bluegrass has been going strong since 2001 and draws a massive 500,000 attendees over three days.
This year’s lineup has yet to be announced, though Emmylou Harris, Ani DiFranco and John Prine have all been HSB regulars over the years. True to its name, the weekend festival highlights much more than bluegrass: rising country stars like Charley Crockett, alt rock legends such as Elvis Costello and groups as diverse as Las Cafeteras, Les Claypool and Conor Oberst have come to the park.
The festival remains gloriously free thanks entirely to the gracious endowment of the late founder, the billionaire investor F. Warren Hellman, who passed away from leukemia in 2011. The gratis admission fee and summer-like temperatures usually ensures a wonderfully broad audience that’s prime for people-watching, though the multi-stage event does get crowded.
Oct. 14-15 - Sacramento, California
Coachella’s country offshoot Stagecoach has likely inspired multiple country fests, including GoldenSky, a two-day event that’s now in its second year.
Stars like Jon Pardi, Maren Morris, Wynonna Judd, Eric Church, Parker McCollum and Elle King are slated to appear before approximately 50,000 fans at the 302-acre Discovery Park in California’s state capital. Featured ancillary experiences within the event include the GoldenSky Beer Festival, a wine tasting area featuring Sacramento wineries and line dancing lessons inside the River City Saloon and Dance Hall.
Oct. 20-21 - Miami
An indie festival that rivals Coachella’s concentration on the visual arts, III Points has taken place in Miami’s Wynwood Art District since 2013. This year’s hefty "Phase 1" lineup includes Iggy Pop, Fred Again, Jamie Jones, Tokischa, the Blaze and an area curated by techno vet Richie Hawtin, with even more acts to be announced over the summer.
If you’re looking for a great way to wind the 2023 festival season down, a trip to sunny Miami might be something to consider.