Summer Music Festival Guide

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Earlier this year,TheNew York Times announced a decision to forgo sending writers to large-scale music festivals like Coachella, Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo, citing, in part, interchangeable musical lineups - a byproduct of too-few crowd-drawing performers and a glut of fests dotting the nation from coast to coast. Instead, the publication reasoned, it would focus on smaller, better cultivated events that spoke with an original voice.

Here in Columbus this has been a long-held belief. While larger fests featuring national acts have gradually trickled in over the last three or four years (Fashion Meets Music Festival, Breakaway, PromoWest Fest and so on), the longer established events - think ComFest and its baby cousin Independents' Day - are rooted in a locally sourced, sovereign spirit that can't be experienced anywhere else but here.

What follows, while not comprehensive, offers a curated overview of the music festivals scheduled to hit city streets/parks/venues, with a quick detour examining five relatively nearby events worth the cost of gasoline. Update your calendar app!


May 27-29

Legend Valley, Thornville

COST: $139

PERFORMERS:Dark Star Orchestra, Yonder Mountain String Band, Hot Tuna Electric, Leftover Salmon and more.

SUMMARY: The Grateful Dead might have called it a day with a series of going-away shows last year, but splinter groups like the Mickey Hart/Bob Weir-led Dead & Company remain. Still, the closest fans might get to hearing prime-era GD these days is in the form of Dark Star Orchestra, a cover-act that transcends the bar-band concept by investing itself so fully in the project that taking in concerts can feel akin to traveling back in time. The bill is rounded out by a smattering of jam-friendly acts (Yonder Mountain, Leftover Salmon, etc.), which could raise the THC level on the grounds to grow-house-level proportions.

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May 27-29

Duck Creek Camping and Outdoor Events Area, Logan

COST: $120 for a Saturday and Sunday pass (three-day passes sold-out)

PERFORMERS: Ben Miller Band, The Larry Keep Experience, Whiskey Shivers, Fruition, Driftwood, Trout Steak Revival

SUMMARY: The Hocking Hills hootenanny keeps things small-scale by design, eschewing larger names (no offense to the Ben Miller Band or Trout) for an intimate vibe that makes visiting the fest akin to taking in an extended family reunion.

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June 2-5

Robbins Crossing, Nelsonville

COST: $155 for a weekend pass

PERFORMERS: Randy Newman, Gillian Welch, Courtney Barnett, Gary Clark Jr., Mac DeMarco, The Tallest Man on Earth and more

SUMMARY: Ohio's best music fest attracts a deep, diverse bill that stretches from sharp-tongued piano balladeer Randy Newman to Courtney Barnett, an Aussie rocker who has a way of transforming songs about nothing (at times on her latest she watches the grass grow, stares at the ceiling and daydreams while driving) into compelling theater. The casual, family-friendly vibe carries through to neighborly stages like the No-Fi Cabin, where select artists present stripped-down, no-frills versions of their stage shows.

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June 10-11

Park Street, Arena District

COST: Free

PERFORMERS: Damn the Witch Siren, Nick D' & the Believers, Granny Shot, Kid Runner, Jared Mahone and more

SUMMARY: The lineup offers a nice assortment of upbeat, dance-floor-friendly acts (Damn the Witch Siren, Kid Runner and Nick D' & the Believers are all capable of getting an audience up to burn off some calories) and a price - free! - that can't really be topped.

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June 10-12

Main Street and Civic Center Drive, Downtown

COST: Free

PERFORMERS: The Salty Caramels, Hello Emerson, Ms. Sarah D, Troy Petty, Happy Chichester, Dave Buker & the Historians

SUMMARY: While visual art remains the main draw - it's right there in the festival's name, after all - a lineup of largely local musicians will be there to provide a soundtrack for browsing and people watching, including one-man-band Happy Chichester, freezer-treat inspired folkies the Salty Caramels and Dave Buker & the Historians, a folk-rock collective that balances darker lyrical themes with airy music perfect for the outdoor setting.

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June 16-18

Downtown Logan

COST: Free

PERFORMERS: Lone Raven, 3 Piece and a Biscuit, Washboard Hank & Washboard Players and more

SUMMARY: Some of the performers have names that suggest troublemakers from vintage Mickey Mouse cartoons (Washboard Hank!). The throwback feel bleeds into the hootenanny-inspired music, which centers on - you guessed it! - the washboard.

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June 17-19

Goodale Park, Victorian Village

COST: $10 donation

PERFORMERS: Cherry Chrome, Jordan Alexander, Rayvon, Samwell, Mojoflo, Liberty Deep Down

SUMMARY: Marriage equality is now the law of the land, but recent developments, like the March passage of North Carolina's hotly debated "bathroom bill," prove humankind still has a ways to go in terms of assuring equal rights for all. Though some parade marchers could arrive carrying signs mocking NC's law, a bulk of attendees are simply here to have a good time, which shouldn't be an issue with musical performers like local rock trio Cherry Chrome and Chicago resident Samwell ("What What") of viral video fame.

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June 17-19

Creekside Plaza, Gahanna

COST: $15 for a weekend pass (only available pre-event)

PERFORMERS: Austin Walkin' Cane, Bonepony, Brock Howard, Byron Stripling and the Bobby Floyd Trio, Camp Blues and more

SUMMARY: What's in a name? With the Creekside Blues & Jazz Festival: everything. The lineup features a mix of blues and jazz performers drawn from both local and national performers, and is headlined by the likes of Jazz Arts Group Artistic Director Byron Stripling, who will be joined here by the Bobby Floyd Trio.

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June 18-19

Ohio Stadium

411 Woody Hayes Dr., Campus

COST: $80-$500 for a two-day pass

PERFORMERS: Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum, Florida Georgia Line and more

SUMMARY: In 2015, Ohio Stadium served double-duty as a concert venue, hosting big-ticket shows from the Rolling Stones and One Direction, in addition to the inaugural Buckeye Country Superfest. Action around the stadium is quiet this year, with Superfest's return engagement standing as the lone announced event. Rather than reinventing itself for the second go-round, the country affair again returns with a dude-heavy lineup (Hillary Scott, one-third of Lady Antebellum, stands as the only woman on the bill) headlined by Dixie-cup-draining party boy Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean, whose knack for tender love songs could have a few pickups seeking out remote spots to park post-show.

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June 18-19

Genoa Park, 303 W. Broad St., Downtown

COST: $5 per day (before 5 p.m.) $10 per day (after 5 p.m.)

PERFORMERS: The Wright Sistahs, Black Gold, 3rd Eye and more

SUMMARY: The Juneteenth Ohio Freedom Festival commemorates abolition by featuring performers whose songs are designed to celebrate "the triumph of the human spirit over the cruelty of slavery." In a political and social climate where the phrase "black lives matter" could rightly be tagged with a question mark, it's essential to have a festival inspired by humanity's ability to persevere even through impossibly bleak times.

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June 24-26

Goodale Park, Victorian Village

COST: Free

PERFORMERS: Bummers, The Worn Flints, The Girls!, Nes Wordz, Dominique Larue, Correy Parks, St. Lenox, Hugs and Kisses and more

SUMMARY: In 2015, the long-running "party with a purpose" received some flak from Alive for overlooking hip-hop while filling out the lineup. Similar complaints would be impossible to log this year, with a richer, more diverse performance roster that includes rappers Nes Wordz and Dominique Larue headlining the main stage on Saturday, in addition to the likes of recent Band to Watch selectee Correy Parks and producer/DJ Satele, who teamed with Larue for "Ultimate," a banger that lives up to its high-minded title. Yes, the weekend still serves as an excuse for some to get tanked in public, and people-watching will be high on the to-do list for many, but this year's music lineup is among the best we've seen in recent times.

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Friday, July 1

Various venues, Downtown

COST: Free

PERFORMERS: The Carlie Short Band, Big Bang, The Divide, Social Crush and more

SUMMARY: While most attendees flock Downtown for the early evening light show, the annual Fourth of July affair also features a smattering of entertainers performing on four stages, including at least one act - Big Bang - with a name perfectly suited to the day's events.

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4th& 4thFEST

Saturday, July 9

Seventh Son Brewery

1101 N. Fourth St., Italian Village

COST: $25

PERFORMERS: Times New Viking, The Thermals, A Giant Dog, Diet Cig, Dilly Dally, Hoops, St. Lenox, The Pink Owl, White Reaper and Whitney

SUMMARY: The best-curated fest in the city returns with a small-in-number-yet-massive-in-impact lineup headlined by long-defunct Columbus scuzz-rock crew Times New Viking, which experienced national acclaim in the mid-to-late 2000s before calling it a day. Don't sleep on anyone on this bill, though, which also includes Whitney, a melancholic psych-rock collective anchored by former Smith Western Max Kakacek, Columbus expat St. Lenox, a singer and songwriter of the first order, and the Thermals, a Portland, Oregon-based trio that has been churning out catchy, fuzzed-out pop-rock cuts for nearly 15 years now. Get there early, and plan on sticking through those final, corroded TNV notes.

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PromoWest Fest

July 15-17

Arena District

COST: $179 for a three-day pass

PERFORMERS: Flaming Lips, Modest Mouse, Snoop Dogg, Brand New, Ryan Adams, Mac Miller and more

SUMMARY: Another year, another new festival setting up camp in Columbus. This one, from the promotional heavyweights at PromoWest (wonder what role that had in settling on a festival name?), takes over the same Arena District-stomping grounds as the Fashion Meets Music Festival, which is slated to return for a third go-round this Labor Day. The lineup is headlined by festival mainstays like Flaming Lips (expect ample confetti, inflatable costumes and Wayne Coyne walking atop the crowd in an inflated hamster ball) and Snoop Dogg (contractually obligated to appear as the rap headliner at 60 percent of all fests), while the undercard sports a nice mix of sleeper scores (Pup! The World Is a Beautiful Place & Oh God Why Is Our Name So Long?!) and locals (RJD2! The Worn Flints! Way Yes!).

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July 22-24

Bicentennial, West Bank and Genoa parks, Downtown

COST: Free

PERFORMERS: Local and national jazz artists to be announced

SUMMARY: The 37th edition of this festival relocates to the revamped Downtown riverfront for the first time, so now you can take in some jazz from renowned locals and touring acts on both sides of the Scioto River while doing your best not to get barbecue sauce all over those summer whites.

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July 20-23

Legend Valley, Thornville

COST: $180

PERFORMERS: Insane Clown Posse, GWAR, Tech N9ne, Twiztid and more

SUMMARY: The Gathering, which has called Legend Valley home for the last few years, returns to the fest grounds again. Expect liters upon liters of fizzy Faygo and more black and white grease paint than a mime convention.

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July 23

Rice Paddy Motorcycles

1454 N. Grant Ave., Campus

COST: $10 (kids 12 and under are free)

PERFORMERS: Copywrite, Illogic, Mickey Factz, Red Pill, Animal Crackers, Ill Poetic, G. Finesse and more

SUMMARY: After last year's inaugural event, it's great to see promoter Josh Miller bring the all-day, family-friendly 2x2 Hip-Hop Festival back with another huge slate of MCs, plus graffiti artists, DJs, break-dancing battles, kids' art area, food trucks and more.

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July 27-Aug. 7

The Ohio Expo Center & State Fair, North Campus

COST: Varies from free (All-Ohio State Fair Band) to $40-$75 (Dolly Parton)

PERFORMERS: Dolly Parton, Yes, John Kay & Steppenwolf, Charlie Puth, Kenny Rogers, Keith Sweat, Lecrae and more

SUMMARY: If you find yourself staring at a cow made of butter while holding a fried candy bar and fantasizing about combining the two (we do not endorse or advise such a plan), take heart. Dreams do come true: Beloved country legend Dolly Parton is taking the stage in Columbus. As usual, the rest of the fair lineup features throwback acts aplenty, from proggy vets Yes and classic rockers Steppenwolf to country crooner Kenny Rogers on his "final world tour." For younger acts, Charlie Puth will undoubtedly play his pop hit "Marvin Gaye," while MC Lecrae will redeem the bad associations you likely have with the term "Christian hip-hop."

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Aug. 4-6

Legend Valley, Thornville

COST: $119.95

PERFORMERS: The Werks, STS9, Lettuce, Greensky Bluegrass, Dopapod and more

SUMMARY: This fest is a jam-band fan's delight, with the Werks hitting the stage all three nights and STS9 playing two sets.

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Aug. 5-7

Coffman Park, Dublin

COST: Adults: $10 in advance/$12 at the gate; Children 12 and under: Free

PERFORMERS: Gaelic Storm, Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Solas, We Banjo 3 and more

SUMMARY: While it's hard to top last year's headliner of Richard Thompson, no giant, suburban, Irish festival is complete without Celtic rockers of the road Gaelic Storm. And while "bagrock" band Red Hot Chilli Pipers don't appear to have a Flea equivalent and are actually of the Scottish persuasion, after a few Irish Mules all will be forgiven.

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Aug. 13-14

Bicentennial Park, Downtown

COST: Free

PERFORMERS: Los Horóscopos de Durango, El Prodigio, Sergio Vargas, Grupo Niche

SUMMARY: This two-day, family-friendly fest celebrates all things Latino. Headliner Los Horóscopos de Durango is fronted by sisters Vicky and Marisol Terrazas, who were some of the first women to take the lead in the normally male-dominated genre of duranguense, a type of regional Mexican music.

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Breakaway Festival

August 26-27

Ohio Expo Center, 717 E. 17th Ave., North Side

COST: $75 (two-day early-bird VIP pass)


SUMMARY: In 2013, Breakaway debuted at Crew Stadium with a musically diverse lineup that has taken on more weight with the passage of time (it's hard to imagine a repeat of those year-one small crowds if Kendrick Lamar and Twenty One Pilots returned for another go-round this year). After a couple years off, the fest returns, albeit in a new location (that'd be the Ohio Expo Center). No artist announcements have been made as of yet, but judging by other events booked by Prime Social (think the Athens blowout #Fest) I'd expect a lineup heavy on EDM, with a handful of on-the-rise rappers breaking up the beats.

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September 2-3

Legend Valley, Thornville

COST: $125

PERFORMERS: Hank Williams Jr., Chris Stapleton, Chris Young, Justin Moore, the Charlie Daniels Band and more

SUMMARY: While Hank Jr. has a formidable lineage and years of experience singing, "Are you ready for some football?" on Monday nights, it's fellow Saturday night headliner Chris Stapleton who took Nashville by storm last year with his Grammy-winning, outlaw-country debutTraveller after years of writing hits for the likes of Kenny Chesney, George Strait and even Adele.

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Sept. 3-4

Arena District

COST: $69-$149

PERFORMERS: Passion Pit, Matt & Kim, Adventure Club and more

SUMMARY: Last year's FMMF started to find its footing by scaling back to two days and booking fewer performers, highlighted by the fantastic St. Vincent. This year the urban music festival will again run two days, and features a mix of national and local names.

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Sept. 17-18

Intersection of Town St. and Lucas St. in Franklinton

COST: Free


SUMMARY: Organizers of this uber-local fest successfully managed a transition from Downtown to Franklinton in 2014, proving ever since that the independent spirit of the bands and vendors involved wasn't dependent on a certain neighborhood to thrive. Now comfortably settled into its Franklinton home, this year's lineup will surely bring some of the city's best bands to multiple stages, plus arts showcases, kids' activities, marketplaces with indie vendors, interactive arts and plenty to eat and drink.

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June 3-5

Downtown Cincinnati

DRIVE TIME: 2 hours

COST: $89 per day

PERFORMERS: The Killers, Florence + the Machine, Deadmau5, Ice Cube, Haim, Mudcrutch, Of Monsters and Men and more

SUMMARY: This nearby fest consistently brings a large, fairly diverse slate of well-known artists to multiple stages along the Ohio River in downtown Cincinnati. Cheaper, three-day ticket packages are sold out, so you'll have to go with the $89 single-day pass. There's a local tie here, too. In 2014, Bunbury was purchased by local concert promoters PromoWest Productions, which owns and operates Express Live, Newport Music Hall and other venues.

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June 9-12

A 700-acre farm in Manchester, Tennessee

DRIVE TIME: 6½ hours

COST: $349.50

PERFORMERS: Pearl Jam, Dead & Company, LCD Soundsystem, J. Cole, Tame Impala, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Jason Isbell, Chvrches and more

SUMMARY: If you're willing to pay for it, this mammoth festival provides a huge range of bands and styles, like long-running alt-rock heroes Pearl Jam, hip-hop luminary J. Cole, funky R&B singer Miguel, the recently reunited LCD Soundsystem and two sets by members of the Grateful Dead, who joined with John Mayer and others to form Dead & Company.

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June 29-July 3, July 5-10

Downtown Milwaukee

DRIVE TIME: 7 hours

COST: $20 general admission, and much, much more for Marcus Amphitheatre headliners ($73-$363 for Paul McCartney)

PERFORMERS: Paul McCartney, Luke Bryan, Sting and Peter Gabriel, Weezer and Panic at the Disco, Pitbull, Selena Gomez, Def Leppard and more

SUMMARY: Billed as "the world's largest music festival," Summerfest has an impressive array of superstars (it doesn't get much bigger than a former Beatle), though the Marcus Amphitheatre performers require some serious dough. But a general admission pass offers a great way to check out a considerable slate of side-stage performances.

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July 15-17

Union Park, Chicago

DRIVE TIME: 5½ hours

COST: $65 per day, $165 for a three-day pass

PERFORMERS: Sufjan Stevens, Brian Wilson, Carly Rae Jepsen, Broken Social Scene, FKA Twigs, Kamasi Washington and more

SUMMARY: If you imagine Pitchfork festival being all indie rock, think again. Breakout jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington rubs elbows with pop star Carly Rae Jepsen while Brian Wilson plays through all ofPet Sounds. And yes, there's a bunch of indie rock the tastemaking website is known for.

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July 15-17

Waterfront Park, Louisville

DRIVE TIME: 3 hours

COST: $169.50

PERFORMERS: The Avett Brothers, Alabama Shakes, Ryan Adams, Death Cab for Cutie, Local Natives, Gary Clark Jr. and more

SUMMARY: If you'd prefer a shorter drive to the south the same weekend as Pitchfork, Forecastle is a great option. The fest, founded in 2002, seems to grow bigger each year. (It now takes over Louisville's 85-acre Waterfront Park.)