Summer Guide: Music festival roundup

Andy Downing and Joel Oliphint

We've lost some festivals this year. PromoWest Fest is taking a breather. The Juggalos aren't gathering. Juneteenth Ohio hopes to return in 2018. 4th & 4th Fest (which ended up on High Street at Ace of Cups last year) is dead. Bluestone Promotions stepped away from WCOL Country Jam. And Independents' Day announced 2017 as its final year.

But! There's still plenty of music to be had in festival form. The brand-new Melanincholy Festival promises fresh experiences and perspectives while highlighting musicians (and other artists) of color. The 2x2 Hip Hop Festival, now in its third year, has quickly become a must-see event of the season, ComFest is still ComFest, and short treks to Logan, Thornville and Nelsonville expand the worthwhile music festival options even further.

What follows here, 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. Good luck, and stay hydrated.


May 26-28

Milo-Grogan Community Rec Center

862 E. Second Ave., Milo-Grogan

COST: Free

PERFORMERS: Betsy Ross, Correy Parks, MojoFlo, Jacoti Sommes, Counterfeit Madison

SUMMARY: This newborn arts and music festival, gearing up for a grand coming out as a three-day event after a soft launch as a one-day affair last year, features musicians, artists, poets and filmmakers of color. Expect a mash-up of art forms, with poets reading in between bands and short films screening during downtimes, with an eye on exposing attendees to new experiences. Best of all? Admission is free, since organizers want as few barriers to entry as possible for anyone who wishes to partake.


May 26-28

Legend Valley, Thornville

COST: $149

PERFORMERS: Dark Star Orchestra, KWahtro (Keller Williams), Greensky Bluegrass, Hot Tuna, Railroad Earth

SUMMARY: Sure, you could travel north to Blossom in late June to catch Dead and Company, but then you'd also have to witness John Mayer's guitar face. Opt instead for Grateful Dead tribute act Dark Star Orchestra, which has been channeling Jerry Garcia's revered jam-band tunes for 20 years now. This year DSO will perform three full two-set shows in Legend Valley, plus performances from fellow patchouli-scented acts, like Keller Williams' acoustic dance band KWahtro and Greensky Bluegrass, which offers an irreverent take on its namesake genre.


June 1-4

Robbins Crossing, Nelsonville

COST: $150 weekend pass, day passes $55-$90

PERFORMERS: Ween, They Might Be Giants, Emmylou Harris, Conor Oberst, Jenny Lewis, Rodriguez, Cloud Nothings, Son Volt, John Fullbright

SUMMARY: Quite possibly the best music fest in Ohio, Nelsonville's picturesque home on the campus of Hocking College manages to maintain its intimate vibe even as organizers bring in big names in rock, folk and country every year. The legendary Emmylou Harris will grace Nelsonville's main stage this year, as will the recently reunited Gene and Dean Ween.


June 9-11

Main Street and Civic Center Drive, Downtown

COST: Free

PERFORMERS:Grassinine, Sean Carney, The Shazzbots, Anna & The Consequences, The Muppet Mayhem Band, Dave Buker & The Historians, Andy Shaw Band


Music isn't the main draw for most people who head Downtown to the Greater Columbus Arts Council's local festival, which will bring in visual artists from 37 states (including 55 from Ohio), Belgium and Canada. But the Arts Festival also features more than 150 performances over the course of the weekend, so be sure to check out the rotating acts on six stages.


June 10 and 11

Ohio Stadium

411 Woody Hayes Dr., Campus

COST: $40-250 per day

PERFORMERS: Kenny Chesney, Zac Brown Band, Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban

SUMMARY: Now in its third year, the Buckeye Country Superfest is already experiencing a bit of deja vu due to the return of year one headliners Kenny Chesney (think Jimmy Buffett in cowboy boots rather than Hawaiian prints) and Keith Urban (a better guitarist than you realize). Still, the must-see name this year is Miranda Lambert, a sharp songwriter touring behind a great 2016 album,The Weight of These Wings. The undercard is a bit lacking, if we're being honest, but newcomer Frankie Ballard is one to watch.


June 15-17

Downtown Logan

COST: Free

PERFORMERS: Washboard Hank and the Washboard Players, Steel City Rovers, the Sodbusters

SUMMARY: You may not recognize many of the names at this annual community festival that takes over the streets of downtown Logan, but you can rest assured there will be many acts making use of an instrument that Tide truthers don't want you to know about.


June 16 and 17

Duck Creek Camping and Outdoor Events Area, Logan

COST: $90 for two-day pass and $50 for one day, both with camping; $35 for one day no camping

PERFORMERS: Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, Billy Strings, Henhouse Prowlers, Caamp, Old Salt Union

SUMMARY: This Southeast Ohio fest's aesthetic is consistently down-home and rootsy, and 2017's version continues to maintain Duck Creek's dynasty. Fest-goers should expect an intimate vibe, with acoustic stringed instruments galore.


June 16-18

Creekside Plaza, Gahanna

COST: Free

PERFORMERS: Willie Phoenix, Sean Carney, Terry Davidson & the Gears, Flippo, The Spikedrivers, Angela Perley, Mojoflo, Tony Monaco Trio

SUMMARY: This community festival lives up to its name, featuring two of our city's best blues guitarists (Willie Phoenix, Sean Carney) and jazz tributes to Chick Corea (by Flippo) and Billie Holiday (by the Lisa Clark Trio), but there's plenty of rock and Americana, too.


June 16-18

Bicentennial and Genoa parks

233 Civic Center Dr., Downtown

COST: $5 per day suggested donation


SUMMARY: Pride is swelling. With the annual LGBTQ celebration's continued growth, organizers relocated from Goodale Park in Victorian Village to the riverside park Downtown. And while the fest is first and foremost a celebration, it is adopting a more political/social edge this year, requiring parade applicants to show proof of an in-place anti-discrimination policy before allowing them to march.


June 23-25

Goodale Park, Victorian Village

COST: Free

PERFORMERS: Watershed, Ekoostik Hookah, Souther, Jae Esquire, Sean Carney, New Thousand, Foley, Nes Wordz, Willie Phoenix, Dominique Larue, Mas Bagua, the Floorwalkers, Hugs and Kisses, Megan Palmer, Bridesmaid, Corbezzolo, Big Foot, Bush League All-Stars, Pale Grey Lore, Suffering Praying Hands, Cherry Chrome, KT Ramsey, Vaughn Wiester's Famous Jazz Orchestra

SUMMARY: Organizers behind the annual “party with a purpose” appear to be more focused on the “purpose” angle this year, judging solely by the more aggressive image gracing the festival's new poster (a fist gripping a broken olive branch, accompanied by text reading “rise up”). Still, expect a majority of attendees to be more enthralled by the experience of sipping beer in colored plastic mugs while taking in sets from an impressively wide range of local musicians.


Monday, July 3

Various venues, Downtown

COST: Free


SUMMARY: A couple quick numbers: The annual Downtown Fourth of July extravaganza draws more than 400,000 attendees for a fireworks display that employs more than 48,750 pounds of explosives, or nearly a pound of ammunition for every eight people. Oh, and there's music, too, with local favorites gracing stages set up throughout Downtown and the Arena District. Pro tip: Park outside Downtown and be willing to walk a ways rather than dealing with snarled traffic and overpriced lots.


July 21-23

Bicentennial, West Bank and Genoa parks, Downtown

COST: Free

PERFORMERS: Local and national jazz artists to be announced

SUMMARY:The 38th edition of this festival returns to the revamped Downtown riverfront for the second time, enabling you to take in some jazz from renowned locals and touring acts on both sides of the Scioto River while trying to determine if wet wipes are needed or if licked fingers will suffice for that barbecue sauce.


Saturday, July 22

Rice Paddy Motorcycles

1454 N. Grant Ave., Campus

COST: $10 ($15 at the gate) and kids under 15 can attend free


SUMMARY: Now in its third year, 2x2 boasts one of the most unique locales of any fest in Rice Paddy, a campus-adjacent motorcycle shop as colorful as the 2x2-artist-painted murals adorning its brick exterior. (Be sure to take in a set at the Roofless Stage, a brick, roofless building that was still structurally sound enough to withstand Nes Wordz's full-on assault of a performance in 2015.) Also, bonus points for being arguably the most family friendly fest I've attended, with art and water play areas for the kiddos. Don't miss this one.


July 25-Aug. 6

The Ohio Expo Center & State Fair, North Campus

COST: Varies from free for Hometown Sounds featuring McGuffey Lane to $85 (pit tickets for Rascal Flatts)

PERFORMERS: Pentatonix, Rascal Flatts, Alabama, Joe, George Thorogood, Cole Swindell

SUMMARY: The lineup for the Ohio State Fair is generally a mixed bag, though usually there's at least an act or two worth navigating fried Twinkie stands to check out (Dolly Parton last year, Patti Labelle in 2015 and so on). This year that honor goes to … You know what? I've got nothing. This year's roster of retreads, not-quite-headliners and, uh, a cappella vocal groups (take a bow, Pentatonix) is one of the least-inspired lineups we've seen the OSF run out. You know that tired joke about fallen acts playing the state fair circuit? This is why it exists.


Aug. 3-5

Legend Valley, Thornville

COST: $120

PERFORMERS: The Werks, Gramatik, The Floozies, Emancipator, Dopapod

SUMMARY: As they do every year, Dayton foursome the Werks will play all three nights of the annual fest they host at Legend Valley. Likeminded jam bands join(t) together with the Werks as they all attempt to fill a Phish-sized hole.


Aug. 4-6

Coffman Park, Dublin

COST: Adults: $10 in advance/$15 at gate; children 12 and under free

PERFORMERS: Gaelic Storm, Mary Black, Dervish, Drowsy Lads

SUMMARY: This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Dublin Irish Festival, which it claims is the biggest of its kind, drawing in excess of 100,000 attendees over three days. In case you ever wanted to follow the money, the City of Dublin funds the fest through its hotel/motel tax and sponsors and estimates the Irish celebration's local economic impact at $8.3 million.


Aug. 12 and 13

Bicentennial Park, Downtown

COST: Free

PERFORMERS: Charlie Cruz, Bachata Heightz, Tono Rosario, Tito Nieves

SUMMARY: The two-day family-friendly fest returns to celebrate all things Latino. A three-time Grammy nominee and former lead singer in merengue group Los Hermanos Rosario, Tono Rosario has sold more than 100 million albums, and Charlie Cruz is a Puerto Rico-born salsa star.


Aug. 18 and 19

Fortress Obetz

4020 Speedway Ln., Obetz

COST: Single day ticket: $40 (early bird pricing); Two-day pass: $70 (early bird pricing)

PERFORMERS: Third Eye Blind, DNCE, Fetty Wap, Tegan & Sara

SUMMARY: Now in its fourth year, FMMF has continued to walk back its bold year-one goal of creating a sprawling, Columbus equivalent to SXSW. So what initially started as a multi-venue, Downtown-centric event is now being held in Obetz in the recently constructed Fortress Obetz. Attendance has been an issue in recent years, and a weak slate of headliners, plus the added drive time, likely won't lead to an uptick this time around. Here's guessing the fest is outdrawn by its Obetz neighbor the Zucchini Festival, which takes place Aug. 24-27, also at Fortress Obetz.


Late August

Park Street, Arena District

COST: Free


SUMMARY: Originally scheduled to take place in June, the Park Street Festival was delayed until late August “due to extraneous circumstances beyond our control.” A makeup date and lineup are both forthcoming. Watch the website for details.


Sept. 1 and 2

Maprfre Stadium

One Black & Gold Blvd., North Side

COST: $80 for a two-day pass ($130 for VIP admission)

PERFORMERS: Travis Scott, Diplo, Lil Yachty and more

SUMMARY: After a successful 2016 reboot featuring an epic performance from Chicago's Chance the Rapper, Breakaway is making a return to Mapfre Stadium, where it debuted in 2013. Headliners Diplo and Travis Scott are joined by a smattering of hip-hop and EDM risers, including ascendant Atlanta rapper Lil Yachty, who teams with Scott heading up the Friday bill, and more lineup announcements are expected.


Sept. 16 and 17

Intersection of Town St. and Lucas St. in Franklinton

COST: Free


SUMMARY: With word coming out that this will be the final Independents' Day, expect organizers to pull out all the stops. Last year, working with a budget of nearly $250,000, the ID team attracted national acts such as Cloud Nothings and Speedy Ortiz, along with a strong slate of local and regional performers. Expect more of the same this year, as well as a genuine surprise or two.



June 8-11

A farm in Manchester, Tennessee

DRIVE TIME: 6-1/2 hours

COST: $350

PERFORMERS: U2, Chance the Rapper, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Weeknd, Major Lazer, Lorde

SUMMARY:If you're willing to make the drive, shell out some cash and brave a sea of humanity, this mammoth festival provides a huge range of bands and styles with some of the biggest names in music and a giant undercard.


June 28-July 2, July 4-9

Downtown Milwaukee

DRIVE TIME: 7 hours

COST: $20 general admission, and much, much more for American Family Insurance Amphitheatre headliners

PERFORMERS: Bob Dylan, Migos, Chris Stapleton, The Chainsmokers, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

SUMMARY: The largest, longest festival in the US boasts a roster worthy of its size, packing in legit legends (Dylan, Petty), modern superstars (Migos, Stapleton, Future) and, uh, the Chainsmokers (don't get the appeal, but clearly they're huge). If you don't want to spring for amphitheatre tickets, a single-day pass grants access to ground stages where you can catch the likes of Car Seat Headrest, The Shins, Atmosphere, Tegan & Sara, Bleachers and more.


July 14-16

Union Park, Chicago

DRIVE TIME: 5-1/2 hours

COST: $175

PERFORMERS: LCD Soundsystem, Solange, Vince Staples, A Tribe Called Quest, PJ Harvey, Dirty Projectors, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, the Avalanches

SUMMARY: Just like its tastemaking website, the Pitchfork Music Festival is not all indie-rock these days. Legendary rap group A Tribe Called Quest is a don't-miss, and MC Vince Staples returns to the fest after a memorable set in 2015. LCD Soundsystem, though, is the perfect P4K headliner.


July 14-16

Waterfront Park, Louisville

DRIVE TIME: 3 hours

COST: $170

PERFORMERS: LCD Soundsystem, Weezer, Sturgill Simpson, Run the Jewels, Spoon, PJ Harvey, Vince Staples, Conor Oberst

SUMMARY: With a modest drive time and a great lineup (Run the Jewels, LCD Soundsystemand Sturgill Simpson, a country singer/guitarist who currently fronts one of the best bands in America), we'd give this Louisville fest one of our highest recommendations. Pro tip: If you can only attend one day, make it Saturday, where you can catch LCD and Simpson, as well as Vince Staples, Phantogram and Beach Slang.


September 15-17

Douglas Park, Chicago

DRIVE TIME: 5-1/2 hours

COST: $189.98

PERFORMERS: Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age, Jawbreaker, M.I.A., Wu Tang Clan

SUMMARY: Over the years, the punk-leaning Riot Fest has gradually evolved into the best festival in the US, and this year is no exception. The three-day affair boasts monster headliners (scheduling Jawbreaker's first performance in 21 years is the kind of coup Coachella used to land) and a deep undercard filled with gems (Beach Slang, Saul Williams, The Regrettes).