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The Evolution Of Music Festivals & 7 Next-Gen Fests You Need To Know

With music festival season in full swing, hundreds of thousands of young people will flock to gatherings across the United States. These aren’t your parents’ “rock concerts” — read more about these next-gen festivals.

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The need to gather and enjoy music and fellowship has long been a central tenet of human beings. We're drawn together en masse to share our passions for specific kinds of music and art with each other, and we gain an enormous amount of satisfaction when we connect with people who have similar values and interests. Simply put, in addition to being just generally rad and chock full of the things we love, music festivals are a microcosm for human empathy.

20th Century Festivals — A Progression

While music festivals have been around in some form or another since the dawn of civilization, several banner events in the 20th century ushered in a wave of change both for the format of music festivals as well as culture at large.

Since 1954, the Newport Jazz Festival has been one of the premier jazz festivals in the world, and the scene for some of the most popular live jazz recordings (Ellington Live at Newport, anyone?) Though the festival has featured some of the best musicians and most notable jazz performances in the world, it was also a hub for the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

Toward the end of the 50s, the Newport Jazz Festival expanded to include a folk festival counterpart. Like the jazz festival, the Newport Folk Festival quickly became a banner event for the folk music revival of the mid-20th century. Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, and Bob Dylan are among the many major stars who have headlined the event throughout the years.

On July 25, 1965, the Newport Folk Festival is where Bob Dylan finally plugged in, representing a shift in values for the young musician and a shift in direction for the emerging counterculture movement, which would reach its crescendo at another music festival on a dairy farm in Bethel, New York.

Woodstock — Opening Minds & Changing Expectations

Anyone familiar with the cultural changes of the 20th century will point to Woodstock in 1969 as being one of the most pivotal moments for both music and culture at large. With 400,000 young attendees and an all-star lineup, Woodstock unified and cemented a change in consciousness for an entire generation.

With the Vietnam war fresh on the minds of the nation's youth, the New York festival became both a focal point for a generation's existential angst and an origin for anti-war movements in the coming decade. The festival set the stage for hundreds of enlightened gatherings to follow in its wake.

Ringing in a New Era — New Festival Formats For A New Generation

Music festivals have exploded in the past 10 to 20 years. From bluegrass to death metal, there seems to be a festival format for every genre imaginable. Some festivals, however, are starting to branch away from the old guard. These "2.0" festivals have evolved beyond music as the sole reason to gather with friends. While music is still a strong component of the festivals and a major draw, these new gatherings feature attractions beyond the main stages.

Taking a note from gatherings like Burning Man, big experiential art is prominently featured at these evolved celebrations. These festivals feature live mural painting exhibitions, enormous sculptures, "zomes," and other experience-focused art installations.

In addition to the art component, these festivals offer a menagerie of additional attractions for festies. Movement classes (yoga, dance, etc.), hookah lounges, artisan markets, mini film fests, and more. Many of these festivals also offer an upgraded camping experience — or "glamping." This VIP-level treatment offers showers, safari-style tents on wooden platforms, and queen mattresses. The format lets festival-goers immerse themselves in the entire multi-day adventure without worrying too much about the grunginess of camping.

7 Next-Gen Festivals You Need To Know

Lightning in a Bottle :: May 21 – 25, Bradley, CA

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Lightning in a Bottle (LIB) is a Southern California music and arts festival that takes place in late May. The family-friendly festival offers a variety of dance music as well as yoga workshops, inspirational speakers, experiential art, and a plethora of other experiences for its progressive-minded audience.

What The Festival :: June 19 – 22, Dufur, OR

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In addition to a star-studded dance music lineup, What The Festival features an "Illuminated Forest" full of contemporary experiential art, a micro film festival showcasing a diverse range of short films, the "Shinto-a-Go-Go" tea house, hookah lounges, a huge splash pool stage, and the largest disco ball in the Pacific Northwest. What The Festival provides $8,000 in art grants annually for artists interested in creating new installations. The event also features a boutique camping experience with safari tents and blow up mattresses for festies looking for a bit more comfort.

Shambhala :: August 7 – 10, Salmo River Ranch, B.C.

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Located in the serenity of beautiful British Columbia, Shambhala’s website describes their “Fractal Forest” stage as a “burnt out old-growth cedar tree stump, surrounded by 360 degrees of the most beautiful dancers on the planet.“

Arise :: August 7 – 9, Loveland, CO

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Nestled below the majestic Rocky Mountains between Fort Collins and Boulder, Arise Festival offers incredible mountain and meadow vistas and a diverse lineup of musicians and DJs. The festival features visual and performing artists, workshops, and an inspirational dialogue series. Additionally, Arise plants one tree for every ticket they sell to the festival.

Electric Forest :: June 25 – 28, Rothbury, MI

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Known by some as the “Choose Your Own Adventure” of music festivals, Electric Forest is an arts and music oasis in the midwest. With an estimated 30,000 people in attendance, festival-goers are sure to make connections that will last a lifetime.

Wanderlust Festivals :: Numerous Dates & Locations

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Wanderlust bills their festivals as “all-out celebrations of mindful living.” The hybrid music festival/wellness retreats take place across the U.S. and Canada and feature music, meditation, yoga, speakers, hiking, sustainable food, and much more.

Art Outside :: October 22 – 25, Austin, TX

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Art Outside is a fall music and arts festival just outside of Austin, TX. The event features a diverse lineup ranging from bluegrass to ambient/electronic DJs, art installations, late-night dance parties, workshops, and even a family friendly “kids corner.” Kids 12 and under are admitted for no charge if accompanied by a paying guardian.

These are just a few festivals representing a cultural shift in celebrations and gatherings. This new wave of festivals is gaining more momentum each year with thousands of new festies discovering the joys of a festival experience tailored to a new generation.

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