We’re in the thick of summer, prime time for all things live music. Sure, some music festivals have been postponed due to the pandemic and others have already come and gone, but there are still some incredible sonic gatherings on the 2021 calendar.
Bands are touring again and venues are coming back to life. It’s great news for discerning ears and eyes that have been forced to take in recorded songs or YouTube clips of past concerts during the extended quarantine era. We’ll never tire of old footage of Eddie Vedder antics or a creative digital performance, but nothing beats an honest-to-God live show.
If you’re a little hesitant, you’re not alone. Fortunately, many of the best festivals are outside where social distancing is easier and easing back into the norm can be done at your own pace. Regardless, it’s great to have bands out on the road again, treating fans to memorable performances (and the occasional ringing ear).
Here are the best festivals and concerts to check out for the remainder of 2021.
August 20-22 (Las Vegas)
Primarily devoted to bona fide rock ‘n’ roll acts, Psycho unfolds over three days in Sin City. This year, Ty Segall, The Flaming Lips, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are set to burn up the amps at Mandalay Bay. It’s a rare mix of high-energy bands and a notoriously buzzing city, fused together right on The Strip. It features four stages, three of which are indoors and air conditioned and an outdoor beach stage for evening sets.
Read more: Las Vegas Travel Guide
September 10-12 (Chicago)
This reliable indie-rock showcase celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. The venue is Chicago’s Union Park and this year’s lineup includes the likes of Phoebe Bridgers, Animal Collective, Erykah Badu, St. Vincent, and Thundercat, to name a few. The bill is always solid, which is to be expected from a gathering put on by one of the nation’s most prominent music publications. The three-day event is an easy stop along a handful of public transportation and bike routes. Oh, and there’s a sibling fest in France, for those eager to dust off their passports.
Read more: Chicago Travel Guide
September 24-26 (NYC)
New York’s finest festival takes over Citi Field at the end of September. Headliners this year include Billie Eilish, Post Malone, and A$AP Rocky, but there are some great bands in smaller print, too, such as Orville Peck, Big Thief, and Leon Bridges. For its decade-long run, The Governors Ball has always managed to make the big fest experience feel somewhat intimate and extra special. Plus, it’s smack dab in the center of one of the greatest cities on the planet.
Read more: New York City Travel Guide
October 1-3 and 8-10 (Austin)
ACL is a model festival, set in beautiful Zilker Park just a short bus trek from downtown Austin. In addition to great bands, there’s always quality local food, a decent booze selection, and multiple stages to allow you to curate your own experience. This year follows the tried-and-true formula of mixing some legendary acts (George Strait, Stevie Nicks) with modern powerhouses like Miley Cyrus and Moses Sumney. Better, each of the three days features roughly 40 acts so there’s hardly a dull moment. Be warned; like Coachella, this festival tends to bake in very hot weather.
Read more: Austin Travel Guide
October 29-31 (San Francisco)
Golden Gate Park in San Francisco plays host to Outside Lands in late October. Major acts like Lizzo, The Strokes, and Tame Impala join Young Bae, Julia Jacklin, and Goth Babe for three days of tunes. The festival touts one of the more eclectic bills out there, meaning you’ll be treated to multiple musical genres and, likely, some bands you’ve never heard of. Also, it unfolds over Halloween weekend so expect some stellar costumes in attendance.
Read more: San Francisco Travel Guide
November 3-6 (Reykjavik, Iceland)
Some festivals are worth flying international for. Iceland Airwaves benefits from both a wonderful lineup of musicians and a great backdrop in the cultural hotspot that is Reykjavik. Attendees are treated to an amazing array of homegrown musical talent along with touring acts like Porridge Radio and Metronomy. Fans of louder genres like metal, noise-rock, and experimental have much to look forward to with this November fest.
Read more: Reykjavík, Iceland Travel Guide
After an extended delay, Jeff Tweedy and Co. are back on the touring circuit. The folk-rock wizards are thought by many to be one of the best live bands in existence, often playing extended sets with plenty of changeups and unexpected treats. August sees Wilco hit the road with female rock-star trio Sleater-Kinny, making stops in Denver, Atlanta, Boston, its native Chicago, and more. The band relaunches its Ode To Joy leg of the tour this October, with stops in West Coast towns like Portland, L.A., and Seattle. It’s a band that ought to be on every live music fan’s bucket list and the act is likely to be playing with some post-pandemic pent-up energy.
In addition to hitting the festival circuit this year, Durand Jones & The Indications are making venue stops across the country. Now is the time to see the rising Indiana soul band as it’s hot off a stellar new record in Private Space and firing on all cylinders. The coast-to-coast tour kicks off in September with stops in cities such as Philadelphia, NYC, Minneapolis, San Diego, and more. The band is a joy to witness in the flesh, purveyors of classic R&B that feels both fresh and vintage.
The world’s greatest rapper needs no introduction. Kendrick Lamar has kept mostly under the radar lately but has a trio of intriguing shows lined up for Las Vegas in November. A true storyteller with a Pulitzer to his name, Lamar is a modern day virtuoso who does to words what Beethoven and Bach did to notes. Seeing him live should be all the more desirable as he tends to share the stage with many special guests and perform with the kind of tenaciousness one would expect from a rapper still trying to make it.
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