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Top 10 Summer Festivals in America

Festival fever has officially kicked off in the USA with plenty to thrill music fans, gourmands and art lovers. From grunge and alt-rock beats in Chicago to crustacean celebrations in Maine, we check out America’s top 10 summer festivals.

10. Maine Lobster Festival, Rockland
Where: At Rockland’s Harbour Park
When: The first weekend in August, including the preceding Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
What: Originating in 1947 to offer ‘all the lobster you can eat for $1’, this five-day crustacean celebration features a whopping 20,000 pounds of Maine lobster – also known as homarus americanus. Guests heading to Rockland, the historic harbour town along Maine’s Midcoast, can expect nine festival tents, the world’s greatest lobster cooker, a huge parade, fine arts, and the much-hyped annual Maine Sea Goddess Coronation Pageant. Added extras include live music, art displays, US Navy ship tours, children’s entertainment, and professional and amateur cooking contests open to chefs aged 18 and older.
Why go: Savour steaming hot lobster dripping with award-winning Cabot butter in the Main Eating Tent overlooking Penobscot Bay and sample speciality lobster rolls, lobster wraps and lobster caesar salad. For those who like to mix it up, calamari, clams, crab cakes, shrimp, mussels and haddock are also on offer. Lobster-lovers can enter the Great International Lobster Crate Race – a competition open to anyone brave enough to risk falling into the Atlantic after running over as many partially submerged lobster crates as possible. The current record is 4,501 crates crossed by a 12-year-old boy from Connecticut.

9. Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, Vermont
Where: In the Coach Barn at Shelburne Farms on the shores of Lake Champlain in Shelburne.
When: The third week in July.
What: Seemingly getting better with age, what started with a crowd of 500 cheese connoisseurs in 2009 now attracts some 1,000-plus fans every year. Set on the sprawling Shelburne Farms in Vermont – a world-class cheese state with the highest number of cheesemakers per capita – this one-day celebration of all things cheese boasts seminars, demos from artisan cheesemakers, and a superb selection of exceptional cheese, wine, craft beers and spirits for sale. Guests can enjoy offerings from over 40 award-winning cheesemakers and sample over 200 cheeses, wines and food products.
Why go: To say cheese. A lot. There are three ‘Meet the Cheesemakers’ workshops, all of which are free with festival admission and run on a first-come-first-seated basis. Guests can head to the East Hall Workshop for The Vertical Tasting, Sweet & Stinky, and European VS Vermont – or enjoy Cooking with Chocolate & Cheese, Beyond The Curd, and Brew & Chew: Cooking with Cheese & Ales events held in the designated cooking tent in the outside courtyard.

8. Governors Ball Music Festival, New York City
Where: Randall’s Island Park, along the East River between Manhattan, Queens and The Bronx.
When: The first week of June.
What: Not to be confused with a political bash, this multi-stage three-day festival on New York’s Randall’s Island launched in 2011 as a platform for rock, rap and hip-hop heavyweights along with new darlings from the electronic, indie, pop, and folk scene. Guests can keep hydrated at eight complimentary water stations, play life-sized lawn games like Connect Four, and don wireless headphones for The Silent Disco. Other attractions include art installations, state-of-the-art photo booths, face and body-painting, food trucks, and a dedicated mixology tent serving potent signature cocktails to the over 21’s. For diehard Gov Ball devotees, a range of branded merchandise (t-shirts, vests and water bottles) is available.
Why go: For over 70 acts. Past performers include Kanye West, Kings of Leon, Guns N’ Roses, Nas, Kendrick Lamar, Bloc Party, Beach House, Animal Collective, Cut Copy, Erykah Badu, and Pretty Lights. Gov Ball 2014 saw the likes of Damon Albarn, Jack White, The Strokes, Skrillex, TV on the Radio, The Kills, Axwell & Ingrosso, Phoenix, Interpol, Disclosure, Earl Sweatshirt,
and Vampire Weekend take to the stage.

7. Outside Lands Music, Food & Arts Festival, San Francisco
Where: At Golden Gate Park.
When: The second week of August.
What: Since its inception in 2008, this three-day music, food, wine, beer and art festival has become an annual San Francisco fixture. In addition to stellar line-ups from singer-songwriters, DJs, jazz acts and cutting-edge rock bands, guests can enjoy offbeat comedic entertainment, musical theatre, live street painting, and innovative art installations. The showstopper here is the food. Going way beyond greasy burgers and nacho, attendees can expect top-notch culinary offerings at the world’s only gourmet festival; think handmade pesto-roasted potato and baby spinach caprese pizza, barbecued shrimps, rare cheeses, lamb and shrimp mixed grill with romesco, and all sorts of vegan fare. The festival offers over 200 food and drink experiences in Taste of the Bay Area, Wine Lands, Beer Lands, Choco Lands and Cheese Lands.
Why go: For 60 acts. Past performers include Tom Jones, The Black Eyed Peas, Phoenix, D’Angelo, Hall & Oates, Paul McCartney, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, Willie Nelson and Family, and Grizzly Bear. The 2014 line-up reveals headliners Kanye West, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, The Killers, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Arctic Monkeys, Tiësto, Death Cab For Cutie, Ray Lamontagne, Ben Howard and many more.

6. Telluride Film Festival, Telluride
Where: In the Colorado mountain town of Telluride.
When: Over Labor Day weekend, typically the end of August or beginning of September.
What: Since its inception in 1974, the five-day Telluride Film Festival has packed a punch with die-hard movie fans, studio executives and commanding film critics. Nicknamed as Colorado’s answer to Cannes, this is less a series of screenings and more a ‘celebration of film, community, and creativity’ for industry professionals and film buffs. Ang Lee, David Cronenberg, Danny Boyle and Errol Morris have all debuted works in this tiny town nestled deep within the San Juan Mountains before finding fame.
Why go: The festival organisers notoriously keep the film schedule secret but have confirmed Canadian artist and director Guy Maddin and his Los Angeles-based film writer wife Kim Morgan as the guest directors for 2014. In addition to the 100-plus film screenings, the 4,000-strong audience can expect guest speakers, debates, Q&A sessions and informal meet-and-greets. Tribute recipients include Francis Coppola, Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Daniel Day-Lewis, Penelope Cruz, and George Clooney. Blockbusters premiered at Telluride include The King’s Speech, Argo, Slumdog Millionaire, Brokeback Mountain, Juno, Lost in Translation, Capote, Walk The Line, Amelie, Blue Velvet, and The Crying Game.

5. Bonnaroo, Manchester
Where: On a 700-acre farm in Manchester in Tennessee, around 60 miles from Nashville.
When: The first two weeks of June, typically starting on the second Thursday.
What: Pretty much of one of the hippest big-ticket four-day camping festivals, this is the closest the USA has to Glastonbury. Established in 2002 with a focus on jam bands, revellers can expect a diverse mix of music genres including rock, jazz, world, electronica, hip-hop and pop plus plenty of comedy theatre, cabaret, and food stations. Cited by Rolling Stone magazine as ‘one of the 50 moments that changed rock and roll’, standout attractions include the Broo’ers Festival featuring 25 different USA breweries, and the 24-hour Bonnaroo Cinema that screens new pre-releases of independent films, documentaries, comedies and cult classics, and also hosts Q&A sessions with filmmakers and actors.
Why go: For 100-plus acts. Past performers include Paul McCartney, Björk, R. Kelly, Wu-Tang Clan, Daniel Tosh, Kendrick Lamar, ZZ Top, Kings of Leon, Stevie Wonder, Jay-Z, Tenacious D, Weezer, Daryl Hall and Chromeo. Confirmed acts for 2014 included Elton John, Lionel Richie, Kanye West, Jack White, Vampire Weekend, Arctic Monkeys, The Flaming Lips, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, and Jake Bugg.

4. Summerfest, Wisconsin
Where: At the 75-acre Henry Maier Festival Park along the lakefront in Milwaukee.
When: The last week in June and first week in July.
What: Since its debut in 1968, this 11-day musical shindig recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as ‘The World’s Largest Music Festival’ attracts approximately 900,000 concertgoers yearly. Summerfest (aka The Big Gig) features 800 artists playing on 11 stages with a wide-ranging repertoire that includes hit-makers from the alternative, rock, pop, country, R&B, pop and reggae scenes as well as up-and-comers. Attractions include comedy acts, firework displays (including The Big Bang on opening night), food and drink vendors, Summerfest Parade, and the Kohl’s Captivation Station offering art and music experiences for kids of all ages every day of Summerfest from noon until 7pm.
Why go: For the industry’s hottest stars. Past headliners include Bon Jovi, Destiny’s Child, Sting, Rod Stewart, Katy Perry, Kid Rock, Metallica, Pearl Jam, Alanis Morissette, Shania Twain and Britney Spears. Summerfest 2014 will see Arctic Monkeys, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars, Brad Paisley, Luke Bryan, Outkast, Dave Matthews Band, Mötley Crüe with Alice Cooper, Fall Out Boy & Paramore and Usher take to the stage amongst hundreds of others.

3. Lollapalooza, Chicago
Where: Grant Park, located in the Loop Community area.
When: At the beginning of August.
What: Since its inception in 1991 when it started life as a farewell tour for Perry Farrell’s former band, Jane’s Addiction, this legendary three-day music fest is a mash-up of alternative rock, punk rock, heavy metal and hip hop with dance and comedy offerings thrown in for good measure. Taking place on 115 acres of parkland between Downtown Chicago and Lake Michigan, the 300,000-strong crowd can expect all the hallmarks of a Nineties alt-rock and grunge bash – but with a contemporary edge. The festival organisers amp up their eco-friendly initiatives every year – most appealing are Chow Town and Lolla Farmers Market serving ethical fare, and the eco-savvy Green Street where socially-conscious artisans sell their wares.
Why go: To see 130 acts take to the stage. Past performers include The Killers, Nine Inch Nails, The Cure, Mumford & Sons, Lana Del Rey, Ellie Goulding, The Smashing Pumpkins, Muse, Beastie Boys, Coldplay, Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Lady Gaga. Headliners for 2014 include Eminem, Outkast, Kings of Leon, Calvin Harris, The Avett Brothers, Lorde, Above & Beyond, Broken Bells, Interpol, Lykke Li and Phantogram.

2. Burning Man Festival, Nevada
Where: In Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, 120 miles north of Reno.
When: One-week around the end of August or beginning of September, including Labour Day.
What: What started out on San Francisco’s Baker Beach in 1990 has migrated to the Black Rock Desert as a huge week-long event that is part art festival, part cultural phenomenon, and part everything else. Around 68,000 creative types head to an ancient lakebed, known as the playa, to be part of an ‘experimental community’ dedicated to art, self-expression, and self-reliance. This makeshift metropolis is built around an iconic 50-foot ‘Man’ who is set ablaze on the penultimate night to the delight of ‘Burners’ – the name given to festival attendees.
Why go: Self-expression is strongly encouraged with nudity as a recurring theme. Burners must bring their own sleeping equipment and ensure enough water and food for the duration of their stay. All attendees must obey Burning Man founder Larry Harvey’s Ten Principles that reflect the community’s ethos and culture. These include Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommodification, Radical Self-Reliance, Radical Self-Expression, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leaving No Trace, Participation and Immediacy. Whilst there are no official events per se, there is plenty of dances at sunrise, eye-catching costumes, and endless partying.

1. Comic-Con International, San Diego
Where: San Diego Convention Centre in the Marina district.
When: The last week in July.
What: Founded in 1970 for comic geeks, this four-day event has evolved into the nation’s longest-running popular arts convention. Every year, over 15,000 people flock here to celebrate comic books, pop culture, science fiction/fantasy-related film, television, toys, video games, and entertainment elements across every conceivable genre. Universally known as San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC), its popularity is unprecedented with tickets selling out months in advance. The event’s first Wednesday is ‘Preview Night’ and gives ticketed attendees exclusive access to catch early screenings and scan the exhibition floor for collectables.
Why go: Over its four-decade-plus history, Comic-Con has brought comic creators, science fiction and fantasy authors, film and television directors, producers, and writers together. Avid art fans should head to Artists’ Alley to meet some of the industry’s best artists and illustrators, and visit the Autograph Area for special signings. An absolute must-see is the gala annual Masquerade party held in the ballroom on Saturday night in front of a 4,000-strong audience. This unique event celebrates the art of costuming and all entrants are dressed as characters from movies, TV shows, computer and video games, and of course, comic books.

Article written by Michelle Dunn.

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