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Matt Jordan: Region’s music festivals feature big names, can’t-miss acts from around world

Wilco at Forecastle 2012 (Photo by Matt Jordan)

Wilco at Forecastle 2012 (Photo by Matt Jordan)


With summer about to officially begin, it’s time to start planning out your fun in the sun. For many people, that means making time for music festivals. Whether you’re the type to go to every day of every festival wtihin a six-hour drive or someone who just wants to see a few bands on the weekend, we’ve got you covered. Here are our picks for some can’t-miss musical events this year. 

Bonnaroo  (Manchester, Tenn. – June 13-16)

Bonnaroo has been and probably always will be the big mamma of music festivals in our area. It’s one of the biggest in the country and one of the best in the world. This four-day festival in rural Tennessee brings together artists from most every genre: rock, folk, country, hip hop, electronica and jazz. Attendees can pitch tents in the camping area or stay at a nearby hotel, but each night the music continues into the early morning.

This year’s headliners Paul McCartney, Tom Petty and Mumford & Sons have a strong rock-leaning radio presence, but if you look a little lower in the lineup you’ll see that it’s an opportunity to catch some little-known and up-and-coming acts as well.

Futurebirds at 2012 Boomslang (Photo by Matt Jordan)

Futurebirds at 2012 Boomslang (Photo by Matt Jordan)

I recommend using this as an opportunity to see some great acts from around the world that might not be back for a while. “Little Talks” singers Of Monsters and Men are in from Australia; Bombino has come over from Nigeria to tour behind his Dan Auerbach-produced LP; and who knows how many more opportunities we’ll have to see Tame Impala, given that they live in Australia.

Bonnaroo is also home to the “Superjam,” an event that groups together musicians playing at the festival to allow them to do a one-time-only performance. Previous years have seen cover sets (2008’s Tom Waits tribute) or big surprises (2012’s all-star return of D’Angelo), but this year is the event’s first all-hip-hop event. Legacy acts RZA and DJ Jazzy Jeff, have signed on to play alongside rising stars like Schoolboy Q, Earl Sweatshirt and more. It happens late at night, but it’ll never happen again.

Forecastle  (Louisville – July 12-14)

If traveling to rural Tennessee doesn’t sound like a fun use of your time, you’ll probably find Forecastle much more appealing. This Kentucky tradition takes place in Louisville’s Waterfront Park July 12-14. There’s no camping at this event, so plan on either finding accommodations in Louisville or making the drive back home every day. 

If Forecastle seems a bit like Bonnaroo, it’s not just your imagination. The two festivals are put on, in part, by some of the same groups. The idea of multiple genres leading the festival carries over as well; Forecastle has a generous helping of acts from across the musical spectrum.

This year’s headliners String Cheese Incident, the Black Keys, and the Avett Brothers and support acts the Flaming Lips, Alabama Shakes and Jim James will probably lead Forecastle to its most successful year yet. They’ve caught those acts at the height of their critical and fan acclaim. 


My Morning Jacket and members of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band performed during Forecastle Festival 2012. (Photo by Matt Jordan)

But because no festival experience is made by only its headliners, there are a great number of smaller bands to fill out your day. Two bands returning from Forecastle 2012 are coming back this year riding waves of critical praise: folk-rock Houndmouth for their recently released debut album and jam-act Moon Taxi for their ever-improving live show. Likewise, this is your opportunity to catch rising stars and powerful live performers Foxygen and Dan Deacon touring behind their recent hit albums. 

Bunburry (Cincinnati – July 12-14)


Cincinnati’s Bunburry Music Festival is one of the more focused festivals that isn’t completely genre-specific. Its three-day event focuses largely on contemporary rock and pop acts — the good news is that this makes it a mecca for anyone who enjoys that kind of music.  If the headliners draw you in at all, you’ll likely fall in love with the smaller supporting acts.

This year Bunburry is headlined by Fun., MGMT and Cincinnati’s The National. Between the three of them, they pretty much run the range of modern rock from the polished and radio-ready to the dark and brooding. Filling in the cracks between those three are a variety of acts that are ready to be your new favorite. Whether its the introspective indie pop of Belle & Sebastian, young fun of Those Darlins or the powerful R&B of Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, there’s someone here with the perfect summer song for you. 

Boomslang (Lexington – Sept 20 – 22)

Boomslang makes no qualms about its niche appeal. The festival is billed as an opportunity for those underground music fans who populate WRFL’s station and audience to congregate around the bands they obsess over. This year that means seeing the dream pop group Blonde Redhead, British post-punk act Clinic and psych-pop act Youth Lagoon. The festival is spread over several Lexington venues from morning to late evening on all three days of Boomslang and will include film, art and guest speakers.

Matt Jordan of Lexington is a the creator of Youaintnopicasso.com, a music blog he started in 2004 as a freshman at the University of Kentucky. His regular updates about music and musicians, interviews, concert reviews and industry news have gained him a wide national audience and helped make him an opinion leader in the music industry.

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