Hear that? That's the sound of an exhausted team of reporters collectively high-fiving over the end of music festival season. Whether it was the lush green setting of San Francisco's Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival or the arid desert surrounding Las Vegas' Electric Daisy Carnival, we were there.
And there was a lot to cover. This summer marked one of the busiest in our business with the birth of a new festival, Vegas' Rock in Rio USA, as well as expansions of L.A.'s own BET Experience and FYF Fest. The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, considered the granddaddy of them all, Stagecoach and Hard Fest also had us running from venue to venue, sweating through our sunblock.
Now, as fall sets in, we're left with tender memories, depleted bank accounts and ugly battle scars.
To help with the healing process, the music team ranked the festivals we attended using very specific criteria (food, logistics, cost, and did we mention booze?). We then gave each festival a letter grade from A to F. See what passed and failed on The Times pop music team's summer report card.
Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival (April 10-12 and 17-19)
Since its inception in 1999, Coachella has worked tirelessly to maintain its status as the West Coast's premier music festival. With nearly 200 acts, it cuts across genres and generations. Its resort-like amenities (for those who have the $$$) have also changed the way fans experience music festivals. What they can't change? The desert heat. It's brutal.
Acts: AC/DC, Jack White, Drake, the Weeknd, Tame Impala, Florence and the Machine
What we wrote: "From the guards checking wristbands to the stagehands to the artists themselves — everything stayed in sync. The nearly 100,000 ticket buyers who descend upon Indio each year expect this kind of efficiency — and they should, considering passes start at $375 and VIP access reaches into the thousands — and Goldenvoice has worked to make the festival the preeminent destination for music lovers and artists.... It's easy to get lost in the utopia — regardless of which weekend you attend."
Body tax: With a layout that's predictable after years of trail by error, Coachella is a cinch to navigate as long as you have sunblock, a large-brimmed hat and a high level of tolerance for frat boys and women in goddess-wear.
Wallet drain: Major. Bring money — and lots of it.
Craziest VIP offering: A gourmet dining package that'll set you back $1,024 — we hear it's fabulous, but we're still griping over having to pay $9 for a semi-cold Heineken.
Stagecoach Festival (April 24-26)
Nashville descends upon the desert for this festival, which is often referred to as Coachella's country cousin. The fest takes place the weekend after Coachella and on the same grounds, but that's where the similarities end. It's family-friendly, free of EDM and Kardashians are a rare if nonexistent sight in VIP areas. The biggest country festival in the world, it drew 210,000 fans this year.
Acts: Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, Tim McGraw, Merle Haggard, Kacey Musgraves, Dierks Bentley, the Band Perry, Sturgill Simpson
What we wrote: "This year, there was no shortage of exhortations from the stage for fans to drink, dance and debauch, but there was a bigger contingent of strong female performers [than last year], including neo-rockabilly-Western singer Nikki Lane, Colorado electric-guitar wielding singer-songwriter Clare Dunn and the spirited female bluegrass quintet Della Mae."
Body tax: With ample space between the three main stages and expanded real estate in recent years, Stagecoach is even easier to navigate than Coachella. But once the sun goes down? Lines to buy food, beverages and rhinestone-studded boots become exhausting and long.
Wallet drain: Admission prices are among the lowest of major festivals, running $269 for a basic three-day pass, up to $899 for weekend admission that includes VIP seating directly in front of the Mane Stage for the fest's big-gun performers. It's easy to drop $100 per day on food and drinks, especially for those who opt for booze.
Craziest VIP offering: Just preferred seating in front of the Mane Stage, but the candied bacon at TwistedBrisket made our taste buds feel like VIPs.
Rock in Rio USA (May 8-9 and 15-16)
For more than a year, organizers promised the inaugural U.S. edition of the Brazilian-born Rock in Rio would be unlike anything the American public had seen. Equal parts concert, amusement park and street party, the two-weekend festival was set on a forgotten swath of the Las Vegas Strip that once served as a recreational vehicle campground. The $25-million City of Rock (i.e. festival grounds) boasted six stages, a 600-foot zip-line and three internationally-themed "rock streets." One weekend was dedicated strictly to rock and the other to pop, which makes zero sense when you think about it.
Acts: Metallica, Mana, No Doubt, Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran
What we wrote: Rock in Rio USA was "confused, unfocused and occasionally downright weird. The setting? Unlike the lush Tennessee surroundings of Bonnaroo, the glowing desert sunset landscapes of Coachella or the Louisiana setting of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Rock in Rio USA was on a flat, verdant lawn. This being Vegas, though, the grass was fake.... The kid-sized guitars and saxophones many fans carried were actually hollow and filled with red booze, [and] a zip-line cut across the main stage. Basically, Vegas-brand cheese, which, although ridiculous, is way more entertaining than hipster irony or too-cool-to-celebrate detachment of indie rock festivals."
Body tax: Logistics were a disaster during the festival's "often-incoherent" debut. Cab drivers were unaware of where to drop off passengers, and shuttles didn't appear when or where advertised. Set times were available only online, and there wasn't a clear guide to food and drink. Thankfully, we had these wise words to hang on: What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.
Wallet drain: Tickets cost $298 for the weekend, and wristbands served as currency inside the gates (funds were loaded via on-site stations or online). This no-cash, no-credit-card policy drained our pockets, as keeping track of our balance was impossible and led to some serious overspending. Here's to $30 daiquiris.
Craziest VIP offering: If the air-conditioned, two-story, 77,500-square-foot structure with copious plush seating, open bar and Vegas style buffet catered by Wolfgang Puck wasn't enough, some of the bathroom stalls had tiny screens showing the action. Vegas one-percenters also held court in stage-side cabanas that went for more than $20,000.
BET Experience (June 25-28)
The two year-old BET Experience is one of the most ambitious of the destination festivals — and it promises to be around for at least three additional years thanks to a recent contract renewal. Taking over multiple venues at downtown's L.A. Live, it's the biggest showcase of black music on the West Coast. This summer, it expanded to four days featuring top-tier talent, up-and-coming artists, seminars, celebrity panels and fashion events. All of it led up to the main event, the BET annual awards telecast, which featured a Bad Boy Records reunion. Only BET could get Faith Evans and Lil Kim on the same stage in 2015.
Acts: Nicki Minaj, Miguel, Ice Cube, the Roots & Erykah Badu
What we wrote: "For the first time in two decades, most of the surviving members of the groundbreaking N.W.A reunited onstage to perform some of the records that helped define gangsta rap and put the West Coast on the hip-hop map. The crowd's excitement ignited when the opening bars of 'Straight Outta Compton' rang out, with many shouting the lyrics right back to the group. N.W.A's reunion concluded with the group's most incendiary and infamous tune, "… Tha Police." Arriving in a police car, Ice Cube jumped out [from the front seat, of course] and launched into the controversial song as old footage of police brutality incidents flashed on the video screen alongside recent cases and scenes of protest."
Body tax: Aside from Lauryn Hill keeping us up until 3 a.m., the weekend was a breeze thanks to the close proximity of the venues, multiple eateries and the fact that shows were largely seated events (there is a God).
Wallet drain: Packages started at $169.50. Since marquee acts performed at night, there was no need to spend the entire day there emptying one's pockets (even though we caught multiple shows).
Craziest VIP offering: A ticket to the awards ceremony. Packages ranged from $1,095 to $4,395. Tip: You're better off watching at home.
Electric Daisy Carnival (June 19-21)
The largest multiday music festival in America, Electric Daisy Carnival started in L.A. in the '90s and rode the ensuing EDM boom to define contemporary electronic music culture. It moved to Las Vegas in 2011. Its spectacle and star power, however, has been overshadowed more than once by the deaths of attendees who mixed club drugs with summer heat.
Acts: Calvin Harris, Kaskade, Martin Garrix
What we wrote: "EDC, an electronic dance music festival that draws 400,000 fans to its three-day takeover of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, is usually saturated with uplifting slogans about music fans coming together. [But] brief moment(s) of discord suggested that there's a new tension between the cheerful anarchy of a good rave, the actual anarchy that any event of this size is going to generate and a pained national mood that dance music — once a refuge of outsiders seeking escape and rejuvenation — has struggled to reckon with today."
Body tax: The 110-degree heat — at night. Need we say more?
Wallet drain: Cab drivers demanded 200% tips before ferrying EDC fans to the fest. Next year, you're probably better off chipping in with friends and chartering a helicopter.
Craziest VIP offering: On-site VIP wedding packages in a custom-made rave chapel. And in the morning, quickie divorces were available just down the Strip.
Hard Summer (Aug. 1-2)
The genre-crossing electronic music festival started in 2007 as a glorified rave. Like EDM, it's since expanded its audience into the mainstream. 65,000 fans attended each of two nights this August (up from 40,000 last year), likely on the strength of a more accessible lineup. The festival's future in L.A. County, however, is in question in wake of two drug-related deaths on opening night.
Acts: The Weeknd, Chemical Brothers, Jack U
What we wrote: "Is it time to call Hard Summer the dominant music festival in Los Angeles? It's got the numbers: With all 65,000 tickets sold for each of its two days, the festival is right about where Coachella was just before it became an international symbol for SoCal desert decadence. Hard Summer also has the top-tier headliners... along with a slate of hip-hop acts such as L.A.'s Schoolboy Q and EDM producers Porter Robinson and Big Gigantic. So yes, it might be time to regard Hard Summer as the pacesetter in the second wave of L.A.'s EDM culture."
Body tax: With two on-site deaths on the opening night, the mix of heat and drug use at the festival isn't just exhausting anymore. It's a medical and public safety issue that organizers have to address.
Wallet drain: Tickets cost $170. We saw several drunk fans taking prime-time Ubers back to L.A. from Pomona. Much better than driving when you've been partying, but that's going to sting in the morning.
Craziest VIP offering: A modest fenced-off area to watch the headliners with a drink in hand.
Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival (Aug. 7-9)
The San Francisco-based festival, which began in August 2008, has become a popular counterpart to Southern California's Coachella. This year, tickets sold out in 45 minutes, and the ensuing crowd packed Golden Gate Park. The lineup featured a fairly safe mix of classic rock artists and current chart toppers.
Acts: Mumford & Sons, Black Keys, Sam Smith, Kendrick Lamar, Elton John
What we wrote: "This festival is no Coachella. Temperatures are expected to be in the high 60s during the day but will drop by nightfall. Layers are necessary, even if it doesn't feel that way when the sun is shining. Outside Lands has an impressive artist lineup, but equally as impressive is its restaurant partners, trucks and GastroMagic stage."
Body tax: Golden Gate Park is beautiful but not the easiest venue for people not used to walking. With colder temperatures in the Bay area, trekking through the park from stage to stage was a bit more taxing than at other festivals. But hey, at least you weren't choking on desert sand.
Wallet drain: A three-day pass is $325. As with most festivals, everything is pricey. The food and drink, however, made it worth it.
Craziest VIP offering: Private box suites (150 square feet of outdoor space) with amenities that include a private entrance, views of the main stage, beer and wine service, snacks, VIP restrooms and a poster.
FYF Fest (Aug 22–23)
When FYF Fest began in 2004, it built its reputation on curating prime punk-rock offerings. It has grown in size and stature since those scrappy days — aligning with Goldenvoice in 2011, the powerful concert-promotion firm behind Coachella. That upgrade also meant moving from dusty L.A. State Historic Park adjacent to Chinatown to the L.A. Sports Arena and surrounding Exposition Park. Think asphalt parking lots doubling as stage venues.
Acts: Kanye West (who replaced Frank Ocean), D'Angelo, Morrissey, Run the Jewels, FKA Twigs
What we wrote: "[Kanye] West's energy reverberated through the audience, reinvigorating the crowd after a day of intense heat at the L.A. Memorial Sports Arena and Exposition Park.... The volatile, noisy West [and guest stars during his set, including Rihanna] may have been a blessing in disguise. He delivered one of the most spirited performances on a bill that included sets by Run the Jewels, Flying Lotus and Bloc Party on multiple stages."
Body tax: FYF has long suffered from navigational challenges. Last year's move to Exposition Park was saddled with logistical issues so severe, organizers sent an apology email to fans. A "new improved shortcut" helped this summer, but the layout remained difficult and stage hopping almost impossible (we had the blisters to prove it). Standing on the hot asphalt in front of the main stage felt more like punishment than festival fun.
Wallet drain: $175 for a two-day pass. Most of our money went to buying an emergency phone charger (why on Earth were there no ins and outs?), weak craft cocktails (most of which were oddly spicy) and later, bandages for our abused feet..
Craziest VIP offering: Some shade and a decent view of the main stage. Plus couches to lounge on.
Reporting: Gerrick D. Kennedy, Randall Roberts, August Brown, Randy Lewis, Mikael Wood and Saba Hamedy