As a nation, we have had a complicated history with music festivals.
Woodstock was great. Those three days of peace and music in August 1969 produced some memorable performances — Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner,” Joe Cocker’s Beatles’ cover — and thousands of American children.
Altamont was not so great, unless your hobbies include taking acid, punching Mick Jagger and bludgeoning people with pool cues.
Festivals celebrating the anniversaries of Woodstock in 1994 and 1999 fell flat, the latter devolving into the kind of chaos and destruction on its final day typically reserved for post-soccer match riots in third-world countries or Vancouver after the Canucks choke away another chance to bring Lord Stanley’s cup back to Canada.
But recently, there has been reason to again believe in the promise of the great American music festivals and its saviors are a pair of unlikely heroes — hipsters and hippies.
Have a cocaine problem, a trust fund, no direction and an ironic handlebar mustache? Then go west, young man — to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif.
Despite Coachella’s utterly unlikable clientele, the festival’s lineups are annually among the best this side of Glastonbury and apparently having been shot to death 16 years ago doesn’t preclude anyone from showing up and performing. At least in holographic form.
Enjoy tent lodging, the backwoods of Tennessee and bands that play the same four chords for five hours? Then pack up that old Volkswagen plastered with faded and peeling Phish and String Cheese Incident stickers and head to Manchester, Tenn., for the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival.
Despite the eye-rolling and images of hula-hooping half-wits that the mere mention of Bonnaroo typically illicits, this enormously popular four-day festival has deviated in recent years from its jam band roots and successfully embraced more mainstream and indie rock acts, including Metallica, Bruce Springsteen and Jay-Z in recent years.
Best of all, Coachella and Bonnaroo are well-organized — having apparently decided that hiring a notoriously violent biker gang to manage event security is a bad idea — well-attended and have provided a blueprint of success for similar festivals across the country.
That’s great news for those of us who enjoy spending entire days listening to great bands and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with sweaty strangers also suffering from mild exhaustion.
With festival season upon us, this week’s playlist includes artists you can check out at several festivals this summer.
In hindsight, we owe a lot to hippies and hipsters. They’ve certainly done wonders for plunging V-neck shirts and white guy dreadlocks.
• Kid Cudi, “Up, Up and Away” — Find myself wishing more of Kid Cudi’s songs were like this one. But most of them, sadly, are not. Performing this weekend at The Roots Picnic in Philadelphia.
• Alabama Shakes, “Hang Loose” — The kind of band seemingly created to play an event like Bonnaroo, which is exactly where they’ll be June 7.
• Delta Spirit, “California” — Delta Spirit joins Dave Matthews Band, The Flaming Lips and Civil Twilight on June 23 at the inaugural River’s Edge Music Festival in Minnesota.
• Sleigh Bells, “Demons” — The Bluegrass State will be sufficiently rocked July 13 at the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, Ky.
• Blind Pilot, “Half Moon” — This Portland, Ore., band will be performing at several festivals this summer, including the Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Del., on July 20.
• Of Monsters and Men, “King and Lionheart” — This up-and-coming Icelandic band will join The Head and the Heart, My Morning Jacket and Patty Griffin at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport, R.I., on July 28.
• SBTRKT, “Wildfire” — Challenging Bonnaroo and Coachella’s dominance is the reborn Lollapalooza in downtown Chicago, which is where you can see this innovative British electronic artist Aug. 3.
• Girl Talk, “Play Your Part (Pt. 2)” — One of the hardest working men in music, Pittsburgh’s mad scientist Greg Gillis will perform alongside Dr. Dog, Dinosaur Jr. and other bands at Loufest in St. Louis, Mo., on Aug. 25.