Music fans in Eastern Washington know how vital festivals can be when it comes to seeing your favorite contemporary bands who routinely skip Spokane in favor of playing Missoula or Boise. The festival industry has grown at an astonishing rate in recent years, with corporations bidding on and eating up little fests like they were microbreweries. And as each festival tries to capture the eyes of potential ticket buyers, the demand for pageantry and additional entertainment — games, markets, visual art installations or keynotes — only grows.
Festival season officially starts in the next couple of weeks (the Inlander's own Volume Music Festival takes place the first weekend of June, and Elkfest the week after that), so we're taking an advance look at some of the most interesting regional music events to consider this summer. (Ticket prices listed are for adults, for all days of the festival.)
IN THE CITY
Upstream | Seattle | $135-$325 | upstreammusicfest.com
Who You'll See: That guy who added you on Facebook so he could message you about his Bandcamp
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen teamed with renowned Seattle radio station KEXP to create this new Pioneer Square-based festival targeted at aspiring indie musicians. You can check out such acts as Flying Lotus, Dinosaur Jr. and AlunaGeorge, while also taking in keynote discussions by industry experts about how musicians can adapt to the changing music business. If you go, look out for Spokane hard-rock band Belt of Vapor in the lineup.
Capitol Hill Block Party | Seattle | $150 |capitolhillblockparty.com
Who You'll See: Intimidatingly hip cyclists with man buns; UW students wearing five-panel hats, tube socks and Vans Authentics
Taking up a strip of Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, Block Party packs a full lineup with some of the latest and greatest bands across all genres. The crowd most definitely skews younger, and featured acts like Diplo and Run the Jewels aren't going to change that.
Project Pabst | Portland | $99 | projectpabst.com
Who You'll See: Guys with full-bodied beards, slim-fit jorts, high-waisted jeans and ironic T-shirts
This 21+ festival, curated by Portland's MusicfestNW and sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon, landed another killer two-day lineup this year. PDX will host the likes of Iggy Pop, Beck, Nas, Father John Misty and Spoon, and the ticket prices are (for now) fairly affordable. The lower tier of the lineup is no joke, either, boasting such rising acts as Whitney and Frankie Cosmos.
Bumbershoot | Seattle | $235 | bumbershoot.com
Who You'll See: A long-forgotten high school acquaintance; your sophomore English teacher
The season's final festival is also the last place you'd expect to run into familiar faces, but Bumbershoot seems to draw everybody. Located in the shadow of the Space Needle, the fest attracts folks from all ages and subcultures; this year's biggest names are the Roots, Weezer, Solange Knowles, Conor Oberst, Die Antwoord, Flo Rida, Lorde and X Ambassadors.
Sasquatch! | George, Washington | $295 | sasquatchfestival.com
Who You'll See: Twenty-year-olds with day-old glowstick wristbands; sad thirtysomethings in cargo shorts watching Twenty One Pilots and remembering that time when Ween and Pavement made their summer
For a case study in the explosion (and, ultimately, implosion) of a festival bubble, look no further than the Gorge Amphitheatre's annual indie fest. Beginning as a one-day festival in 2002, Sasquatch! grew until it took up all of Memorial Day weekend; attempts in 2014 to expand it to two weekends failed, and the festival has been reeling ever since. Now, Sasquatch! hopes that a younger demographic might steady the ship, with Twenty One Pilots, Chance the Rapper and Frank Ocean headlining. They're also running Groupon ticket offers to try and drive more sales, but consider me a skeptic.
Timber! | Carnation, Washington | $65 | timbermusicfest.com
Who You'll See: Friendly middle-aged folks in Sub Pop shirts and hiking shoes; young adults who've catalogued all the NPR Tiny Desk concerts
Held in Carnation, 30 miles east of Seattle, Timber! prides itself on being a family-friendly excursion. The festival is free for all kids 12 and under and emphasizes the camping aspect of festival-going (you'll need to pick up a $20 King County Parks parking pass). The festival is headlined by Charleston, South Carolina's Shovels & Rope, but also offers great Pacific Northwest acts like Sera Cahoone, Shelby Earl and Down North.
Northwest String Summit | North Plains, Oregon | $235 |stringsummit.com
Who You'll See: Fans of all things stringed, and lots of kids; it doesn't get much more family-friendly than this
Held at Horning's Hideout, a former cattle ranch that's now a 160-acre park a half-hour west of Portland, Northwest String Summit describes itself as the "premier bluegrass, roots, Americana music festival of the Pacific Northwest." Headliners include the Yonder Mountain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, the Del McCoury Band and JJ Grey & Mofro.
Pemberton | Pemberton, British Columbia | $354 CAD | pembertonmusicfestival.com
Who You'll See: Rowdy Canadian bros who apologize after table-slamming during beer pong in the campground
The Sasquatch! of the north, Pemberton has become a top-tier festival, routinely booking big names considering their budget and location (20 miles north of Whistler, B.C.). Last year's lineup saw Pearl Jam, the Killers and J. Cole as headliners; this year's roster has yet to be announced, so be on the lookout.
Pickathon | Happy Valley, Oregon | $310 | pickathon.com
Who You'll See: Folk fans in straw hats double-fisting BPA-free nalgene water bottles and aluminum growlers of their favorite IPAs
Located on farmland southeast of Portland, this festival celebrates folk and roots music like no other. The secluded, 80-acre Pendarvis Farm allows for a special relationship between major acts and campers, with the unique backdrop of Mt. Hood and the countryside. Charles Bradley, Dinosaur Jr. and the Drive-By Truckers headline the four-day event, which continues to expand its represented genres with the inclusion of Washington, D.C. punk quartet Priests and Israeli hip-hop/electronic trio A-WA, consisting of three sisters.
ELECTRONIC MUSIC IN THE WILD
What the Festival | Wolf Run Ranch, Oregon | $325 | whatthefestival.com
Who You'll See: Groups of retired Burners; women in well-intentioned but probably culturally insensitive steampunk-gypsy outfits
Held on a secluded ranch in the farming area outside of the Dalles in Oregon, What the Festival (or WTF) is the closest you can get to Burning Man without being out on the Playa. The adult playground has a stage with a wading pool and plenty of art installations and workshops to occupy your time during the four-day excursion. The festival offers morning yoga classes, meditation and kombucha on tap, and the weekend is headlined by house producer Zhu, Australian electronic band Cut Copy and Slovenian hip-hop and electronic music producer Gramatik.
Paradiso | George, Washington | $199 | paradisofestival.com
Who You'll See: Lots of fit young adults and not a lot of shirts
If you need to lose your mind in the biggest amphitheater offering the loudest big-room electronic music, look no further than Paradiso. The EDM festival always draws huge names on the electro circuit, with this year's booking of Tiësto and Marshmello being no different. Look out for sets by Anna Lunoe and Baauer if you're trying to not stop dancing.
Shambhala | Salmo River Ranch, British Columbia | $315 CAD | shambhalamusicfestival.com
Who You'll See: Wide-eyed, dreadlocked youths discovering the deaths of their egos
Hidden in the wilderness of southeastern British Columbia, Shambhala offers escapism soundtracked by the latest DJs and EDM acts. This year's acts include A-Trak, Beats Antique and L.A. hip-hop veterans Dilated Peoples.
FOR SPECIFIC TASTES
Watershed | George, Washington | $199 | watershedfest.com
Who You'll See: People dying to dust off those boots, cut-offs and ten-gallon hats
If country music is your thing, look no further than this three-night festival at the Gorge. Headlined by contemporaries such as Luke Bryan, Chris Stapleton and Darius Rucker, Watershed aims to be one of the premier honky-tonk festivals, not just in the region but the country.
Red Ants Pants | White Sulphur Springs, Montana | $135 | redantspantsmusicfestival.com
Who You'll See: Whole families in denim
Red Ants Pants offers a great excuse to go out and see some live music, but it's also a nonprofit festival dedicated to fundraising for women's leadership, family farms and community-building. The fest sees a good mix of folk, blues and country, and headliners include the Bellamy Brothers, Lucinda Williams, Asleep at the Wheel and Shooter Jennings.
Rockin' the Rivers | Three Forks, Montana | $165 | rockintherivers.com
Who You'll See: Inner-tubing, scantily clad metalheads with tattoos in surprising places
Rock and metal music will be blasted for three nights near Three Forks, between Butte and Bozeman, when Rockin' the Rivers rolls in. The festival combines Rock 94.5-esque bookings with plenty of beer and river floating to better enjoy one of the last great weekends of the summer. This year's lineup offers headliners such as Alter Bridge — whose frontman, Myles Kennedy, grew up in Spokane — and Blue Öyster Cult.
Travelers' Rest | Missoula | $99.50 | travelersrestfest.com
Who You'll See: Your college buddy who still gets emotional during "The Mariner's Revenge Song"
A new festival curated and headlined by Colin Meloy and his band the Decemberists, Travelers' Rest brings two days' worth of major touring bands to Missoula. The Decemberists will be joined by Glasgow, Scotland's prolific Belle and Sebastian, Pacific Northwest indie-turned-mainstream darlings the Head and the Heart, and plenty of other national acts. ♦