Our top ten list of music festivals worldwide includes the most spectacular and diverse locations, the broadest spectrum of artists, and the above all, the most interesting events, all of which are accessible to backpackers and budget travellers.
1. Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts: Worthy Farm, near Glastonbury, England. Normally held on the last full weekend in June with an occasional year off to allow the fields to rest.
The festival was started by landowner Michael Eavis in 1970 when a ticket would have set you back £1. These days you’ll have to dig a bit deeper into your pockets as Glastonbury can lay claim to being both the world’s longest running and biggest Greenfield music festival attracting 177,500 ticket-holding attendees and almost as many staff in 2007.
Glastonbury Festival exemplifies the hippie ethic, evolving its own (sort of) self-governing community. It is vast so make your peace with the fact that your schedule for watching bands might just go out the window. Instead embrace the chance to see what it’s like when 200,000 people come together for 4 days to live and love in the Somerset countryside.
2. Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival: Empire Polo Fields, Indio, California, USA. Last weekend in April.
Set against the stunning backdrop of the Colorado Desert Coachella is the daddy of America’s music festivals. The event first took place in 1999, was shut down for 2000, and was resurrected in 2001. Since then the festival has grown, earning international acclaim and attracting world-famous acts. Alternative rock reigns supreme at Coachella although cutting edge electronica, dance, hip hop and many more are also represented. It is heat stroke inducingly hot during the day but be prepared for the temperature to drop drastically at night.
3. Roskilde Festival: Roskilde, Denmark. The campsite usually opens on the last Sunday in June and the festival starts the following Thursday.
Roskilde is the second largest music festival in Northern Europe. It has been running since 1971, and since 1973 as a not for profit enterprise with any revenue donated to national and international causes. Roskilde proudly celebrates progressive rock, metal, hip hop and electronic music. Alongside the global acts that headline each year are many upcoming artists. Tragically the festival was marred in 2000 when it was the scene of a tragic accident in which nine people died. Since then crowd safety has become an international concern and Roskilde has gone from strength to strength, famed in particular for its friendly atmosphere.
4. Fuji Rock Festival: Naeba, Japan. The last weekend in July.
After a disastrous start – the first festival held in 1997 near Mt. Fuji was almost destroyed by a typhoon – Fuji Rock moved to its current home on the slopes of the mountains in Naeba and is now considered Japan’s biggest and best music festival. The site itself is characterised by hilly trails and vast amounts of forested space between stages; it’s a truly spectacular setting. The line up shares much in common with many global rock festivals but with a certain amount of Japanese eccentricity.
5. Sónar: Barcelona. Spain. Usually begins in the third week of June.
Held over three days and three nights, Sónar is a festival of cutting edge music and multimedia arts. By day the festival takes place in cultural centres and arts venues in the centre of Barcelona. At night special coaches transport revellers to a huge venue outside of the city centre, where DJs, VDJs, bands and artists from a broad spectrum of electronic music play into the morning hours.
It’s in its relevant infancy – it only started in 2001 – but the Festival in the Desert is already straddling the line between traditional cultural showcase and modern international music festival. It is held primarily as a celebration of the music and culture of Mali and the surrounding area but has recently grown to include international artists that collaborate with Malian acts in their own unique way. Festival in the Desert is most notable of course for its location among the dunes of the Sahara Desert; just getting there can be an adventure!
7. EXIT: Petrovaradin fortress, Novi Sad, Serbia. Usually starts on Thursday in the third week of June.
Held in the shadow of the eighteenth century Petrovardin fortress by the River Danube, EXIT festival has a magical energy. The festival had political beginnings as it was first held in 2000 as a rebellious act against the regime of Slobodan Milošević; it turned out to be an event of great importance and a catalyst for change. Today EXIT continues to provide Serbian youth with musical entertainment whilst also attracting thousands of visitors from Europe and across the world.
Big Day Out was first held as a Sydney only show in 1992. The festival was such a success that further dates were added and Big Day Out now tours Australia and New Zealand as a showcase for contemporary rock, metal, indie and electronic music. The massive headliners remain the same across the venues but the smaller local acts vary. In recent years the festival dates have sold out in a matter of hours.
9. Austin City Limits Music Festival: Zilker Park, Austin, Texas, USA. Held over three days at the end of September.
Often held in sweltering temperatures, the Austin City Limits Music Festival nevertheless attracts massive crowds armed with bottles of water. The festival was devised as an offshoot of the legendary ‘Austin City Limits’ television show, which focused primarily on Texan performers. Today the festival is renowned for its incredibly eclectic selection of artists. Embracing rock, blues, country, reggae, jazz, alternative, indie and world music the line up really does have something for everyone.
10. Iceland Airwaves: Reykjavík, Iceland. Third weekend in October.
Since the first show in 1999, (held in an aeroplane hangar), Iceland Airwaves has become something of an industry showcase. Many relative unknowns performing at the festival have gone on to achieve international fame. For the duration of the festival, cutting-edge music and all-night parties invade record shops, galleries, bars and clubs across downtown Reykjavík.