Fest Guide ‘09
by Stephen Slaybaugh

While it may still seem a little early to be thinking about venturing outside to listen to music, with many of the major events announcing line-ups and South By Southwest just around the corner, it seems as good a time as any to take a look at what this year’s batch of music fests hold in store. While once a purely British phenomenon, nowadays the U.S. is dotted with fests of every stripe and color. Moreover, one can choose from a variety of ticket and lodging options—ranging from the common general admission ticket to silver-spooned VIP passes—while many events, in response to the recession, are offering payment plans so one doesn’t have to sell plasma just to get enough cash for a ticket. Most of these events, though, are still the most bang for your buck, when one considers how much music can be absorbed in a few days if sleep is forgone. (Trucker speed is a good recession option.)

Anyway, while this list seems a little incomplete without the Pitchfork and Siren (if it’s happening this year) fests, whose line-ups and even dates are yet to be announced, it’s certainly not short. And with most carbon-neutralized or environmentally green in some other way, attending is guilt-free (well, depending on your behavior).

Noise Pop Festival
Febrary 24–March 1
San Francisco, CA

While Noise Pop 2009 started yesterday, there’s still another five days of precisely what the festival’s name implies: noise and pop. Now in its 17th year, Noise Pop is spread out over the city of San Francisco and has long presented adventurous music that falls within its broad parameters. This year’s more than 100 artists include Bob Mould, Stephen Malkmus, A.C. Newman, Thee Oh Sees, Kool Keith, St. Vincent, the Morning Benders, No Age, Les Savy Fav and many more. Additionally, there will be panels, including a conversation between Lou Barlow and Bob Mould, as well as films like Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison and art exhibits from Lauren Dukoff, Mark Mothersbaugh, John Vanderslice and Alissa Anderson. Tickets and additional information can be found at the Noise Pop website.

Psych Fest 2
March 13–15
Austin, TX

In only its second year, Psyche Fest is a fitting precursor to SXSW and reason to head down to Austin a few days earlier. Held at a new venue called the Radio Room, the event is three days’ worth of modern variations on psychedelia. This year’s line-up looks to be particularly stellar. With the Black Angels and Lower Heaven on Friday; Dead Meadow, the Wooden Shjips and Indian Jewelry on Saturday; and the Strange Boys, A Place to Bury Strangers and the Warlocks on Sunday; there’s no need for drugs. Tune in here to turn on and drop out.

Valley of the Vapors Independent Music Festival
March 17–22
Hot Springs National Park, AK

Seemingly another event piggybacking on SXSW, the Valley of the Vapors fest in nearby Arkansas, is still a bit more low-key. Essentially four nights and one day all held at the same venue (Low Key Arts), VOV is more leftfield than its mainstream brethren. This year, the fifth year of the fest, features AIDS Wolf, U.S. Girls, and Southeast Engine, among several others. And starting a day before SXSW and with a barbecue on Sunday, it’s a good way to break up the long drive to and from Texas. More info can be had at the VOV website.

South By Southwest Music and Media Conference
March 18–22
Austin, TX

Ah, so many memories—dancing with bears, Gang of Four in a parking garage, trying to get back to the hotel from an airport hangar, somehow holding on to a spray-painted shirt for five hours—so many blurry, blurry memories. What began as a local music celebration and then turned into spring break for the music industry has exploded into a half-week’s worth of non-stop music, alcohol and bbq. SXSW is a music event like no other. More than half the fun is the unofficial and unsanctioned day shows (can you say “free beer”?), but there’s always a few name acts worth catching, as well as Roky’s annual Ice Cream Social. This year’s big names include Devo and PJ Harvey, but more importantly also playing are Agit Reader favs like Crystal Stilts, Vivian Girls, Psychedelic Horseshit, Wavves and the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Oh, and there are also panels and the Flatstock poster show. And while I personally won’t be going this year, the Agit Reader will be at SXSW in full-force, posting up-to-the-minute updates and tales of excess. For additonal information, go to the official website.

Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival
April 17–19
Indio, CA

In the decade since its inception, Coachella has risen to the top tier of the fest circuit. Year after year they’ve mixed a handful of big names with a well-chosen line-up of supporting acts. This year looks to be no different. Along with headliners like the Cure, Paul McCartney, Morrissey, Leonard Cohen, My Bloody Valentine, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Throbbing Gristle will be “smaller” acts such as Los Campesinos!, Hercules and Love Affair, Superchunk, Gang Gang Dance, Public Enemy, the Horrors and Brian Jonestown Massacre. There’s much more, so check it all out at the Coachella website.

Sasquatch! Music Festival
May 23–25
George, WA

Sasquatch’s combination of three-days of music in one of the country’s most picturesque venues, the Gorge, makes for a perfect Memorial Day weekend getaway. While they’ve always presented a great alterna roster, this year the big news is a Jane’s Addiction reunion with all four original members. But if their spasmic, funkified punk seems dated to you at this point, there’s also TV on the Radio, Fleet Foxes, Santigold (nee Santogold), Doves, the Dodos, the Dutchess & the Duke, and this week’s AR cover story, Passion Pit. Sasquatch has also added a comedy tent, which will host Tim & Eric, among others, and convert into a late-night dance zone. Get all the details at the website.

Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival
June 11–14
Manchester, TN

Begat as a jam-band get-together, Bonnaroo has turned into a festival that caters to many musical tastes, even discerning ones. Situated on a 700-acre farm in Tennessee, Bonnaroo’s round-the-clock bevy of activities—from movies to batting cages—make leaving the site unnecessary. That a reunited Phish is playing two shows might indicate otherwise, but also playing are Bruce Springsteen, the Beastie Boys, Wilco, David Byrne, Al Green, Elvis Costello, Animal Collective, Femi Kuti, and more than 100 other artists. To get the lowdown go to Bonnaroo.com.

XX Merge
July 22–26
Chapel Hill, NC

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance started Merge Records. In addition to its Score series and boxset, to celebrate the label is hosting an anniversay celebration in its hometown. While the line-up hasn’t been announced, it seems a ‘Chunk performance is certainly in order, and the label’s stellar roster means there’s plenty of great selections to be made. Stay tuned to the Merge website for details.

August 7–9
Chicago, IL

The namesake of the travelling extravaganza that started it all, Lollapalooza has settled into a seemingly permanent home in Chicago. The festival has continued to follow the principles set down by founder Perry Farrell in bringing a diverse line-up of artists together each year. Past years have included everyone from Manu Chao to Radiohead. This year’s musical attractions won’t be announced until April, but you can check out Lollapalooza.com then for that information.

ATP New York
September 11–13
Monticello, NY

All Tomorrow’s Parties throws what they like to call “boutique” festivals. This basically means an event partially curated by one artist and held at a venue much smaller than the enormous settings of other festivals. Last year was the first ATP fest to be held in the U.S. and was currated by recently reunited My Bloody Valentine. This year the Flaming Lips are doing the picking for one day, while ATP handles the rest. Already slated to play are Atlas Sound, Animal Collective, Antipop Consortium, Black Dice, Dirty Three, who will be performing Ocean Songs in its entirety, and Suicide, who will be doing likewise with their 1st LP. Details on the unusual lodging and everything else can be had at the ATP site.