Music truly is an international language, and proof of that can be found in the myriad of music festivals that have sprung up in the past decade or two around the globe, from Barcelona to Senegal and plenty of map dots in between. For fans, these festivals offer a chance to soak up the rich culture of another country, while enjoying performances by your favorite homespun artists as well. Avid fans flock to locations as widespread as Morocco, Sweden, and Tokyo to catch these epic shows. Here we DISH up a handful of choices we think are worth cracking out the passport and emptying the pocketbook for, as well as braving international airline security hassles to see. Believe us, it’s well worth it!
Senegal’s Annual Saint Louis Jazz Festival, Thursday- Sunday, May 24- 28th
Diehard Jazz fans wanting to see some of the legends of the jazz genre can travel to Senegal’s annual Saint-Louis Jazz Festival May 24-28th. Held annually in the town of Saint Louis, near the mouth of the Senegal River, the festival has been host to world renowned musicians such as Herbie Hancock, Randy Weston, and Joe Zainul over the years. The festival is a great place for new jazz acts to perform in front of an international audience, and this year’s lineup includes acts such as Elizabeth Kontomanou, Mike Herting, Rene Urtreger, Devin Phillips, and the New Cool Collective. From 1673 to 1902 Saint Louis was the capital of Senegal, but beginning in 1920 until 1957 the city served as the capital of neighboring colony Mauritania, so it’s no wonder Saint Louis is so chock full of rich history and French roots heritage. Fans who desire a touristic break from the music can travel over to Guet N’Dar, a bustling fishing town with a famous lighthouse located on the Langue de Barbarie Peninsula. This serves as the main beach for Saint Louis. Grab a cup of coffee, and head down to the docks to watch over 200 pirogue fishing boats launch each morning, heading out for a day’s fishing. Outdoor enthusiasts can also enjoy some fishing, as well as kite surfing, or quad-biking in the colorful area, which features narrow streets, colonial architecture, wooden balconies, and beautiful patios. (P.S. Yes, yes we know it’s too late for this year, but this festival sounds so exotic, and so awesome, we wanted to give you all plenty of time to save your pennies, get your passport in order, and book your flight for next year! Hope to see you there!)
Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, Manchester, TN, Thurs-Sun, June 7-10
A field in the middle of rural Tennessee seems like an unlikely place for one of the hottest rock festivals in America to spring up, but that’s exactly what happened. Spread out over four days on 700 acres of farmland in the tiny town of Manschester, Bonnaroo has been host to some of the biggest names in music over the decade, including Robert Plant, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, The Police, and Bob Dylan, and this year’s lineup includes heavy hitters like Phish, Radiohead, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kenny Rogers, and the Beach Boys, among others. A very Bohemian spirit (and all that comes with it) permeates this arts festival throughout, and is reminiscent in many ways of Woodstock, right down to the muddy conditions and love your brother vibe.
Those who reach their limit of music and flesh-pressing at this massive festival can hitch a ride (just kidding) to Music City, Nashville, TN, only an hour away and visit the Mother Church of Country Music – the Ryman Auditorium, and even bone up on some history at Nashville’s awesome Parthenon, an exact replica of the original, which as we’re sure you all know, is located in Greece. Seriously though, Nashville is so much fun to visit, and there’s so much to do, that no matter where you come from you should plan to stick around for a couple of extra days and enjoy yourself some more. Bonnaroo + Nashville, a combination that cannot be beat!
Morocco’s Festival of World Sacred Music, Fes, Friday- Saturday, June 8- 16th
Those with a taste for the very exotic will love Morocco’s Fes Festival of World Sacred Music. At this spiritual festival, fans are liable to bump into mystics, chanters, and dancers from all around the world while enjoying music from acts like Archie Shep, the Arabesques, Joan Baez, Bjork, and others. A festival celebrating the local culture of Fes is held concurrently, adding local color to the experience and enabling fans to truly taste all that is Morocco, all while providing an insight into traditional life in the Old Medina of Fez (walled city). Morocco is a feast for the eyes and ears, so just about anywhere you go in this colorful country will likely be a unique experience, Wind your way through the ancient streets of this city that was founded around 9 AD, and visit the Western World’s oldest university, open courtyard homes, apothecaries, exteriors of mosques, tons of handmade crafts by local artisans, and carpet shop upon carpet shop. Just be prepared to bargain! One more thing, leave your short shorts and tank tops at home if you’re female, and be prepared to cover up..
Hultsfred Festival at Lake Hulingen, Hultsfred, Sweden Thurs-Sun, June 14- 16
For those who love 7-foot-tall, flaxen blonde Gods and Goddesses, the Hultsfred Festival in Hultsfred, Sweden is for you. It also provides plenty of Nordic atmosphere along with great music as well. Set at gorgeous Lake Hulingen, Hultsfred has endured its share of ups and downs over the past few years due to ticket pricing woes and attendance issues, but it is back and better than ever with a lineup for 2012 that includes The Cure, Mumford & Sons, Garbage, James Blake, and plenty more on its five different stages. Though set in a remote part of Sweden, fans can take a train from Stockholm straight to the festival and actually live on the train until the festival’s end. Visitors wanting to experience a little local color in the area can also head over to check out the Virserum Church, which was built in the late nineteenth century but has a pulpit created in 1626, and a bell cast in the sixteenth century.
Sonar Festival in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday- Sunday, June 14- 16
The Sonar Festival in Barcelona, Spain includes a diverse and impressive lineup of artists, from The Roots and Fatboy Slim to Friendly Fires and Nina Kravitz. The festival is unique in that it combines entertainment with artistry, experimentation and the avant garde, and features trends in electronic music. The artistic program at the festival is divided between the activities at Sonar by Day (concerts, showcases, and the exhibition area,) and the concerts at Sonar by Night, which presents the leading names on the international music scene. Those eager to take advantage of sightseeing opportunities around Barcelona will appreciate the festival’s parallel events that take place at cultural sites around the city, such as the Auditori, the city’s main music auditorium or Cosmocaixa, Barcelona’s Science Museum.
If you’re in Barcelona for Sonar, you’ll definitely want to amble over to one of the world’s most famous pedestrian streets, La Rambla. The mile long stretch of shops, hotels, restaurants, and even a wax museum runs from the port all the way to the Placa de Catalunya, and is often dotted with street performers who dress in costume as living works of art, and will pose for pictures. Those interested in the history of the region should also make time for the Museum of Catalan History, which chronicles the history of Catalonia from the Stone Age to the present day. A hidden gem of the museum is its rooftop terrace and café, where tourists can take in a sweeping view of the Port Vell with its Imax Theater and Aquarium.
Fuji Rock Festival at the Naeba Ski Resort, Niigata, Japan, Fri-Sun, July 27-29
Japan is also host to another huge music festival, the Fuji Rock Festival, held July 27-29th at the Naeba Ski Resort in Yuzawa-machi, Niigata, Japan. Fans of the wide variety of music featured at the Coachella Festival in California will definitely be into the acts that play Fuji Rock, since many of those same artists travel to Japan for this huge festival. Acts as diverse as Buddy Guy, Elvis Costello, Django Django, Dumpstaphunk, Jack White, Owl City, Los Lonely Boys, and Ray Davies will appear at this year’s Fuji Rock throw down. If in town for the Fuji Rock Festival, take a detour over to the Hakusan Park and Shrine, the city’s most prominent Shinto shrine that offers a picturesque grove of cherry trees and is open all year round and apparently beautiful at any time. Dedicated to the white snake god, it also includes a small playground for kids and cages with some indigenous monkeys on the property.
The Shibata Castle, a castle town that has prospered for more than 270 years, is also an incredibly picturesque place to stroll and take in the gorgeous scenery. And there’s also the Niigata Science Museum for those wanting something equally ethereal yet indoors. It spans several floors and has rooms dedicated to Astronomy, Paleontology, Archeology, Geology, Robotics, and many more and also includes a great planetarium with stunning visual imagery.
Lollapalooza in Chicago, IL Friday- Sunday, August 3-5th
Long known for its stellar lineup, Lollapalooza takes place in the Windy City. Now a strapping 20- years- old, Lollapalooza got its legendary start when Jane’s Addiction lead singer Perry Farrell decided to have a farewell show for the group, and thus, this massive rock extravaganza was born. Year after year, the festival has pulled together acts as wide-ranging as Nine Inch Nails and Ice T. The festival covers 115 acres and features multiple stages packed with acts ranging from hip hop and electronica to roots rock and reggae, and fans can shop the farmers market and buy homemade arts and crafts, while listening to tunes from their fave artists. The lineup for this year’s festival, boasts The Black Keys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Alabama Shakes, Jack White, Florence + The Machine, The Shins, The Afghan Whigs, and dozens more. Grant Park is host to the ‘Palooza, and its famed, large Buckingham Fountain has been there since 1927, featuring water that shoots up to 150 feet, and is lighted at night. For a better taste of the Windy City, venture out to Millennium Park and walk around “Cloud Gate” – the public sculpture by British artist Anish Kapoor that looks like a giant silver bean, and play in the fountain pools surrounding it. Then jump a train and head straight for Wrigley Field to cheer the Cubbies on, while scarfing a dog and a beer. It doesn’t get more Chicago than that.
Summer Sonic Festival in Tokyo and Osaka Japan, Sat-Sun, August 18-19th
The Summer Sonic Festival in Tokyo and Osaka Japan was founded in 2000 as an urban festival, and has hosted just about every huge name in rock, from Guns N’ Roses and the Beastie Boys to Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, and Linkin Park, and routinely draws over 100,000 fans to its shows. This year’s scheduled lineup of concerts is no different, with Green Day, Franz Ferdinand, Rihanna, Ke$ha, Pitbull, Gym Class Heroes, and many others on the Summer Sonic 2012 bill. Attendees looking to experience a little bit of Tokyo should head over to Palette Town Odaiba, an artificial island that was recently reclaimed from the Tokyo Bay. Odaiba is home to some of the biggest buildings in the city, and features plenty of fun hotspots, from Japan’s tallest ferris wheel, to the Toyota Showroom, “Leisure Land,” some beaches, the Venus Fort shops, and dozens more in this entertainment district. If you’re craving a more authentic Tokyo experience, head over to the Tsukiji Fish Market at Shiodome. As the world’s largest fish market, Tsukiji has hundreds of merchants selling everything from the ocean, including giant tunas, octopus, squid, and even shark. It’s the place to get the freshest seafood in the city, so you’ll never leave hungry.