Big fun, and even bigger stars: A handy guide to this spring’s American music festivals

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With Austin’s South by Southwest Film and Musical festival less than a month away, the roses budding through an unseasonably mild winter aren’t the only things telling us that springtime is right around the corner.

And with spring comes the beginning of the American music festival season, a time of year that is more sacred in some circles, dare I say it, football in the prestigious SEC.

Still with hundreds of music festivals in the U.S. every year, how does one possibly choose which to attend? Pack your backpack, grab your shades and sandals and let SER make some suggestions.

Here are just a few to jot down on the calendar. All of these festivals are known for consistently booking stellar lineups, but this year could be banner marks for all of the gatherings …

Wanee Music Festival
April 18-20
Where: Live Oak, Fla.

It what has become a premiere jam-band ticket, Wanee brings the big guns again this year with the Allman Brothers Band and Widespread Panic both scheduled for two-night performances. Sitting on the banks of the Suwannee River, this festival’s scenery matches its pristine lineup and is known for its much smaller crowds than other mainstream events.

Other lineup must sees: Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Gov’t Mule, Les Claypool’s Duo de Twang, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Leon Russell, Electric Hot Tuna (Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady), Tower of Power, Steel Pulse, North Mississippi Allstars, Blackberry Smoke, Galactic & Friends, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Revivalists.

2012 lineup highlights: The Allman Brothers, Furthur, Gov’t Mule, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Buddy Guy, Bruce Hornsby, the Mickey Hart Band, Ray Manzarek and the Roy Rodgers Band.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
April 26-28 and May 2-5
Where: New Orleans, La.

Just a weekend after Wanee, one of the best music cities in the world will be hosting its yearly Jazz Fest, and this year’s slate of headliners has something for most everyone. You have legends like Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel, Patti Smith and Hall and Oates to rekindle that ’70s feeling while modern giants such as the Black Keys, Dave Matthew Band and John Mayer will be grooving in the Crescent City as well. Another great plus of this two-weekend festival are the late night shows that take place at various venues across the Big Easy.

Other lineup must sees: Willie Nelson, Widespread Panic, Earth Wind and Fire, Maroon 5, Gary Clark Jr., Band of Horses, Andrew Bird, Jimmy Cliff, B.B. King, Dr. John, Ben Harper.

2012 lineup highlights: The Eagles, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Foo Fighters, Levon Helm, Zac Brown Band, John Mayer, Herbie Hancock, My Morning Jacket, Ne-Yo, Al Green, Bon Iver, Bonnie Raitt, Bunny Wailer, Bruce Hornsby, Steve Earle.

Hangout Music Festival
May 17-19
Where: Gulf Shores, Ala.

The Hangout Music Festival is back for its fourth annual beach blanket bananza on Alabama’s gulf coast with perhaps its best lineup since the now mega-festival’s inaugural event. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Kings of Leon and a third headliner (to be announced sometime very soon) will lead the three-day party. The rest of the lineup features big names from the electronic, indie-rock, and jam-rock spheres. Bring your sunscreen and drink a lot of water for this one kids.

Other lineup must sees: The Black Crowes, Gov’t Mule, Trey Anastasio Band, Ryan Bingham, The Shins, the Roots, Jim James Band, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.

2012 lineup highlights: Dave Matthews Band, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack White, Wilco, The Flaming Lips, Steve Windwood, Alabama Shakes, Randy Newman.


South by Southwest Festival (SXSW)
March 12-17
Where: Austin, Texas
Current lineup must sees: Third Eye Blind, Butch Walker, The Whigs, ZZ Ward, Alien Ant Farm, Sky Ferriera, Skylar Grey, Kid Koala

Apr. 12 – 14 and Apr. 19 – 21
Where: Indio, Calif.
Current lineup must sees: Modest Mouse, Lou Reed, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bassnectar, The Stone Roses, Blur, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Band of Horses, Moby, Pretty Lights, The Lumineers.

Wakarusa Music Festival
May 30-June 2
Where: Mulberry Mountain, Ark.
Current lineup must sees: Widespread Panic, Dispatch, The Black Crowes, Yonder Mountain String Band, Snoop Lion, Langhorne Slim.

June 13-16
Where: Manchester, Tenn.
Current lineup must sees: Paul McCartney, Mumford and Sons, Tom Perry, Bjork, Wilco, David Byrne and St. Vincent, the Lumineers.

June 26 – 30
Where: Milwaukee, WI
Current lineup must sees: Aerosmith, The Avett Brothers, Death Cab For Cutie, Gavin DeGraw, Kelly Clarkson, Lady Antebellum, Lupe Fiasco, Zac Brown Band, Ziggy Marley.

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Matthew Reynolds

A veteran newspaper reporter, web designer and editor, Matthew Reynolds has worked for Hanna Publishing, Tiger Rag as assistant editor, the daily newspaper in Monroe, Louisiana, and radio station KMAR. Follow him on Twitter: @mattreynolds10. Contact Something Else! at
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