After what feels like a very long winter, it’s finally that time again: summer festival season! Time to break out the sunglasses, sandals, and portable fans in preparation for those carefree days of soaking in the sunshine and grooving to live music in the open air.
The list of music festivals seems to double each year, so we thought we’d save you some time by presenting our picks for must-attend sonic extravaganzas that also happen to reflect a deep sense of place.
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S. (April 25-May 4, 2014)
This mainstay was established in New Orleans in 1970 to celebrate the city’s multi-cultural heritage and its status as the birthplace of jazz. Headliners that inaugural year included famed gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and legendary pianist Duke Ellington, who kicked off the festival by leading a second-line parade through what is now Armstrong Park. It was at that moment that the spirit of Jazz Fest was born.
Over the years, this daytime festival, which takes place in the last two weekends in April in a racetrack not far from the city’s famous French Quarter, has grown to showcase much more than jazz. Attendees have long enjoyed indigenous acts alongside the latest hit-makers as well as booths and exhibits featuring Louisiana cuisine, arts, and crafts. And, after the sun fades from view, the party spills out into the city, with a slew of live performances threaded around town.
Gnaoua World Music Festival, Essaouira, Morocco (June 12-15)
Located in Essaouira (pronounced “Essweera” in Arabic), a picturesque fortified city on the southern end of Morocco’s Atlantic coast, the Gnaoua Festival is as much a celebration of people and place as it is of music. And few would argue that the music on display isn’t distinctive–and infectious.
The Gnawa (also Gnaoua), people who originated from North and West Africa, have long performed their rhythmic trancelike music as an art form–and as a source of mystical healing. But when playing for the public, as they do at the Gnaoua festival, they are representing their culture and celebrating their heritage, along with the various other African and international musicians who come to play with them.
Roskilde Festival, Roskilde, Denmark (June 29-July 6)
Despite being one of the largest music festivals in Europe, this well-organized event is a nonprofit enterprise that promotes music, culture, and humanism. Originally more of a “for Scandinavians, by Scandinavians” event, the festival seems to attract an increasingly international crowd–in terms of both acts and attendees–each year since its founding in 1971.