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Mixtape: Northern California's Best Summer Indie-Rock Festivals

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Attendees at last year's Outside Lands. (Photo: Gabe Meline)

The rapid rise in the number of music festivals over the last decade isn’t a distinctly local phenomenon, but there’s something about the way the Bay Area does festival season that feels unique. In many cases it’s the use of beautiful public spaces, often city and state parks, that become part of the festival experience. Or maybe it’s the way that our festivals invest more time and effort into making sure that the food and drink offerings are compelling on their own. And, of course, there’s also the presence of great local bands, adding unique Bay Area flavor to each event.

To be sure, there’s certainly an argument to be made that the Bay Area is reaching “peak festival.” Still, the benefits music fans can reap from the wealth of opportunities to see great bands in unique outdoor environments are undeniable. And looking at this list, it’s going to be a busy summer for music fans.

This mixtape collects 10 songs by artists performing at Northern California music festivals this summer. Each pick is accompanied by our reasons why that festival is worth seeking out. Enjoy the mix — and head to a music festival!

About the festivals:

Hickey Fest 2015 Poster


Vetiver – “Current Carry”
Hickey Fest
Standish Hickey State Park, Leggett
June 20-22, 2015
Local musician Ash Reiter curates this annual festival in Mendocino County’s Standish Hickey State Park, which includes two dozen rock, folk and psych bands. This year’s lineup looks like the best yet, with Jolie Holland, Vetiver, and Dead Meadow topping a bill packed with great local bands, including Bay Bridged favorites Sugar Candy Mountain, Cool Ghouls, Luke Sweeney and Bells Atlas. Promising “25 bands, community campgrounds, psychedelic projections and other relaxing adventures,” it sounds like an awesome reason to get out of the city and go camping.

Bottlerock Napa 2015 Poster

Courtney Barnett – “Pedestrian at Best”
BottleRock Napa Valley
Napa Valley Expo, Napa
May 29-31, 2015
BottleRock’s first year was infamously tumultuous, leaving in its wake unpaid debts and plenty of controversy. An ownership change led to a revitalized event in 2014, and 2015 finds the festival returning with 70+ bands. The lineup is less indie-oriented than most of the fests in this mix, but still offers plenty of potential highlights. It’s especially promising for foodies, with a “Culinary Stage” that will feature “celebrated chefs, vintners, actors, professional athletes and sommeliers participating in entertaining demos, performances, and other hijinx.” (On Sunday, Snoop Dogg mixes it up with chef Masaharu Morimoto.)

Burger Boogaloo 2015 Poster

The Gories – “On The Run”
Burger Boogaloo
Mosswood Park, Oakland
July 4-5, 2015
Garage rock fans can’t miss the 2015 Burger Boogaloo, celebrating the genre’s surprising diversity with two days of performances hosted by the legendary John Waters. It’s a stacked lineup, with reunited groups like the Mummies and the Gories alongside some of today’s most rocking bands, including Fuzz, the Gooch Palms, and Shannon & The Clams — and rare local gigs by Japanese bands the’s and Thunderroads. Beyond the music, there’s also the location: the Mosswood Park bandshell is a secluded gem, making it the perfect oasis for rock ‘n’ roll aficionados.

Outside Lands 2015 Poster

Toro Y Moi – “Run Baby Run”
Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival
Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
August 7-9, 2015
What new can be said about Outside Lands? Festival passes sold out in the blink of an eye this year, a testament to the event’s consistently high quality. In addition to the big names one expects at a festival of this size, Outside Lands 2015 once again features some stellar locals — Fantastic Negrito, The Sam Chase, Giraffage and more. Plus, the organizers do a killer job on food, wine and beer, making it truly a major music festival fit for San Franciscans. Outside Lands has been around for less than a decade, but it’s difficult to imagine a summer without it.

Huichica 2015 Poster

Amen Dunes – “Song To The Siren”
Huichica Festival
Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Sonoma
June 12-13, 2015
North Bay music fans already know about Gundlach-Bundschu winery’s frequent concerts, but Huichica’s killer array of performers make it well worth the trip to Sonoma. Curated by Jeff Bundschu and Eric Johnson (of Fruit Bats and EDJ fame), the fest offers three stages of music over two days, with likely highlights including the welcome return of Bradford Cox’s Atlas Sound, shuffling psych-poppers Allah-Las, and the compelling singer-songwriter Jessica Pratt. Add plenty of tasty Gundlach-Bundschu wine on hand and Sonoma’s weather, and you’ve got a recipe for a couple of blissful days.

Stern Grove 2015

Zakiya Harris – “Shape Shifter”
Stern Grove Festival
Stern Grove, San Francisco
Sundays from June 14-August 16
The Stern Grove Festival could probably just coast on the promise of free concerts in its gorgeous grove and still get large audiences. Instead, top-notch booking every year makes Stern Grove’s free Sunday concerts throughout the summer an extremely popular treat. As usual, Stern Grove’s 78th season traverses a variety of genres; while we’re definitely excited about tUnE-yArDs’ performance on July 19, it’s great to see plenty of talented Bay Area acts, like the California Honeydrops, Con Brio, and Zakiya Harris, appearing throughout the season.

Live 105 BFD 2015 Poster

WATERS – “I Feel Everything”
BFD 2015
Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View
June 6, 2015
Live 105 has been producing BFD for 21 years now, and the 2015 festival boasts a strong lineup across four stages. Modest Mouse and Of Monsters and Men may be the top names, but there are a ton of stellar Bay Area bands peppered throughout, like Cathedrals, K.Flay, WATERS, the Family Crest, and Andrew St. James. Very impressive, and a testament to Live 105’s continued support of the local scene.

Fat Wreck Chords 2015 Poster

Swingin’ Utters – “I’m Not Coming Home”
Fat Wreck Chords’ “Fat Wrecked for 25 Years”
TBA, San Francisco
August 22-23, 2015
San Francisco record label Fat Wreck Chords commemorates 25 years — a remarkable achievement well worth celebrating — with a North American tour that culminates in a two-day festival in San Francisco. Details are currently a little sparse on the SF fest, including the exact location, but expect performances from label honcho Fat Mike’s NOFX, punk mainstays Lagwagon and Swingin’ Utters, and newer Fat acts like toyGuitar and Bad Cop/Bad Cop.

Deathstock I 2015 Poster

Smiles – “Sad Faces”
Deathstock I
Camp Outback, Guerneville
June 26-28, 2015
Death Records — led by Brian Wakefield of bands Emotional and Melted Toys — has quietly put out a steady stream of excellent tapes over the last year, and the label is celebrating its one year anniversary with three days of music and camping in Guerneville. Unsurprisingly, it’s a lineup full of great bands, including Death Records artists like Smiles, Air Surgeon, Cole Lodge, and fellow local talents the Mantles, Danny James, CCR Headcleaner, and Sarah Bethe Nelson. Plus, the festival promises an appearance by Saturday Looks Good to Me’s Fred Thomas, who has a terrific new solo LP out now on Polyvinyl.

Phono del Sol 2015 Poster


Mas Ysa – “Margarita”
Phono del Sol Music & Food Festival
Potrero del Sol Park, San Francisco
July 11, 2015
Okay, we’re obviously more than a little biased about this festival, which, full disclosure, is produced by the Bay Bridged. But we’re very excited about Phono del Sol 2015: headliners Tanlines and King Tuff will join nine other local and touring acts like Sonny & The Sunsets and Generationals for an afternoon of music and fun in Potrero del Sol Park. Also along for the fest are eight local food trucks serving grub all day long, making it an all-around great way to spend a day in one of San Francisco’s most under-appreciated parks.

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