Good Things, Small Packages: Five Summer Music Festivals That Won't Break the Bank

The Huichica Music Festival in Sonoma, 2013.  (Sterling Munksgard Photography)

Do you love Coachella? Have you achieved expert camper level at Bonnaroo? Do you thrive on the act of snaking your way through a crowd 200,000 strong to find your friends at Outside Lands?

If that's a hard no, no and no, thank you, you're not alone. Upwards of 32 million people now attend music festivals in the U.S.  -- and if you're currently recovering from this year's BottleRock, more power to you! But not everyone loves a massive festival. For example: people who can't afford to spend half their month's rent on a wristband that gets you access to slightly nicer than usual Port-a-Pottys.

Luckily, if you don't have the dough or can't stomach the crowds, that doesn't mean you need to skip out on music festivals entirely. Here are a handful of fests that won't break the bank (these all clock in at $50 or under for a single-day ticket) or lead to large crowd-induced panic attacks (I am not a doctor).

Huichica Music Festival

June 9–10 at Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Sonoma
Set among a picturesque 300-acre vineyard in the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains, this festival would be a charmer even without a great lineup -- but it has that too. Booked by (((folkYEAH!))), this fest's bill is an annual who's-who in sun-baked West Coast indie music: The Allah-La's bring psychedelic desert twang up from L.A.; the Mattson 2 reinterpret Coltrane's A Love Supreme through a beachy 2017 filter; Christopher Owens' new band Curls brings, well, Christopher Owens being inscrutably Christopher Owens-like. Others to check out: Tara Jane O'Neil, San Francisco's own Heron Oblivion and Cool Ghouls, and Marty O'Reilly, from Santa Cruz. Tickets ($40 and up) here. 


Hickey Fest

June 16–18 at the Peg House, Leggett
I almost feel bad writing about this festival in Standish Hickey State Park, about 200 miles north of San Francisco, because its charm lies in how small, laid-back and idyllic it feels -- the last thing I'd want, as the kids say, is to blow up its spot. But that's what Oakland indie-pop singer Ash Reiter gets for organizing a fest around a single wooden stage, with yoga every morning, a trippy liquid light show every night, a general store with great breakfast burritos, and a campground and a swimming hole on the Eel River a stone's throw away. The sounds of Oakland dominate this bill, including punky doo-wop staples Shannon and the Clams, electro-soul from the Seshen, dreamy psych jams from Meerna, and more. Tickets ($50 and up) here.

Phono del Sol

June 17 at Potrero del Sol Park, San Francisco
Now in its seventh year, this one-day food, beer and music party thrown by The Bay Bridged packs a lot into roughly seven hours -- and this year's lineup is maybe the best yet, in large part thanks to a strong showing from women: The Coathangers bring cathartic yet danceable punk rock from Atlanta, while a trio of locals -- R&B singer Rayana Jay, indie-pop buzz machine Jay Som, and dreamy shoegaze purveyor Madeline Kenney -- make the lineup's finer print the cool place to be. Oh yeah, and Thee Oh Sees are playing too. Pro tip: This festival's food truck lineup is nearly as hotly anticipated each year as the music. Come hungry. Tickets ($29 and up) here. 

San Jose Jazz Summer Fest

Aug. 11–13, Downtown San Jose
With 10 stages throughout downtown San Jose, this annual celebration handily reflects the diversity of the genre, with blues, R&B, funk, salsa and other Latin music represented alongside jazz from all corners of the globe. Big names like saxoponist Maceo Parker, Parliament Funkadelic and Hammond B-3 organ legend Dr. Lonnie Smith appear at this smorgasbord of a fest alongside emerging local talent, like the fast-rising Oakland singer Kalil Wilson. With more than 100 performances -- both indoor and outdoor -- over the course of three days, this is one of those elusive musical situations where there might actually be something for everyone. Tickets ($20 and up) here.

Hiero Day

Sept. 4, around 3rd and Chestnut Streets, Oakland
The only festival I feel comfortable recommending before the lineup's even announced, Hiero Day is an annual Labor Day weekend gift to the community from Hieroglyphics, the hip-hop collective that defined the sound of East Bay hip-hop in the '90s. What began as a free, feel-good block party in Oakland's oft-overlooked Acorn neighborhood in 2012 has grown in the past couple years into a legitimate festival, with ever-better lineups (featuring both rap veterans and up-and-comers), increased ticket prices and, yes, the infrastructure problems that come with a party everyone wants to attend. (Last year's festival saw at least one major safety issue from overcrowding.) Still, by the time the sun starts to set and Souls of Mischief emerge to perform their classic "93 ’til Infinity," it's hard to beat the mood here. It's a Town party through and through. Tickets ($19.93 and up last year) here. 

(Video by our friend and colleague Alex Ghassan, whom we miss very much.)