Forget a summer vacation. For some performers and bands, summer music festival season is the busiest stretch of their year.
While many artists, from jam bands to EDM DJs, make a living touring year-round, others take a break from playing clubs and theaters for the summer, signing onto North America’s largest summer music festivals. The summer’s busiest big-name acts include Alt-J, with a whopping 28 festivals on their schedule in between dates on their world tour, while Solange is dedicating her entire summer to the festival circuit — her name appearing on 19 more lineups through the end of September.
But it’s not all about the headliners. In the hours before big names like Jay Z and Kendrick Lamar deliver their festival-closing sets, smaller names play those same stages, getting their music in front of many fans who’ve never heard them before.
“Festivals have become a huge conduit through which fans are used to experiencing live music,” said Pitchfork president Chris Kaskie, ahead of the publication’s two festivals in Chicago and Paris. “Because of that, artists have a much wider array of festivals to perform at and audiences to attract. It doesn’t matter how big the act is even, a festival can introduce an artist to a new fanbase in an extremely natural way, and when combined with building a career surrounding their art, it’s a pretty cool proposition.”
If you’re attending a major music festival in North America this summer, you’ll likely see one of these MVPs on this list, a roundup of the standout groups populating the smaller print of this summer’s many crowded lineups. They’re names you should know, even if you don’t make it to a show.
The singer-songwriter is playing far-flung festivals through the end of September, landing towards the top of lineups like Pitchfork. She’s also an outstanding live performer whose 2016 release My Woman was one of 2016’s best albums.
Like Olsen, the Long Beach rapper is also nearing headlining status, and for good reason — he’s one of rap’s best live acts, largely thanks to his scathing onstage commentary. He visits a long list of U.S. and international festivals this summer promoting his new album Big Fish Theory, out June 23.
Easily one of the best performers on the festival circuit right now, Lizzo earned headlines for her standout performances at SXSW, and deserves a breakout summer for her huge vocals and wild stage show.
From the spectacle to the crowds, seeing EDM acts at music festivals can be an exhausting process. On a scale of one to the Chainsmokers, the electronic duo ODESZA are among their genre’s best, earning top-billings at Electric Forest Festival and Forecastle this summer.
The dynamic New Orleans rockers are among the summer’s hardest-working bands, performing at a string of bluegrass festivals in addition to larger stages like SummestFest.
Francis and the Lights
The songwriter/producer Francis Farewell Starlite is 95% limbs, making the pop iconoclast fascinating to watch onstage. He’s also recruited names like Chance the Rapper and Bon Iver to dance alongside him in his music videos, so expect at least one of them to join Starlite on a festival stage before the summer is over.
Of all the DJs filling out summer music festival lineups this summer, Mura Masa’s wildly enjoyable dance music is worth venturing into the EDM tent — or showing up to an early set time — to see.
The only female rapper to earn spot among XXL‘s Freshman Class this month, the Bay Area MC has a busy festival season ahead. See her before she blows up.
With their busy summer schedule bookended by tours with Bleachers and Harry Styles, the synth-pop trio are worth celebrating, three women who handle all their own production and openly address their sexual identities and progressive views in their music.
Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
Fans of Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin have plenty to love in frontman Andrew McMahon’s new project. If fans can’t make it to one of his many festival dates this summer, he’s also opening a string of shows for Billy Joel.
The LA punk band name may be in the small print on festival posters, but their irresistible garage rock makes a strong case for better placement.
Car Seat Headrest
After his breakout 2016 album Teens of Denial earned him a place among America’s best new rock bands, Will Toledo, the singer/songwriter behind Car Seat Headrest, went from playing daytime slots at last year’s summer music festivals to earning one of 11 headlining slots at Summerfest.