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May 25, 2012

A Pitchfork in the road:four alternative festivals

Need something to look forward to after finals? Something that’s not one of those I-could-buy-a-laptop-for-that-price concerts like Lollapalooza or hipster-fraught Pitchfork? Read on for four festivals that are sure to pique your interest and also won’t rob you. From raves to retro and from punk rock to pop, your summer in Hyde Park need not be musically challenged.

Though you probably already know all about Skrillex, screamo-boy Sonny Moore’s Djing alter-ego, you may have missed equally talented electronica, house, and dubstep artists like Benny Benassi, Moby, and Flux Pavillion. That where June’s Spring Awakening Festival comes in. Held one week after the end of the academic year, from June 16-17, the festival includes the likes of Afrojack, Diplo, Datsik, Designer Drugs, Kill the Noise and, of course, Skrillex himself. The festival earns bonus points for being held in the easily-accessible Soldier Field; even more for offering a set of entertaining albeit affordable after-parties that might just top Lolla’s.

Next up: the technically-not-in-Chicago Summerfest. But that’s okay—road trip! Featuring a motley mix of artists including Red Hot Chili Peppers, Robyn, Gavin DeGraw, Fountains of Wayne, Death Cab for Cutie, Motion City Soundtrack, Aerosmith, Chevelle, Neil Diamond, Train, and Kelly Clarkson across 11 days and 12 stages, Summerfest is something of its own little universe. Summerfest takes place at Milwaukee’s Henry Maier Festival Park from June 27–July 8, though the festival is closed on Monday, July 2. Tickets bought before June 1 are priced at a discount, so if you’re even somewhat serious about going, consider making the purchase in the next week.

Ravinia is also technically not in Chicago, but in a substantial suburb of the city called (no kidding) Ravinia. Famous acts are conveniently scheduled on the weekends, and the festival generously offers all college students free lawn passes and pavilion tickets at a substantial discount ($10).

However, Ravinia’s lawn seats might just top its actual “seats.” For one, seat-holders are required to sit; there is absolutely no standing in the covered pavilion, period. Lawn ticket–holders are, by contrast, allowed to stand next to bars parallel to the back-row pavilion seats, making for a de facto “general admission/standing room only” setup. Moreover, the acoustics are absolutely incredible. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the pavilion, standing on the lawn, or just getting ready to park—if someone is on stage and singing into a microphone hooked up to the venue’s phenomenal sound system, you’ll hear them. Indeed, in Ravinia—and perhaps only in Ravinia—the lawn really is a great place to be.

The acts themselves aren’t half-bad, either. June’s most notable include a singing Steve Martin (June 24), Colbie Caillat & Gavin DeGraw (June 29), and Sarah McLachlan (June 30). In July, look out for Seal (July 22); in August, for Demi Lovato (August 4), Train (August 11 and 12), Tony Bennett (August 18), and Duran Duran (August 29).

Not staying in the Second City and not a fan of substantial travel? Fret not: For the 18th summer in a row, Warped Tour will be bringing a strong range of recognizable rock artists and rock-ish music acts to some 40 different states.

Scheduled across nine stages, this year’s surprisingly strong lineup features Rise Against, Yellowcard, The Used, Streetlight Manifesto, Mayday Parade, New Found Glory, All Time Low, Senses Fail, Anti Flag, Breathe Carolina, and Chicago’s own Taking Back Sunday and I Fight Dragons.

Most of the bands hold meet-and-greet sessions at their merch tents for at least one hour at each location. Sponsors of the tour are also generous to attendees, and merchandise is often sold at a substantial discount. Since many attendees are teens (like at any tour, really), the tour also sets up a “Reverse Daycare” tent for parents. Brilliant.

Sure, some of the bands are annoying. Some of the bands are drunk, some smell bad, and some just woke up. But as Warped alum Taylor Momsen told us back in March, that’s part of the appeal—it’s messy, it’s imperfect, it’s unexpected. It’s the polar opposite of Ravinia. It’s port-a-potties and Febreeze showers; it’s a sweaty, sleazy, swimsuit soundtrack-to-my-summer kind of fun.

Tickets are $46, service fees are about $15, and parking ranges from $10 to $40. Unless you absolutely need to see the last two songs of the night’s final act, it’s wise to plan on leaving the festival 15-20 minutes early so as not to spend four hours on half-a-mile of highway.

Honorable mentions:

–Chicago Blues Festival: Blues legend Mavis Staples will be headlining.

–Lollapalooza and Pitchfork (of course!)

–Taste of Chicago: Jennifer Hudson and Death Cab for Cutie. Not bad, right?

–Grant Park Music Festival: free classical music all summer long.

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