What to Eat at Summer's Coolest Music Festivals

Whether you’re looking to refuel between sets, snap the most ’grammable treats, or mingle backstage with chefs, this is your food field guide to the foodiest music festivals around.
By Alia Akkam ,

Tacos at Firefly Music Festival

Photography courtesy Red Frog Events

Firefly Music Festival

Dover, DE
June 14 to 17; fireflyfestival.com
$349 for a four-day pass

The vibe: Fans can make or break a festival, and that’s especially true at Firefly, the East Coast’s largest music and camping festival. In 2017 Firefly’s organizers invited concertgoers to vote on every aspect of the fest, from campsite activities to food vendors and, yes, a lineup that included Bob Dylan and Chance the Rapper.

The tunes: This summer’s range of dynamic talents includes Arctic Monkeys, Portugal. The Man, and SZA.

The eats: Imagine listening to Pulitzer Prize–winning rapper Kendrick Lamar while eating authentic Korean bulgogi bowls and fresh Mexican street corn.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

Photography by Getty Images

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

New Orleans
Spring 2019; nojazzfest.com

The vibe: A showcase of the city’s deep music roots since its debut in 1970, Jazz Fest features acts spanning blues, R&B, gospel, and rock. The event, held every spring at NOLA’s Fair Ground Race Course, is also a spirited study of Big Easy culture

The tunes: The 2018 billing was chock-full of legends: Lionel Richie, Bonnie Raitt, and Anita Baker flexed musical muscle onstage this year. Count on more of the impressive same come spring 2019.

The eats: Louisiana vendors, such as Fireman Mike’s Kitchen and Big River Foods, dole out local specialties, like gumbo and Crawfish Monica, a spicy, creamy seafood pasta available only at Jazz Fest.

Governors Ball Music Festival

Photography by Getty Images

The Governors Ball Music Festival

New York City
June 1 to 3; govballnyc.com
$115 for a single-day ticket

The vibe: The spotlight is on New York’s Randall’s Island Park when jean-shorts-wearing twentysomethings and backpack-toting teens descend upon the East River isle for this multi-genre, multi-stage tradition.

The tunes: Echoing the host city’s melting-pot status, this year’s sonically diverse slate includes acts for Gen Xers (Jack White, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and millennials (Halsey, Travis Scott.)

The eats: Last year’s cool-kid lineup of Gotham grub, which was curated by the popular food-and-drink website Infatuation, included Roberta’s famed Bee Sting pizza (pepperoni, honey, and chili flakes, oh my!), artisanal icy paletas (Mexican ice pops) from La New Yorkina, and Dough’s rainbow-bright gourmet doughnuts.

Roberta's Pizza at Governors Ball

Photography by Kendall Dickieson

Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Tennessee

Photography by Sara Cora Wagoner

Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival

Manchester, TN
June 7 to 10; bonnaroo.com
$324.50 for a four-day pass

The vibe: One of the six rules of this festival’s official code of conduct is Radiate Positivity. If that doesn’t paint you a picture, imagine a 700-acre farm setting where happy campers high-five one another en route to the next performance.

The tunes: Artists like the Killers, Eminem, Sheryl Crowe, and Alt-J play on 10 different stages.

The eats: The feel-good ethos extends to the food. Along with in-between-the-music fun—like sampling beer and cider at the Broo’ers Festival and feasting on bacon flights at the epically named Hamageddon—you can get in the sustainable spirit by attending a four-course BonnaROOTS community dinner supporting Oxfam America and Eat for Equity, or by snacking at socially responsible vendors.

Windy City Smokeout in Chicago

Photography by Katie Kauss

Windy City Smokeout

Chicago
July 13 to 15; windycitysmokeout.com
$45 for a single-day ticket

The vibe: Held in the shadow of the Chicago River since 2013, this finger-lickin’ festival cofounded by Bub City pit master Doug Psaltis promises a good time for folks who dig barbecue and country music. The smokeout is laid-back enough for kids, too: Children 10 and under get in for free!

The tunes: Expect a mix of established country acts (Brett Eldredge, Brothers Osborne) and rootsy up-and-comers (Drake White and the Big Fire, the Turnpike Troubadours).

The eats: Pit masters from ’cue joints across the country (like Pappy’s Smokehouse in St. Louis and Peg Leg Porker in Nashville) serve pulled pork, saucy ribs, and juicy brisket. The food is joined by a robust lineup of beers, many of which are made in the Midwest (Moody Tongue, Local Option).

Windy City Smokeout

Photography by Jeff Marini

Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in San Francisco

Photography by Andrew Jorgensen

Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival

San Francisco
August 10 to 12; sfoutsidelands.com
$375 for a three-day pass

Vibe: Hippies and rockers unite at this countercultural ode to both music and San Francisco itself. The Golden Gate Park grounds are decorated with inflatable sculptures, innovative stage designs, and live painting installations. Last year, the eco-friendly fest instituted a number of green measures, including a farmers’ market and composting workshops.

Tunes: Appearances by alt legends Radiohead and Beck ensured the 2008 inauguration was impressive. Years later, the festival’s reputation is just as strong— Metallica, the Who, and Gorillaz all played in 2017.

Eats: Wandering through a chocolate shrine in the woods or knocking back a cocktail from a bartender-magician’s pop-up, you might think you’ve accidentally ingested the bad kind of mushrooms.

Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival in Indio, California

Photography by Julian Bajsel

Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival

Indio, CA
Spring 2019; coachella.com

Vibe: Coachella—a two-weekend party that’s been raging in the California desert since 1999—has become more than just a music festival: It has spawned a fringe-heavy fashion line co-branded with H & M and a slew of famous fans, including Kendall Jenner and Rihanna.

Tunes: About 100,000 Insta-ready souls will hop from tent to tent to see big-name acts like Haim and Beyoncé, whose historic performance in April led to the fest’s temporary nickname “Beychella.”

Photography by Nikki Jahanforouz

Eats: A-list attendees call for equally flashy L.A. eateries like Trejo’s Tacos, the taqueria empire from actor Danny Trejo, and Chego, a Korean rice-bowl spot from celeb chef Roy Choi. Drinks get the star treatment, too, with garnishes like candied ginger, shaved coconut, and salted dried apricots that “contribute to the culinary experience,” says Aaron Polsky, who has served as beverage director of the Houston Hospitality cocktail pop-up at Coachella.

Lil Wayne at South by Southwest in Austin, TX

Photography by Hubert Vestil

South By Southwest

Austin
March 2019; sxsw.com

The vibe: SXSW is a hipster paradise with five mini festivals—music, film, comedy, gaming, and interactive—stretched across 10 days in March. Screenings, exhibitions, and Big Tech presentations—not to mention 2,000-plus musical performers—pack venues spread throughout the Texas capital.

The tunes: In 2018 the festival—which has gotten bigger every year since launching in 1987—added Colombian rapper Farina and British indie rock band the Wedding Present to the mix. Rachael’s annual Feedback party during the festival is obviously a music-and-food lover’s dream. See the sidebar for highlights from this year’s event!

The eats: The crowd can be found chowing down at SouthBites, a food truck blowout populated by offbeat enterprises like Austin’s Buddhist-nunstaffed Bodhi Viet Veggie Cuisine, as well as out-of-town bites like the BBQ-meets-Indian Ghost & Grits, imported all the way from Brooklyn.

Fried chicken at South by Southwest in Austin, TX

Photography by Neil Husvar

Lollapalooza

Chicago
August 2019; lollapalooza.com

The vibe: This four-day Chicago mainstay, which started as a farewell tour for Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Ferrell and has evolved into a global phenomenon, attracts nostalgic ’90s-lovers (whether they lived through that decade or not) with its wall-to-wall music billing and fun-loving activities (roller rinks, arcade games). 

The eats: Chow Town, the festival’s culinary zone overseen by local chef Graham Elliot, is all about Windy City greats like Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria, the burger-slinging Kuma’s Corner, and socially-conscious Leghorn Chicken’s fried freerange bird. 

The tunes: The line-up was still TBD at press time, but in-the-know prognosticators forecast legacy bands like the Gorillaz and Arctic Monkeys, along with “Bodak Yellow” breakout Cardi B.

Rainbow Cone at Lollapalooza

Photo courtesy of Jocelyn Delk Adams/Grandbaby Cakes

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