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Filled with a mix of national names and up-and-coming talent, here are five music festivals that are well worth marking on your calendar each year.
San Diego is host to any number of live music events on a nightly basis, but come at the right time of year and you might find yourself attending one of the many music festivals that happen throughout the year. And there are a lot. Touring festivals like Mayhem Fest swing through town during the summer months, while local radio stations such as 91X and 94.9 put on their own one-day festivals during the summer and around the holidays. 2015 has also seen the launch of the KAABOO Festival and the EDM-focused CRSSD Festival.
For those who care to split their visit between San Diego proper and the nearby desert, Coachella happens two weekends every April, but there are some more interesting, locally-focused festivals that present a more accessible (and usually less expensive) alternative. Here are five San Diego music festivals that are well worth planning a visit around.
So many of the festivals that take place in San Diego happen in the city proper that it's often up to North County residents to take a drive south to participate. However, KAABOO happens at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, thus giving North County a proper festival experience of its own. Where an event like CRSSD tends to focus more on contemporary and up and coming electronic acts, KAABOO primarily features legacy acts including Aerosmith, Hall and Oates, Chris Isaak, Jason Isbell and Cypress Hill. Comedy also plays a prominent role in the festival, with Cheech and Chong and Dana Carvey among the performers yukking it up at previous festivals. Perhaps most importantly, though, unlike some of the major festivals in the U.S., KAABOO gives a platform for local bands to perform in front of a large audience.
Normal Heights is one of San Diego's most charming neighborhoods, lined with local boutiques, mom-and-pop cafes, and amazing craft beer and cocktail bars. So when you add live music to outdoor stages all across its main business thoroughfare, Adams Avenue, it makes an already interesting corner of the city even more fun. Each September, the Adams Avenue Street Fair lines up more than 100 acts on eight stages for two days, typically with a handful of out-of-town headliners sharing stages with a long list of the best live acts in town. Better yet: The festival is entirely free and open to all ages. (For the grown-ups, however, there's craft beer tasting and beer gardens throughout the fair.)
The closest thing to the multi-venue SXSW experience that San Diego has to offer, San Diego Music Thing—formerly North Park Music Thing—transforms the festival experience by focusing on individual, smaller-venue showcases rather than large stages in a central area. Every fall, the Music Thing features a handful of bigger showcases featuring a touring headliner, such as Liars or Titus Andronicus, in venues like The Observatory or The Irenic, with a series of smaller shows happening throughout the city in Soda Bar, SPACE, The Casbah, and other clubs. The festival also features music-industry speakers during the daytime, so with the purchase of a wristband, you can see as much live music as you want, as well as learn something new about the state of the industry.
Much of the festival activity in San Diego focuses around rock and pop music, but just a little up Interstate 5 in Carlsbad is the Carlsbad Music Festival, which brings together everything from folk to jazz and modern classical performers in an eclectic and unusual spin on the music festival setup. There are ticketed performances in theaters and churches, but much of the activity happens out in the open in different corners of the village, in both indoor and outdoor spaces. It's a feast for the ears, particularly with those for whom conventional pop music might not be enough to quell your appetite. It's also open to all ages—a family-friendly festival for your arty kinfolk.
One of the fastest growing festivals in San Diego is CRSSD, which launched in 2015 and now happens twice a year, each time featuring some of the biggest names in electronic music, along with eclectic headliners such as The Flaming Lips, Chromeo and Empire of the Sun. Where rave culture is usually associated with nighttime happenings, CRSSD brings the dancefloor outside and under the sun at San Diego’s Waterfront Park, where festivalgoers can catch some beats in the sunshine. It’s a 21-and-up event, so unfortunately not everyone can attend. However, the age limit does have some benefits, namely that beer gardens aren’t separate from the rest of the festival, and everyone’s free to roam the park. Add to that a great sampling of local eateries serving up snacks and refreshments, and it’s a great way to spend a weekend.
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