With summer almost closing in, it’s time to start making plans to hit up music festivals. Below are three of the best festivals the Midwest has to offer, from hip-hop in a Minnesota suburb to dubstep in the woods of Michigan. With factors such as cost and location, choosing the right festival can be difficult, but the following are road trip destinations worth every penny. Take a trip once school’s out and explore the Midwest’s musical mayhem!

Electric Forest

By Ian Erickson

Take a trip, expand the mind and visualize going to the Electric Forest Music Festival. The Electric Forest is one of the most dazzling, sensory-overloading, interactive festivals to check out this summer. It’s no hallucination!

Electric Forest is located in Rothbury, Michigan at the Double JJ Ranch. It’s approximately a 5-to-6 hour drive from Madison, taking place during the four-day weekend of June 27 through June 30. While that’s a big time commitment, it’s well worth the trip.

After getting wristbands and heading onto the festival grounds, one can easily see that it will take more than a day to see and experience everything the Forest has to offer. Heck, it might even take multiple trips!

Besides the light-up Ferris wheel, the various art shacks and multiple music-stages, the real gem is the Sherwood Forest. Dividing part of the festival, the Sherwood Forest is where most of this festival’s character can be found. During the day, it’s a nice place to cool off, chill with friends and make new ones. It has hundreds of hammocks, various tents, sculptures, hidden stages, statues, interactive devices and playthings. It also has a dome covered in gongs that one can sit under and literally be showered in vibrations. Various artists and performers are found throughout the forest, dressed up in all sorts of costumes. They entertain by dancing, juggling, painting, etc. At the main entrance, stands a huge wooden clock tower, accompanied by free hanging, stained glass windows that make the Forest seem almost like a temple. However, as soon as the sun goes down, the lights, fog machines and lasers turn on. The Forest transforms into something out of Alice in Wonderland or a Dr. Seuss book; it is truly something to behold first hand.

The three big headliners include The String Cheese Incident, Pretty Lights and Passion Pit, but that only scratches the surface of a lineup loaded with many other notable acts. The primary scope of artists featured at Electric Forest are mostly jam bands, DJs and electronic-type music, but world-music, funk and bluegrass acts are anything but few and far between. In fact, many bands, like The String Cheese Incident, often like to mix things up by playing many types of genres during the course of a concert.

Another great feature for those wishing to take a break from the festival grounds is the glow-in-the-dark disc golf course set up just outside the entrance. It’s open at all hours, free of charge, but like the forest, it truly needs to be experienced at night. That being said, playing at night only makes it that much easier to lose any personal discs, so play through with caution.

The forest also features a water park and a golf course, both located outside the campgrounds. While golfing is expensive, the water park admission is definitely worth the price, if just for the shower.
A couple things to consider: If one gets uncomfortable around others talking about or doing drugs or hippies, avoid this place like the plague! Bring plenty of sunscreen, large water bottles and a cooler full of food and beverages. The cuisine inside is actually quite tasty, but the cost of food and beer both inside and outside the festival grounds are quite expensive!

Other than that, if this place sounds choice, be safe, drink plenty of water and have fun.

Kanrocksas

By Phebe Myers

Attention world, there are cool things that happen in Kansas! OK maybe not things plural, but Kanrocksas, in its second year, is bringing an incredible list of musicians to the sunflower state. In its inaugural year, the festival had Eminem, Muse and The Black Keys for headliners – talk about impressive. This lineup presents a great group of bands, but no headliner quite comparable to the previous three. The aforementioned headliners are Tiesto, Fun. and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, all bands that will perform amazing and “fun” concerts.

The downside of the festival is the location. It’s on the Kansas Speedway, and those familiar with the mild temperatures of a Wisconsin summer would be in for quite a shock in the hot Kansas heat. The black tar of the track picks up on the 100 degree weather, making water even more of a necessity than usual. The speedway is not the ideal place for a festival; part of the allure of the event is the dream of living like a crazy Woodstock hippie, which doesn’t quite fit in at a NASCAR racecourse.

As a festival-goer, the atmosphere is friendly but a little sane if you prefer festivals filled with glitter, tapestries and hula hoops. Kanrocksas does provide lots of different activities for the adventuring concert-goer to partake in: a Ferris wheel of lights, live art projects, bungee jumping trampolines and a giant water slide, just to name a few.

The audience is not like what you would find at a festival like Bonnaroo or Electric Forest. That is to say, the people are far more normal than the typical camping hippie. Think plain tank tops and shorts as opposed to long flowing skirts with body paint. Last Kanrocksas, an overwhelming population of the crowd was decked out in Eminem tattoos; but with a funkier lineup, a wackier crowd may follow.

Kanrocksas had bigger headliners in its first year, but this second year has a larger amount of great acts. Kanrocksas goers can look forward to listening to one of the greatest rappers to spit in the recent years: newcomer Kendrick Lamar. Lamar’s most recent album good kid, m.A.A.d city was met with stellar reviews from critics and listeners alike. Passion Pit and MGMT will be bringing their catchy indie beats to the Kansas stage. Pretty Lights and Zeds Dead, two dubstep bands, will no doubt perform the best show for the crowd who cares more about having fun than listening to the music, although both groups make great beats. This year’s breakthrough artists Imagine Dragon, Baauer (“Harlem Shake” anyone?), Trinidad Jame$ (“Pop a molly”) and Miguel are all scheduled to preform. This isn’t even half of the lineu,p and already most music lovers should be salivating.

The location is far from ideal: It could be a more appealing festival if it was located in some far-off Kansas prairie. But the musical content is to die for. Being able to camp and see Kendrick Lamar, Pretty Lights, T-Pain (“Lemme buy you a draaaank”), Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros for under $200 – sounds like a pretty stellar experience.

Soundset

By Colin Kellogg

Held right outside of the Twin Cities in Shakopee, Minn,, Soundset is one of the best value music festivals in the Midwest. The day-long hip-hop fest is put on annually by Rhymesayers Entertainment, the Twin Cities label boasting socially conscious hip-hop acts like Brother Ali, Atmosphere, Aesop Rock and the late Eyedea of Eyedea & Abilities.

For only $35-$50, depending on whether you take advantage of the presale price or not, you have access to literally some of the best artists in hip-hop today, particularly if you like more independent artists and labels.

Though Soundset loves to give stage time to local performers or artists on the rise, a few bigger name artists always draw a crowd. Past years have featured Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, several Wu Tang Clan members, Kendrick Lamar, Big K.R.I.T, Big Boi and Wiz Khalifa. This year, Snoop Dogg, Tech N9ne and Busta Rhymes are among headliners, along with returnees Atmosphere, Brother Ali and Mac Miller. ?This year also welcomes Juicy J, Schoolboy Q and Joey Bada$$.

Soundset is a festival that puts a premium on the concertgoers’ experience. Organizers ensure that fans have fun and get to experience as many performances as possible. One of the greatest aspects of last year’s festival was the staggered stages. While one artist was performing, another would set up on the adjacent stage, and the lively emcee would seamlessly transition to the set at the other stage. A highlight last year was being close to the front of both stages seeing Kendrick Lamar and Big K.R.I.T. back-to-back.

Many of the artists Soundset brings find their way to mainstream radio waves several months or years later. Several years ago, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis played on the festival’s smaller stage and casually drove around the grounds in a golf cart high-fiving fans. Now, they play sold out shows and would likely need a security detachment to protect them from enthusiastic fans.

Soundset is the perfect festival for hip-hop fans eager for live music, but who may not have the energy or funds to catch similar acts at a bigger festival like Lollapalooza. Due in part to its size, Soundset has a casual, chill atmosphere filled with plenty of Minnesota nice. Another benefit to its small festival status is the meet-and-greet opportunities throughout the day, connecting fans with the artists they love.

Though last year’s festival was cut short by a vicious rainstorm and tornado warning, the day usually culminates with Atmosphere’s set. If your idea of bliss is Slug rapping “Sunshine” as you watch the sun settle into the clouds, enraptured hip-hop fans all around you, this is the festival for you. Don’t just listen to hip-hop, take a chance on Soundset and experience it.

Tickets for Soundset 2013 are currently $46. See the complete lineup and purchase your tickets online at soundsetfestival.com.