There’s something freeing about a music festival. For a day (or more), thousands of strangers come together in the great outdoors with one goal in mind: to have the time of their life watching as much live music as possible. For a couple hundred bucks (or less), you can shuffle, Spotify-style, through a wide array of bands and genres. With summer looming, we’ve rounded up the best music festivals within a reasonable driving distance — 150 miles, or just over three hours — of the White House. After all, Sasha and Malia need something fun to do during summer vacation.
When: June 14, noon-midnight
Type: Daylong outdoor festival
Where: Dock 5 at Union Market (1309 Fifth St. NE, Washington), the back lot area of Union Market where The Walkmen played last fall
Approximate distance from the White House: 2.6 miles. Get there via car or cab (free parking is available in the Union Market lot), a trip on Metro’s Red Line to the NoMa-Gallaudet U stop, or a leisurely stroll (about 50 minutes).
Who’s performing? Organized by U Street Music Hall, Union BBQ features DJs and acts you might find at the venue. The biggest names are acclaimed producer Jamie xx (of The xx), avid remixer Kaytranada and indie icons Animal Collective DJing as a group. There’s also a Moombahton Massive Stage, led by the creator of the homegrown dance genre, Dave Nada, performing with his duo Nadastrom.
Who’s attending? U Street Music Hall regulars, teenage EDM fans who don’t want to leave the city for their festival fix, people with glowsticks, people wearing stupid T-shirts that inform you how much they <3 EDM and bass, and people on ecstasy. Lots of people on ecstasy.
Food and drink: Attendees can munch on BBQ from DCity Smokehouse, tacos from El Rey, gyros from The Greek Spot and gelato from Dolcezza. But the big draw is the return of U Street Music Hall’s infamous pho dog, a 13th Street Meats sausage cooked in Toki Underground chef Erik Bruner-Yang’s pho broth, topped with hoisin, spicy slaw, basil and cilantro.
How much? $40 for a general admission ticket
VIP perks: None. Everyone is an equal at Union BBQ.
What’s unique? Pho dogs, you don’t have to travel far, pho dogs, it features a lineup unlike any festival in the country, pho dogs and, with a 4,000-person capacity, it’s relatively intimate. Did we mention the pho dogs?
When: June 19-22
Type: Four days, camping optional
Where: The Woodlands of Dover International Speedway (1131 Korean War Veterans Memorial Highway, Dover, Del.), which is more forest than raceway
Approximate distance from the White House: 98 miles, a two-hour drive that crosses the Chesapeake Bay. Rock and Bus — a chartered bus ride service — is offering rides from Glen Burnie, Md., to the festival site (see: here for details). You could also fly from D.C., but that seems silly.
Who’s performing? It boasts what, so far, is the closest-to-D.C. date on Outkast’s reunion tour. Other mass-appeal headliners on the top-heavy lineup: Foo Fighters, Jack Johnson, Imagine Dragons, Beck and The Lumineers. There’s also a formidable roster of late-night shows — college party soundtracker Girl Talk, psych rockers White Denim — making Firefly a round-the-clock jamboree.
Who’s attending? Anyone and everyone. Firefly skews young (after the headliners, much of the bill is up-and-coming indie rock bands and DJs) but is designed to pull in the average festivalgoer. Sure, there will be plenty of college-age kids in Day-Glo and bros singing along to Imagine Dragons, but the lineup is meant to bring in a diverse mix.
Food and drink: As in past years, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery is setting up a beer bar (housed in an air-conditioned lounge with live-streaming performances) that promises a variety of the Delaware brewery’s beer, including Firefly Ale, a pale ale brewed specifically for the festival.
How much? Four-day tickets for the festival sold out, but you can purchase single-day passes for Thursday ($49) and Friday through Sunday ($109 each). If you plan to camp, a pass costs $149 for up to five people. Parking an RV will run you $299.
VIP perks: For $699, you can attend the entire festival like a boss, with access to a climate-controlled lounge, special viewing areas, restrooms with AC, private entrances and complimentary massages. Because music festivals should be more like spas. Single-day VIP tickets cost $249, and are available for Friday, Saturday and Sunday only.
What’s unique? A free arcade with vintage pinball, skee-ball and foosball games; a hammock hangout for nap time; and a wooded area called The Thicket where performances are broadcast through headphones, not speakers. Far out.
When: Aug. 16, gates open at 11 a.m.
Type: Daylong festival organized by Rams Head Group
Where: Just outside Annapolis at the Anne Arundel County Fairgrounds (1450 Generals Highway, Crownsville, Md.), which hosts a rodeo this coming Saturday and an annual fair in September
Approximate distance from the White House: 32 miles driving, about 45 minutes without traffic. We do not recommend walking.
Who’s performing? Miley Cyrus BFFs (and giant hamster ball aficionados) The Flaming Lips, early-aughts emo icons Dashboard Confessional, husband-and-wife duo Matt and Kim, and Takoma Park-bred singer-songwriter Eric Hutchinson.
Who’s attending? People from Annapolis who don’t want to travel far for a festival, suburban Maryland college students who haven’t gone back to school yet, former emo kids ready for the emo revival, that guy who’s always meant to see The Flaming Lips live.
Food and drink: Sponsors include Fordham & Dominion Brewing Co., Jack Daniels and Finlandia Vodka, so that’s what you’ll be drinking. There will also be local food trucks and vendors on-site.
How much? $59.50, but general admission rises to $69.50 on Aug. 2. Parking is $10.
VIP perks: $150 (or $175 after Aug. 2) gets you VIP parking, a special entrance, a dinner buffet, bathrooms with air conditioning, reserved (and shaded) viewing areas, and a T-shirt and poster (so you can remember that you were there).
What’s unique? It’s the only festival that got its name by spelling Annapolis backward and is the only one on our list where you can see locally bred pop-punk vets Jimmie’s Chicken Shack.
When: Aug. 30-31
Type: Two-day, non-camping festival curated by Jay Z
Where: Ben Franklin Parkway (Philadelphia, Pa.), where a Live 8 concert was held in 2005
Approximate distance from the White House: 142 miles, an almost three-hour drive. Alternatively, an Amtrak train from Union Station to Philly’s 30th Street Station takes about two hours, or you could ride Megabus for 3½ hours. Just make sure to book either ride in advance (and secure hotel rooms — you can’t camp in the park).
Who’s performing? On Saturday, you can dance to Tiesto, brood during The National and attend a service by Yeezus himself, Kanye West. Sunday brings the current king of summer anthems, Pharrell Williams, party-starter Steve Aoki and an excuse to leave early in Kings of Leon.
Who’s attending? By far the broadest and most mainstream of the festivals on our list, Made in America has something for everyone, with an equal representation of hip-hop, EDM, indie rock and pop music. Expect that to be reflected in the attendees.
Food and drink: It’s sponsored by Budweiser, so … yeah. Otherwise, there will be the usual food offerings and some gourmet food trucks.
How much? Tickets cost $150 for the weekend. Single-day tickets are not being offered yet but have been in the past.
VIP perks: For the one-percenters, a two-day VIP pass runs $499 and offers the typical amenities: a special entrance, a lounge, restrooms with AC, a specially designed water canteen, an official laminate and more perks to be announced.
What’s unique? There will be a concurrent Made in America festival going on the same weekend in Los Angeles, so that’s cool. Really, though, it’s all about seeing West (with the potential of a guest appearance from Mr. Made in America, Jay Z).
When: Sept. 4-7
Type: Four days, camping optional but encouraged
Where: Oak Ridge Estate (2300 Oak Ridge Road, Arrington, Va.), in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains
Approximate distance from the White House: 150 miles, a 3½-hour drive down 1-95 S, US-29 S or I-81 S via Route 66.
Who’s performing? A jam-band or classic-rock lover’s dream lineup: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Grateful Dead members Bob Weir and Phil Lesh (with their respective bands and together as Furthur), The Allman Brothers Band, Wilco and many more.
Who’s attending? Lots of people in tie-dye. Last year’s inaugural Lockn’ drew a decidedly older crowd of Deadheads and the like. The festival is trying to draw a younger crowd, however, with discount tickets for college students ($180).
How much? $285 grants you access for the entire weekend; camping costs an additional $69-$199. You can also rent a tent with cots for two people for $549.
VIP Perks: For hippie high-rollers, a $799 ticket gets you the usual VIP suspects (including bathrooms with flushable toilets and showers!) plus a BBQ party on Thursday, brunch on Sunday, late-night munchies, water, discounted booze, a screen-printed poster and a gift bag with a zombie festival survival kit.
What’s unique? The two main stages are located next to each other, so you don’t have to worry about missing any of the action. When one band finishes its set, the next starts on the other stage. You won’t have to move, either — the music pumps out of both stages’ speakers.
Whether you’re going for a whole weekend or just for a day, here are some helpful tips to make your festival-going experience the best it can be:
Invest in a CamelBak (or a similar backpack hydration system). Water at festivals is essential; buying bottled water at festivals is expensive. Most festivals have free water stations, so take advantage by filling a backpack full of sweet, sweet H₂0.
Dress comfortably. It’s a festival, not a fashion show. Crocs may look ridiculous, but they’re ridiculously comfy, easy to clean and suitable for grass, dirt, rain or mud. Just don’t get rocks in your Crocs. It’s the worst.
Don’t drink (too much). In other words, know your limits and stick to them. (That goes for drugs, too. It’s a festival, there will probably be drugs.) You came to have fun, not to spend all day passed out in your tent or, worse, the medical area.
Get a waterproof cellphone case. Rain is always a possibility; you don’t want your phone to get soaked. You’ll also protect against dirt from your sure-to-be-grungy festival hands.
Don’t count on that phone working. Cell reception is always spotty when you have thousands of people gathered in one area, so make sure you and your friends set easy-to-find meeting places in case you can’t reach one another. Or you could just say screw it and make new friends. Festival friends are the best friends.
If you’re camping, practice setting up your tent at home first. The last thing you want when you’re camping in a field for a weekend is to find out that your tent is missing an all-important pole, or has a hole in it.
Bring plenty of cash. The hours spent waiting in ATM lines can be better spent frolicking in the grass, taking a nap, or, you know, enjoying music.