There are more musical festivals today than you can shake a drumstick at.
Most of them have names that are a total bore compared to what’s happening on stage, but the names listed here make us want the festival merch even if we don’t have a ticket.
. . .
When it comes to live events, and particularly festivals, names sometimes take a back seat to the real entertainment that draws people in. Festivals of yesteryear, many of which are still going strong, tended toward the descriptive: “(insert place)(insert genre) Festival”. Think Monterey Pop Festival, San Francisco Jazz Festival, or Newport Folk Festival.
But these days, festivals are becoming as ubiquitous as SoundCloud rappers, so a lot can be said for a name that finds a new way to talk about location, genre, and overall vibe.
Best use of place
Governors Ball: Initially located on Governers Island in New York, Governers Ball sounds like the exact type of event that would host throngs of sweaty, sunburned fans in flip-flops. Even though it has since relocated to Randall’s Island, the name remains a clever play on its origins.
Mo Pop: This name is fairly middle-of-the-road until you realize that the festival takes place in Detroit. For a young festival in the heart of Motor City, home of Motown, it suddenly only seems natural to carry the “Mo” into the present and future of Detroit’s music scene.
Bumbershoot: Since 1971, Bumbershoot has been a Seattle staple. One of the largest festivals on the continent, its name never gets old — using an antiquated colloquial word for umbrella to warmly embrace the region’s unfortunate meteorological trends.
Skookum: Skookum is a Chinook Jargon word historically used in the Pacific Northwest, meaning “strong”, “monstrous,” or “greatest.” It also happens to be a monstrously great festival in Vancouver, usually featuring the strongest lineup of artists out there.
Sasquatch! Music Festival: Sadly, 2018 was Sasquatch’s last year in operation (for now). But for years, music enthusiasts flocked to George, Washington to catch a glimpse of their favorite artists — and maybe even a big-footed hairy creature known to lurk in the woods of the Pacific Northwest.
Honorable mention: Desert Daze (Joshua Tree, CA), Bottlerock (Napa, CA), Fortress (Fort Worth, TX)
Best reference to genre
Hardly Strictly Bluegrass: A free three-day festival in the heart of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is hard not to love. Add a name that playfully describes everything the festival is and isn’t at once — almost as if to quell the concerns of bluegrass skeptics — and you’ve got something for everyone.
Electric Daisy Carnival: The amount of electronic dance music (or EDM, as the kids say) festivals that are now in rotation is a little much for this writer to process, so I’ll stick with one of the originals. Love it or hate it, Electric Daisy Carnival (or EDC, as the kids say) has a name that captures some of that free-spirited festival magic while also mimicking the acronymic structure of the genre itself.
Shaky Knees: Set in Atlanta, this indie rock-heavy festival gets its name from a My Morning Jacket lyric — one of the founder’s favorite bands. And how better to name a festival than with an homage to a band you love and a hint at the physical impulse you might experience when you feel that reverb.
Afropunk Festival: Inspired by the founder’s own 2003 documentary film Afro-Punk, this Brooklyn-based festival is an annual celebration of art, music, film, and fashion produced by black artists. Its name reflects its spirit — a marriage of African heritage and punk rebellion, and an overall homage to the underdog.
Honorable mention: Moogfest (Durham, NC), Riot Fest (Chicago, IL), Stagecoach (Indio, CA)
Best reference to vibe
Lollapalooza: Meaning “an extraordinary or unusual thing, person, or event,” Lollapalooza is an inspired name for a festival that brings together all types of people and music and art and you name it in Chicago’s Grant Park. Plus it lends itself to a handy shortened version, “Lolla”, for the syllable averse.
Bonnaroo: Like a few other festivals on this list, Bonnaroo took a lesser-known word and made it synonymous with “festival magic.” The name comes to us from Creole slang meaning “a really good time” — and not only is it ridiculously fun to say, but it’s truth in advertising.
Fun Fun Fun Fest:
“Wanna go to a fun festival?”
“A fun fun festival?”
“A fun fun fun festival?”
This Austin festival has unfortunately been gone gone gone since 2015, but its absurdly simple name forever lives on in the festival hall of names.
Lightning in a Bottle: This name couldn’t be a more accurate metaphor for the atmosphere at this Central California experimental/electronic music festival. When you’re there, you get the feeling that you’re experiencing something fleeting and magical — oddly making this one of the more descriptive, on-the-nose names on the list.
FYF Fest: FYF, short for “F*** Yeah Fest”, captures everything about the festival experience without saying much at all. Sure, the full name is technically F*** Yeah Fest Fest, but that didn’t stop it from running strong for thirteen years in LA. The name was all you needed to know that it wasn’t your grandma’s music festival.
Fyre Festival: Just kidding, that was a hot mess.
Honorable mention: Freakout (Ballard, WA), Levitation (Austin, TX), Gonerfest (Memphis, TN)