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The Greatest Music Festivals You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Nothing says summer quite like a music festival, any music lover will agree. Dig out the ol’ camping gear and folding chairs and buy an airline ticket somewhere exotic. The season is ripe.

America thinks it’s got a monopoly on the festival scene, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Just off the beaten path, the eager festival goer will find many enticing alternatives to the traditional mud and urine-soaked mosh pits of the Woodstock variety.

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Trekking Mount Fuji from one stage to the next? Footie on the beach in Essaouira followed by an intimate performance by a Nigerian soul singer? It may take a little spirit and a few words in a foreign language to experience some of these unique festivals but the payoff will be far beyond anything Woodstock has to offer.


Festival Gnaoua et Musique du Monde (Morocco, June 20-23)

This annual festival in Essaouira, Morocco celebrates mystical Gnaoua (or Gnawa) music along with other traditional styles from around the world, with masters playing everything from jazz to samba to bangla. It attracted over 100,000 visitors annually.

Touted as Morocco’s answer to Woodstock, this enchanting festival is so popular it’s attracted enough high-profile corporate sponsorships that most concerts are either very cheap or free.

Many young festival goers sleep on the beach, waking up to play football or DK in the flat sands in the morning. Wander the streets. Sample the food. Ramble from venue to venue for three days.

Highlights of the 2013 Lineup: There are no superstars here. These are not chart-topping musicians, but modest artists who play for love of the craft.


INmusic Festival (Croatia, June 24-26)

Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia, is the ideal place for a music festival. It’s got unending and diverse nightlife, ultra-cheap booze and warm weather. A great (and hygienic!) alternative to some of America’s muddier, more debaucherous festivals, the INmusic Festival is situated next to the pristine Lake Jarun.

A relaxing atmosphere with plenty of concert-goers to make the party, the prices are good and the capacity is limited so everyone’s nice and comfortable. When the music stops, explore some of the city’s historic palaces and cathedrals, open-air markets and medieval towers.

Highlights of the 2013 Lineup: Arctic Monkeys, Iggy and the Stooges, Basement Jaxx, Bloc Party, Editors, NOFX


Fuji Rock Festival (Japan, July 26-29)

Located in the upper reaches of the mountain for which it is named, the Fuji Rock Festival is the ultimate escape for city-dwellers, clock punchers, and office workers. Armies of buses carry over a hundred thousand festival goers from the train in Echigo-Yuzama to the Naeba Ski Resort, where they traipse surprisingly long distances from stage to stage for three days of some of the world’s biggest bands.

Camping is by far the cheapest and most efficient way to experience the festival. Do not be deterred: rubbish disposal is refreshingly efficient and there’s plenty of flat areas for camping if you arrive early enough. Expect long lines for wristbands, buses and toilets, but don’t worry: they’ll be so orderly and polite you’ll hardly notice how long you’ve been waiting.

Highlights of the 2013 Lineup: Bjork, Yo La Tengo, The xx, Vampire Weekend, NIN, Daniel Lanois, The Cure, fun.


Rajasthan International Folk Festival (India, October 17-21)

Imagine this. A festival goer wakes early in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, peeling himself out of bed, purchasing a steaming chai in the street and heading down to the Jaswant Thada cenotaph to witness the joyous and spiritual melody of the daily dawn raga.

In the afternoon he watches the spinning dancers while munching on a bowl of curried meat, after which he will head indoors to hear the Bollywood percussionists, where he might just bump into Mick Jagger, who attends this festival every year. A hedonist by nature, our young tourist doesn’t stop there! All night parties run for five days at Club Mehran. If he sleeps, in the morning he’ll wake and do it all over again.

Highlights of the 2013 Lineup: For five days the festival introduces concert-goers to a variety of traditional instruments they can neither name nor pronounce – the dholak, the gungaroo and the morchang. The RIFF is a can’t miss on the festival circuit.


Feria de Cali (Colombia, December 25-30)

This wild year-end celebration is held in Santiago de Cali in the southwest of Columbia. Once named “Sugar Cane Fest” for the Cauca Valley sugar cane plantation zone next to which the festival is held, it’s now dubbed the “Salsa Fair,” as it’s evolved into a street carnival focused on salsa music and dance.

Public concerts are given by some of the world’s most renowned salseros – the stars of the salsa music scene. Originally set as a traditional Spanish bullfighting celebration, this festival features dazzling costumes and salsa dancing that’s become so popular and so cutting edge the dancers are beginning to overshadow the musicians!

Experience the traditional cali – or colombian – style salsa dancing, a more fast paced dancing style unique to this country.

Highlights of the 2013 Lineup: Roberto Ludo en Vivo, Luis Alberto Posada, Pedro Arroyo, Luisito Carrion.

Go on, get your festival on this summer! Smaller, traditional music festivals are happening all over the world in towns you’ve never heard of, playing music you’ve never heard of. Seek adventure. Explore culture. Try a new type of food or a new type of dance. Learn about a new instrument. Support local arts and culture!

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