Summer Guide: Choosing the Season's Best Music Festivals

When it comes to summer music festivals, there isn't a better place to be than San Francisco. This year's events offer a host of diverse and consistently thrilling music, some of it even free. Here's our guide to the best of the Bay Area's summer music gatherings. There really is something for everyone, so get out your day planners and keep those weekends free.

Warped Tour
The annual nationwide jaunt of punk rock fun arrives in AT&T Park's parking lot on Saturday, June 23, bringing with it Warped's usual brand of ragtag chaos and sensory overload. Highlights this year come in the form of pop-punk legends New Found Glory, outspoken left-wingers Anti-Flag and Rise Against, Brit rockers Lostprophets, and metalcore lunatics Every Time I Die. With the sheer number of acts Warped attracts annually — frequently 100 artists perform each day — there are plenty of options for the alt-lover in your life. Remember: This is also (bizarrely) where Katy Perry got her start. Tickets are $36. Doors open at 11 a.m.

High Sierra
Not all worthy festivals are in S.F. proper. Just a few hours outside of the city, in camping- and family-friendly Quincy, you’ll find the High Sierra Music Festival, a four-day celebration of clean mountain air and music you can bounce along to. The festival’s lineup straddles the worlds of jam bands — see STS9, Ben Harper, Galactic, Garage A Trois — and indie rock, with appearances by such respected outfits as Built to Spill, Heartless Bastards, and Gardens and Villa. Our pick of the lineup is Grupo Fantasma, a Grammy-winning Latin funk band from Austin that puts on one of the most fun live shows we’ve ever seen. If you feel like getting out of town, the High Sierra Music Festival takes place July 5-8; passes run from $160 for two days to $199 for all four.

Fillmore Jazz
The country's largest free jazz festival happens here on Saturday, July 7, and Sunday, July 8, transforming the stretch of Fillmore Street between Jackson and Eddy into a village of gourmet food, eclectic art, and, most importantly, live jazz, soul, R&B, and even world music. With three stages running from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, there's plenty to see and hear. We're particularly looking forward to Kim Nalley's tribute to Etta James, which will take place on both days, and the deep soul sounds of Sista Monica Parker.

Outside Lands
Along with the Treasure Island and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festivals, Outside Lands is one of the brightest beacons in S.F.'s musical calendar. The lineup for 2012, the festival's fifth year, is as fabulous as we've come to expect, featuring a wealth of talent to suit all tastes. Golden Gate Park will be graced with artists like Metallica, Stevie Wonder, Norah Jones, Skrillex, Sigur Rós, Die Antwoord, Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Yacht, and local favorites Thee Oh Sees. The discounted early tickets have already sold out, so a regular three-day pass currently costs $225, and the VIP three-day passes will set you back $495. Outside Lands takes place Friday through Sunday, Aug. 10-12.

IDentity
Shoreline Amphitheatre is one of 15 lucky North American venues hosting ID Fest in 2012. As always, this promises to be one of the biggest and best electronic dance music parties of the year, featuring headliner Eric Prydz and a host of other DJ talent, including dubstep hero Excision, the hugely popular Paul Van Dyk, house master Wolfgang Gartner, London drum 'n' bass lovers Nero, and a ton of other hot talent that will keep you on your toes all day. IDentity happens on Friday, Aug. 17, with tickets ranging from $25 all the way up to $150 for an "ultimate VIP package." Start working out now, because dancing all day and night is going to require some serious stamina.

Rock the Bells
The Rock the Bells lineup is always a who's who of hip-hop, but the 2012 roster is insanely impressive. Big hitters like Ice Cube, Nas, Murs, Redman, Method Man, and the RZA join cool kids like Kid Cudi, Yelawolf, and Deltron 3030 for what will surely be the festival's biggest year yet. And if the sound of all that gets you excited, prepare to reach the precipice of anticipatory ecstasy as we tell you who else is playing this thing: only mother-flippin' Salt-N-Pepa! Also: Naughty by Nature! Finally — and yeah, we can't believe it, either — Bone Thugs-N-Harmony are joining in, too. You can catch all this and more at Shoreline Amphitheater on Saturday, Aug. 25, and Sunday, Aug. 26. Ticket prices range from $99 to $265.60.

Stern Grove
This year is the 75th anniversary of the Stern Grove Festival, and the lineup is suitably grand and diverse for the occasion. Starting June 24 and running every Sunday through Aug. 26, the breathtaking Sigmund Stern Grove Park presents a roster of exceptional artists. Anita Baker and the Family Stone start the proceedings, OK Go hosts the grand finale, and in between, we'll be treated to the likes of Meshell Ndegeocello, Ozomatli, and Al Jarreau, as well as performances from San Francisco's symphony, ballet, and opera. Most valuable of all, Stern Grove remains free, open to all, and a wonderful opportunity for music lovers to revel in the city's rich culture.

 
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