It happens to us all: One day you wake up and you want a music festival where earplugs aren't mandatory in order to get some sleep. This discovery may dawn on you around the same time you realize you may actually want sleep in between long, hot days of tramping around from stage to stage in the hot sun and nights of doing whatever.
Toning down the hype and sensory overload comes with benefits. You will miss out on the 1980s nostalgia act's enormous festie-close as well as getting trampled on your way to catch the flavor of the moment — and you'll also see shorter lines at the gates, the food vendors, and the porta-potties. It also means saving a few hundred dollars on tickets, freeing up resources for the aforementioned whatever, or allowing you to bring the kids along (if that's your thing). Hell, you may even find some time to relax and recharge on your weekend, rather than find the need to take sick days to recover from it.
Here, then, are some smaller, mellower, but no-less enjoyable weekend music festivals coming up this summer, nearly all of which will lack party buses full of rolling millennials.
Sierra Nevada World Music Festival
Mendocino County Fairgrounds, Boonville, Calif.
Tickets: $60-$175, $80 for camping
Timed every year with the summer solstice, this is a great excuse to visit the remote Anderson Valley in scenic Mendocino County. Just a quick pedicab ride away from the Anderson Valley Brewing Company — where disc golf as well as beer tasting go on all the time — this year's set is reggae-heavy, with Toots & the Maytals, Beres Hammond, Afrolicious, and legendary dub producer Lee “Scratch” Perry set to perform on three stages over three days, making it a fine alternative if you've aged out of Reggae on the River. Those with the jones to perform are encouraged to check out the belly-dancing workshops and stilt circus. (That could be you wowing the crowd next year.) Best of all for old codgers: The campground has a 10 p.m. noise curfew.
Black Oak Ranch, Laytonville, Calif.
Tickets: $75-$275, camping included; $20 per car.
Named for the legendary late San Francisco–born folk singer and held for years up at Wavy Gravy's old Hog Farm off of US-101 in cannabis country, Kate Wolf does an unparalleled job of blending generations by putting legends and contemporaries on the same stage. This year, bluesman and steel guitarist Eric Bibb anchors Friday, with Harry Belafonte — yes, that Harry Belafonte — and then k.d. lang, Neko Case, and Laura Veirs headlining Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Other acts you may recognize include Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, the Wood Brothers, San Francisco–based The Sam Chase, and Calexico. Before the music starts, you can take the stage yourself at a Friday afternoon open mic, and every day, you can try the yoga and tai-chi workshops; afterwards, serious jam sessions go down well into the wee hours at the Hobo Jungle, so pack your guitar, mandolin, fiddle, or spoons (as well as your storytelling wit). The camping under old oak trees — hence the name — is a relatively short walk from the four stages, and if the Mendo days get too hot, you're heartily encouraged to jump in the on-site creek.
High Sierra Music Fesival
June 30-July 3
Plumas County Fairgrounds, Quincy, Calif.
Tickets: $95.50 for an adult day pass, $285.75 for a four-day pass, $799 for “FestivALL pass” with all-access private entry, camping, and drink tickets.
One of the more remote festival destinations on the California circuit, Plumas County is in a national forest in the hills east of Chico and north of the I-80 corridor. This means redwoods and mountain air the likes of which city slickers rarely see or taste. This is the setting for headliners Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Thievery Corporation, Joe Russo's Almost Dead, and Dr. Dog. While families will appreciate the kids' parade, the nearby public swimming pool, and the daylong movement activities like detox yoga, night owls get in their party set at the late-night shows (with three venues and varying levels of energy, from singer-songwriter to full-on funk jam), meaning it is theoretically possible to hear music from 11:15 a.m. until 3:30 a.m. This is a serious-enough party for Sierra Nevada to brew a special High Sierra FestivALE to mark the occasion, and Saturday night's costume party — oh yeah, there's one of those nightly as well — pays tribute to David Bowie and Prince.
California World Fest
Nevada County Fairgrounds, Grass Valley, Calif.
Quite possibly the most family-friendly music festival on the California circuit, California WorldFest is also one of the most affordable. Value alone isn't the reason to head up to Nevada County, where all your artist friends have long since fled: the venue's stages, stashed underneath tall, older-growth pines, are some of the easiest to access from camping on the festival circuit. And this is a true “world music” event, with klezmer bands, Malian singers, and blues performers all on the same stage. Big acts this year include Boz Scaggs, Nahko & Medicine for the People, Delhi 2 Dublin, and Awa Sangho.
Strawberry Music Festival
Westside Park, Tuolumne, Calif.
Tickets: $65-$250 for a four-day pass, including camping
A temporary victim of the Rim Fire that threatened Yosemite National Park — and, briefly, San Francisco's water supply — in 2013, Strawberry has moved from its old venue at Camp Mather near Groveland (both of which survived the fire) to two weekends on either side of the summer. If you missed the Memorial Day event, Labor Day will be here before you know it. Held outside Sonora on the outskirts of Yosemite, the fall festival has jam favorite Leftover Salmon,Tex-Mex legends Asleep at the Wheel, and Los Lobos as three of the headliners. This party spreads over much of Tuolumne — good thing it's a small town.