Whatever passes for the dead of winter around here is certainly what’s happening — highs in the low 50s? No fair! — but it’s already time to look forward to the summer’s music festivals. Our reliably dry climate makes for virtual West Coast quasi-residencies as touring acts loop around on the circuit, and this week, Lightning in a Bottle and newcomer Altus Festival disclosed their lineups for the year, each with an impressive list of returning favorites, emerging talent, and surprises (Sugarhill Gang with Grandmaster Melle Mel and Scorpio!).
“Summer” kicks off at Heavenly in South Lake Tahoe in mid-March with the debut of Altus, a four-day fest that combines lift ticket and wristbands as a slightly more athletic counterpart to SnowGlobe, the New Year’s music festival held every year at Lake Tahoe Community College.
Phase One’s lineup reveal includes a DJ set from Bonobo at the top, with West Coast house pioneer Justin Martin, Jason Kendig of San Francisco’s own DJ collective Honey Soundsystem and Galen from the even more venerable S.F. party Sunset Sound System (which plays an additional showcase), South Africa’s Lee-Ann Roberts, and dozens of others. But it’s Sugarhill Gang, who had the first hip-hop single to reach No. 1 with 1979’s “Rapper’s Delight,” that will surely be the can’t-miss draw.
Full packages for Altus — which, it should be noted, runs on a slightly unorthodox Wednesday-Saturday schedule — start at $790, and include lift tickets and hotel rooms.
Last year’s Lightning in a Bottle started out with a borderline-insane thunderstorm in Bakersfield (of all places) that earned it the moniker “Lightning in a Puddle,” only to resolve a cascade of standout performances by Jan Blomqvist, Lane 8, and Kerala Dust. Barring the return of another bizarre meteorological occurrence, this is the summer’s proper launch: Once again held over Memorial Day weekend, L.I.B. is production team The Do LaB’s polychromatic showcase for house, EDM, and plenty of freak folk.
Unique among festivals for the loyalty it retains among fans and acts alike — many beloved acts like Bob Moses, Justin Jay, and Mikey Lion with the Desert Hearts crew return year after year — L.I.B. is renowned for its long set times, elaborate stage construction, and easygoing atmosphere. (Ask any group of five Bay Area festival pros, and at least three will tell you it’s their favorite.)
Things look auspicious for 2020, with indie acts like Sylvan Esso, Purity Ring, and S.F.’s wunderkid Empress Of making their debut alongside impressive scores like Four Tet, Nina Kraviz, and Amon Tobin, who presents his Two Fingers project. Other notable names include the Haitian-Canadian Kaytranada, Aussies who never seem to stop touring Crooked Colours, and the rising Big Wild, who headlined 2019’s Northern Nights festival up in the redwoods. As ever, L.I.B. is a vehicle for Dirtybird, the longstanding Bay Area record label and DJ collective that has spawned an entire calendar of festivals to itself.
With festival culture growing ever-larger, it’s good to have proof that the artier middle tier can stay true to itself. Coachella’s all-male-headliners lineup for 2020 is notably lackluster after the inclusion of pop superstars like Beyonce in 2018 and Ariana Grande last year (as well as Kanye’s gospel-Easter service on the hill). But of course The Do LaB will be at the Empire Polo Grounds, on their semi-official stage amid all the Glendora-based beauty and wellness influencers, gearing up for their main event the following month.
Altus Festival, March 18-21, at Heavenly Ski Resort, South Lake Tahoe, altusfestival.com
Lightning in a Bottle, May 25-30, at Buena Vista Lake near Bakersfield, lightninginabottle.org