11 free music festivals (I know of)

It seems like the new way to attract people to your blog is to put a number in your title.  But it’s just so, well, hilarious that one person is going to somehow distill all knowledge on a subject to a definitive numerical list, post it on BuzzFeed, and become a guru. I’m not claiming to know every free music festival out there, but what I do offer you are the best 11 free musical festivals I know of around the world. I guess, alternatively, I could also create a “Which free music festival are you?” quiz and post it on Facebook.

Bogota knows how to throw a party.  (Source: Santiago Trujillo)

Bogota knows how to throw a party. (Source: Santiago Trujillo)

1. Rock Al Parque, Bogota, Colombia (usually first weekend in July)

We’re going to star off here with a bang, as this isn’t a laid-back jazz or blues festival.  This is a huge park teeming with concertgoers and they’re here for rock, ska, hardcore, metal and more genres involving fist-pumping.  Rock Al Parque is one of South America’s largest rock concerts, and it’s completely gratis.  With headliners from South America, as well as international icons (like the Dead Kennedys), it’s no wonder over 400,000 people come to soak in the craziness.

2. Chicago Blues Festival, Chicago, IL, USA (June 13 – 15, 2014)

Grant Park isn’t home to just Lollapalooza.  And better yet, the Chicago Blues Festival won’t set you back several hundred a person.  Announced musicians for 2014 include Bettye LaVette, Aaron Neville, and Dr. John.

3.  Przystanek Woodstock (aka Woodstock Poland), Kostrzyn nad Odrą, Poland (early August)

The sprawling Woodstock festival. (Source: http://woodstockfestival.pl)

The sprawling Woodstock festival. (Source: http://woodstockfestival.pl)

Modeled after the peace-loving rock festival that started it all, Woodstock Poland lines up international fan favorites for free.  Usually there is a rock theme, but the festival has many eclectic offerings. As a ticket-free festival, attendance varies so you never know what to expect (450k to 700k people have been seen in recent years).  And where is Kostrzyn nad Odrą? About 1.5 hours east of Berlin, in fact as close as you can get to Berlin without leaving Poland.

4. iTunes Festival, London, UK (generally the month of September)

What hasn’t Apple conquered?  Not only has iTunes created a music festival, but it has also completely re-imagined what a music festival should be.  This festival is completely unique, as you don’t just show up at a specific time or place and experience music.  You download an app.  You select the bands you are interested in seeing, and then you are entered into a draw.  If your name gets drawn, you go for free.  If your name isn’t drawn, you can still download the concert on iTunes later ($4.99 to $9.99 typically).  It’s really quite genius.  And if you’re lucky, you could see some of the world’s hottest artists for free.

5. Monmouth Festival, Monmouth, UK (July 25 – August 2, 2014)

Wales puts on quite a party starting in late July, with five different venues surrounding the town of Monmouth.  The free music fest runs for eight days., and attendees are encouraged to eat, drink, and have a fun time.  The festival attracts the best of UK artists, with genres ranging from classical to punk, and just about anything in between.

6.  Virgin Mobile FreeFest, Columbia, MD, USA (September)

Richard Branson kicks off the Virgin Mobile FreeFest, a music festival that gives back. (Source: http://daily-beat.com)

Richard Branson kicks off the Virgin Mobile FreeFest, a music festival that gives back. (Source: http://daily-beat.com)

It may be short, but it’s also sweet.  For one day each September, Virgin Mobile invades Maryland and stages a mind-blowing concert.  There are tickets involved, and there is a donation of at least $10 expected (going toward youth homelessness charities) or you can also volunteer your time if you don’t have the money.  Over a period of four years, the festival has donated about a million bucks in money and volunteer time.  Entertaining and inspiring.

7. Sound of Music Festival, Burlington, ON, Canada (June 7, 12-15, 2014)

Canada puts the cream of its musical crop on display each June in Burlington, Ontario.  Covering five days over two weekends, the festival sports Canadian favorites like 54-50, illScarlet, USS, and Big Wreck (to name a few).  Line-ups are announced in May each year.  The festival is also family friendly, and includes a parade, carnival and autograph sessions with kid-friendly stars.  A good way to introduce your brood to live music.

8. St. Kilda Festival, Melbourne, Australia (Early February)

While we’re on the subject of homegrown music showcases, the Australians are not to be outdone.  While the St. Kilda Festival is not solely a music festival, it is the largest free music showcase in Australia, so I’m including it.  St. Kilda runs in the height of the summer, well the Southern Hemisphere summer, at the beginning of February each year.  While music is offered each day during the eight-day festival, the weekend really swings into a typical music festival feel.  The grounds are truly fantastic, stretching along the beach, offering a relaxed vibe and a lovely view.

9. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, San Francisco, CA, USA (October 3 – 5, 2014)

Patti Smith at the HSBF in Golden Gate Park. (Source: sfgate.com)

Patti Smith at the HSBF in Golden Gate Park. (Source: sfgate.com)

Golden Gate Park is a world-class urban park.  So it is no surprise that it hosts a world-class free festival like the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.  As you can guess, bluegrass is one of the many offerings at this huge six-stage venue.  2013’s festival saw the likes of Chris Isaak, Bonnie Raitt, Billy Bragg, G. Love & Special Sauce, and Father John Misty (to name but a few of the acts).

10. Baybeats, Singapore, Singapore (June 27 – 29, 2014)

Singapore is one of the densest cities in the world (population, not intelligence), and with that kind of populace, you’re going to brew a music scene.  Baybeats takes advantage of the raw talent coming out of this cosmopolitan city by showcasing the best Singapore has to offer.  But it gives back, too.  The festival holds open auditions, judged by hand-picked mentors a la The Voice,  thereby providing real life experience and feedback to burgeoning musicians.  And that’s not all… the Baybeats Budding initiatives also mentors in the other fields related to festivals, including music journalism, gig photography, video arts and more.

11. French Quarter Music Festival, New Orleans, LA, USA (April 10 – 13, 2014)

Jackson Square transformed into concert venue. (Source: Zack Smith)

Jackson Square transformed into concert venue. (Source: Zack Smith)

In the French Quarter, every night is a live music night, but for three days in April, that musical party takes to the street (and parks and squares) to become the largest free music festival in the United States.  This is New Orleans, so the jazz, zydeco and blues artists are top notch.  But many other genres are also well-represented for eclectic tastes.

In addition to the dedicated music festivals listed above, also be sure to check out some of the larger, expensive festivals, as they often have free kick-off parties or other showcases for locals.  A great example are the free stage performances in Montreal during the Montreal Jazz Festival or the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival.  Or for large music festivals, try the free Thursday night kick off at the Hangout Festival in Ocean Shores.

Whatever the budget, there’s great music out there.  So make some plans to get out and enjoy your local offerings this year.


Hangout Festival: beats on the beach

Surf, sand and sounds at the Hangout Music Festival. (Source: barryfest.com)

Surf, sand and sounds at the Hangout Music Festival. (Source: barryfest.com)

You can spend a few days at the beach, or go to a killer music festival, but rarely do those two experiences converge into one amazing weekend.  Welcome to the Hangout Music Festival, held each May in Gulf Shores, Alabama.  It’s literally on the beach.  That’s right, like right on the sand.

This is the fifth year of the Hangout Festival, which grew in popularity quickly due to the incredible line-up each year amidst the soft sands of the Gulf of Mexico. This year’s line-up includes a mix of indie, hip-hop, rock and electronic music.  Headlining are Outkast, The Killers, Jack Johnson and The Black Keys.  The supporting acts could easily headline festivals themselves, including the likes of Queens of the Stone Age, Modest Mouse, Portugal. The Man, and Fitz and the Tantrums.

The location at the beach, while playful and fun, does make for transportation issues due to parking shortages.  The festival deals with the issue well though with moderately priced festival shuttle passes that run to the various hotels in the city.  Early bird shuttle passes are sold out, so the price now stands at $50/person.

Beachy goodness.

Beachy goodness.

Hotel prices have skyrocketed of late, but there are still some free nights available at local hotels.

Holiday Inn Express Orange Beach – On the Beach (24700 Perdido Beach Boulevard, Orange Beach) – 35,000 points/ night.  This hotel is on the eastern shuttle route.

Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites – Foley (3155 Abbey Lane, Foley) – 35,000 points/night.  This hotel is actually about 12 miles away from the festival, so your best bet would be to drive to Pelican Place, on the North Line shuttle route, and then take the shuttle down from there.

Econo Lodge Inn & Suites – Foley (2682 South McKenzie Street, Foley) – 20,000 points/night.  Another good option for driving to Pelican Place and then taking the shuttle the rest of the way.

Best Western Riviera Inn – Foley (1503 South McKenzie Street, Foley) – 20,000 points/night.  Just down the street from the other Foley hotels.

So grab your sunscreen, beach ball and best friends and plan to Hangout in Gulf Shores.

Why don’t more bands cover show tunes?

Today I’m doing something I probably haven’t done in over 25 years.  While I know that’s a pretty broad statement, because as one ages, we just don’t want to do certain things anymore.  Like use portable toilets or take red-eye flights. So on to the story at hand.

When I was a kid, I danced around to my mom’s records and played out roles from her favorite musicals. Even as a teenager, when I had amassed a rather impressive record collection, I still would go down into the basement and play show tunes at top volume when I was feeling kind of down.

A few weeks ago, suffering from cabin fever in the -25 weather, we ventured out on a thrift store spree to dig through old albums.  You never know what you’re going to get, and I must say the pickings were rather slim that day.  Unless you are a huge Anne Murray fan. But I did come across an early pressing of South Pacific with Mitzi Gaynor and Ezio Pinza for a buck, so I grabbed it.

It’s Sunday today, halfway through a long weekend, it was high time to tackle some clean-up in the house so I threw on the record.  I had completely forgotten how wonderful the songs are (well, the ones that don’t involve kids singing, but that’s a future topic).  I got to thinking how much I have always enjoyed cover versions of show tunes, and then I wondered why more bands aren’t harvesting the rich crop of songs out there anymore?  What’s more ironic than show tunes, hipsters?  What better translates into funny ska and punk songs?

So to inspire any band that may stumble across this tiny dark corner of the internet, I offer these South Pacific covers.

Reel Big Fish – Nothing Like a Dame (Set to funny anime edits, I almost peed myself laughing at this.)

Captain Sensible – Happy Talk (Can you believe this gets lumped in with punk usually? Yes, this went to #1 in the UK for two weeks in the 1980’s.)

And lastly, it doesn’t exist, but I think Jason Segal singing Some Enchanted Evening with his Dracula puppet would be the best thing ever.

Dracula musical from Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  Jason Segal could so do Ezio Pinzo's part.

Dracula musical from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Jason Segal could so do Ezio Pinzo’s part.

Throwback Thursday: New Order, PiL, The Sugarcubes

Venue: Irvine Meadows Amphitheater, Irvine, California

Date: June 18, 1989

I wish I still had this stub.  Photo credit: wristbanddiaries.blogspot.com

I wish I still had this stub. Photo credit: wristbanddiaries.blogspot.com

Just days before, I practically pulled my hair out trying to navigate finals week at college.  As soon as that last final was over, I jumped in the car and drove as fast as I could down to my parents’ place in the San Fernando Valley (a 6-hour drive, that I’m pretty sure I made in under 5 that day).  I had just a few weeks until I was to start an internship in the Napa Valley, so I was hell-bent on having as much fun with my friends as possible while I was in town.

The most memorable night of my visit included cramming several friends in a car and making the long, long drive down to Irvine.  It was the first and last concert I’ve seen at Irvine Meadows Amphitheater, and I must admit, I recall having a much better time than this L.A. Times Reporter apparently did. As a loyal KROQ listener, I buzzed with excitement as we walked through the gates, finally getting a chance to see The Sugarcubes, PiL  and New Order (and on one bill!).  I remember the tour name included “Monsters of”, but I don’t recall of what now. Synth or New Wave maybe?  Seems like every multi-headliner tour had a “Monsters of” moniker back then.

It’s been a long time.  Memories have faded.  But I do clearly recall The Sugarcubes dazzling and, in particular, Björk‘s voice running up and down scales, both delicate and raspy.  It practically sent a shiver down your spine on that warm night.  I remember my giddiness after hearing “Motorcrash”, “Birthday” and “Hit”, which were probably my favorite songs at that time.

I have to say that as I look back, I’m so happy I had a chance to see PiL as well, although I found John Lydon so much mellower than I imagined.  But I was a bigger fan of the Sex Pistols than PiL back then, and it was apparent why he eschewed the Johnny Rotten stage name.  He was wearing a crazy orange suit and seemed more like a dayglow David Bowie from our nosebleed seats than a punk hero.

We were young.  We danced and sang along with New Order, and didn’t really mind that they were stiff and didn’t interact much with the audience.  Having seen them since, I must say they still aren’t terribly animated.  But they do put on a solid set. To this day New Order remains one of the bands that I appreciate more on vinyl than I do live.

We left Irvine late at night, making a pit stop in the wee hours at a Denny’s in Westwood we called “Rock n’ Roll” Denny’s, because it seemed so many bands would end up there after gigs.  But it was dead on a Sunday night, and I don’t recall seeing anyone of interest.  Sleepy and sated with greasy goodness, we made the last leg of the trip back to the Valley, admiring the grid of lights below us as we came over the hill.


Listen to the entire New Order set from June 16, 1989 below.

Bumbershoot: a gem of a festival in the Emerald City

Music under the Needle.  Photo credit: cntraveler.com

Music under the Needle. Photo credit: cntraveler.com

Seattle closes down the summer festival season with a huge party every Labor Day Weekend, with the eclectic Bumbershoot Festival.  Dubbed the largest arts festival in the United States, Bumbershoot sees up to 100,000 or so attendees over the long weekend.  You may be thinking, “what kind of weird-ass name is Bumbershoot”? Well, it’s a synonym for umbrella, which makes sense considering Seattle’s drizzly weather.

While the 2014 line-up has not been announced yet, Bumbershoot crosses many music genres, often sporting well-known festival headliners, the cream of the indie crop, and a slew of homegrown Seattle artists.  This year should be no exception.

The festival setting is the Seattle Center grounds (think: Space Needle), which is just north of downtown and Belltown.  The area is well-served by transit, including by bus, ferry, and monorail (which takes you to Westlake Center, where you can pick up the light rail system).   Some of the newest and least expensive hotels just happen to be within walking distance, with ritzier hotels just a short walk or monorail ride uphill to downtown.

Seattle Center provides the perfect setting for the festival, with large open spaces for sunny days and a number of exhibition buildings for rainy days.  The main stage is indoors at Key Arena, which has decent acoustics and provides a reprieve from the weather and a (fairly) comfy seat.  In addition to a talent-packed music line-up, pass holders also get into comedy shows, dance performances, and a number of exhibits celebrating the Great Northleft, as they like to put it.

As it is still early in the year, there are several hotels nearby available on award nights.

All of the above hotels are within a few blocks walk of the Seattle Center and have availability from August 29 to September 2.  There are even more hotels in the downtown area, often for higher points.  Downtown hotels tend to be highrises, so they may stay available with points even longer.

While Seattle Center provides for many food options right on the grounds, the Belltown neighborhood is just a few short blocks away.  Belltown is home to many up-and-coming restaurants, gastropubs, and even my favorite hole-in-the-wall bar, the Five Point Cafe.

So enjoy one of the most laid back urban festivals in North America, and don’t forget your bumbershoot!

Iceland Airwaves: the best deal for an international festival?

The Flaming Lips are known for their over-the-top shows!

The Flaming Lips are known for their over-the-top shows!

Every autumn, Reykjavik rocks out as the Iceland Airwaves festival takes over the city.  The festival takes place over a long weekend (November 5 – 9 in 2014) across many venues in this compact city.  The festival, a favorite among festival aficionados, is a great way to get acquainted with up and coming talent from Iceland, Europe and beyond.  This year, one of the headliners are Flaming Lips, a festival favorite.

Iceland Airwaves started humbly in an airline hangar in 1999 and has quickly grown to be a citywide event.  Sponsors include the City of Reykjavik, and most importantly to the rest of us, Icelandair.  Why is that important?  Because Icelandair has put together amazing packages for the festival at super cheap prices.  Icelandair’s packages give you your flight (with all fees/taxes), a hotel for the length of your stay, and festival passes, all for what it would normally cost to fly from North America to many cities in Europe. (In fact, in the few cases I’ve checked, its cheaper!)

Less than $825/person for flight, hotel (w/breakfast) and festival passes? Stupendous!

Less than $825/person for flight, hotel (w/breakfast) and festival passes? Stupendous!

If you decide to get one of the packages, you may want to consider using the Club Carlson (Park Inn or Radisson Blu) hotels or the Hilton, in case the rates will allow for points accumulation.  Some sample packages, each include festival passes:

  • Boston departure, 4 nights hotel @ Park Inn Island (w/breakfast): $823/person
  • Seattle departure, 5 nights hotel @ Radisson Blu Saga: $1,136/person
  • Edmonton departure, 8 nighs hotel @ Park Inn Island (w/breakfast): $1,023/person

If you do choose a Club Carlson hotel, and you have status with any other major hotel chain, consider trying to get a status match to earn even more points (or possibly upgrades).  All you need to do is take a screenshot of your elite status with another brand and send it to with your Club Carlson number to: clubcarlson@carlsonrezidor.com.

Don’t forget to sign up for Icelandair’s Saga Club, their frequent flyer program.  Even if you never fly with Icelandair again, you can always convert your points to another airline via Points.com, donate your points to charity, or redeem the points for gift cards.

There is so much to do in and around Reykjavik, you may even want to stay a few more days to take a bus out to the Blue Lagoon, check out the Strokkur geyser, or soak up the culture and history of the city.  With the Icelandair package it’s so cheap to stay an extra few nights, why not?

Downton daytripping

Given my obsession with music, this wasn’t the British Invasion I would normally think to write about.   But face it, Downton Abbey has taken the world by storm, and those of you who love the show as much as I do will be elated about getting a chance to for a Downton fix in between seasons this year.

If you will be in the London area, consider hopping on a train from Paddington Station and taking the one hour trip to Newbury, home of Highclere Castle (the setting for Downton Abbey).  Highclere Castle is the private home of the Countess and Earl of Carnarvon, relatives of one of the founders of Tutankhamen’s tomb, and therefore it also features an extensive Egyptian exhibit.  As a private home, Highclere Castle is only open to the public during Easter school holidays and during the summer (when not used for filming).  You have to be quick when tickets go on sale because they are snapped up immediately (and Easter holiday dates are sold out already for 2014).  This year the summer holiday tickets will go on sale in February, so keep an eye on the Highclere Castle website over the next few weeks. (Update: As of February 3rd, tickets are now on sale!)

Highclere Castle (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

If you miss out on Highclere Castle tickets, you can still have some Downton fun with companies offering a wide range of tours, from all day tours featuring the Oxfordshire village of Brampton to private car hire from London that includes Highclere Castle admission.  Of course the rates are widely different, as is the transport type and opulence factor.

Have no plans or funds to make it to England?  Well, if you are on the Eastern seaboard, you are still in luck!  Take a drive out to the Winterthur Museum outside Wilmington, Delaware to take in the Costumes of Downton Abbey exhibit featuring 40 period costumes from the show.  And what better setting than the Winterthur Museum, a country estate laid out in the American opulence?  After working up a bit of an appetite wandering the formal gardens of Winterthur, consider heading over to the Hotel du Pont for a Downton-style high tea service, available daily at 3 p.m.  The Costumes of Downton Abbey exhibit will be on display from March 1, 2014 to January 4, 2015 ($20/person general admission, good for two days and includes garden tram tours).

A sample of Downton costumes. (Source: Deleware Tourism

A sample of Downton costumes. (Source: Deleware Tourism)

Canadian fans will get a short window of opportunity to experience a Downton Abbey costume exhibit as well, at Toronto’s Spadina Museum.  The exhibit, featuring 20 costumes, will run between March 11 to April 13, with timed tickets going on sale February 3, 2014 (general admission $25).  To complete its Downton offerings, the Spadina Museum will also feature a Tea and Tour package with high tea.

Big Guava: big festival, big savings

You may not have heard of it (yet), but that’s good.  It means that you can see quality acts for cheap.  Well, cheap for a festival. Big Guava is a new festival in Tampa, Florida that is sporting a lot of the big acts you’ll see around the concert circuit this year. A three-day pass for the inaugural year includes parking, free rides and general admission, and is still under $200 per person all in.  But you know what’s really cool?  Hotels are nearby and they are cheap! No ridiculous $500/night hotels like other festivals sporting many of the same bands.

What about the lineup?  Awesome!  Headlining are Outkast, Vampire Weekend, and Foster the People.  Other festival favorites include Cake, Grouplove, Haim, Violent Femmes, Tegan and Sara, Walk the Moon, Band of Skulls and many, many other fun bands.

Vampire Weekend draws a good crowd!

Vampire Weekend draws a good crowd!

The venue is the State Fairgrounds in Tampa, which has many inexpensive hotels nearby.  How inexpensive?  Well, if you want to pay up front, some are as cheap as $75/night plus taxes.  Many hotels are available on award nights as well, although if you snag a cheap rate, this would be a great time to earn points that you can burn on more expensive festivals later.

Violent Femmes still put on an awesome show!

Violent Femmes still put on an awesome show!

In fact, I’d recommend the two IHG (Holiday Inn and Staybridge) hotels, which have stackable promotions, in order to really get the points earning machine running.  Trust me, the IHG promotions will add up fast.  For the best info on how to sign up for IHG’s promotions, read the first post in this FlyerTalk thread, and then sign up for all of the codes at the bottom of the first post under ‘2014 codes in numerical order’.

Here are some of the great hotel deals:

Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites : Tampa-Fairgrounds-Casino (8610 Elm Fair Boulevard) – $127/night or 15,000 points

Staybridge Suites : Tampa East- Brandon (3624 North Falkenburg Road) – $155/night or 20,000 points

Comfort Suites at Fairground-Casino (4506 Oak Fair Blvd.) – $105/night or 16,000 points

Sheraton Tampa East Hotel (10221 Princess Palm Ave.) – $111/night or 7,000 points

With deals like these, hopefully many people will get to enjoy the super-talented acts coming to Tampa.  If you make it to Big Guava, please comment and let the rest of us know how it rates!

Geography nerd, music lover

I think I love music for the same reason I love geography.  It takes me to a place, the place where a musician brings all of his experience, his life and his environment to produce a kind of lyric poetry. Heralding a homeland, for all its faults and glories, to a tune I identify with.  I have loved the differences in this world since I was quite young.  My mother, a geography major as well, would take me to her Cal State Northridge geography courses when I was a baby.  Maybe that’s why maps, travelogues and glossy magazines with ‘geographic’ in the name have always felt like home.

From an early age, my mother would point to canyons in the distance, painted in the California sun.  She would look at me querulously and I always knew the next question.  ‘What kind of valley is it?  Was it formed by a river or a glacier?’  I would squint at the bottom of the valley, trying to discern the slope of its walls, thinking “‘U’ for glacial, ‘V’ for river”.  Or sometimes, driving along a high desert, my mother would point to some far off mountain range with its rippled skirts, and say ‘what is that?’  “An alluvial fan, Mom.”  I remember Neil Diamond and Barry Manilow on the 8-track during these conversations.

It’s no wonder we lived for road trips, with the long stretches of ribbon asphalt, never knowing what would be around the next bend.  Our coach was a small RV (aptly produced under the name ‘Dreamer’).  And that Dreamer took us from adventure to adventure, around the Western States and eventually across the country.

I would like to think those questions drilled into me, or the professorial harangues in the background as I snoozed in my snuggy, would spark a love of geography nearly as great as the true loves in my life.  Why do I ache for experiencing new places like some women would a new lover? Why I feel at peace when I experience a foreign stillness and beauty around me, even in this chaotic world?  Why do I immediately look up where a band is from when I hear a song I like?

Deap Vally, a taste of home.

Deap Vally, a taste of home.

I categorize almost all things geographically, and that includes musicians and bands.  I especially listen for differences when bands move.  How small town sounds, raw and inviting, become removed or aloof when the band moves to New York or Los Angeles.  Or here in Canada how bands from the Prairies or Maritimes move to Vancouver or Toronto and the focus of the music changes.

I came to this realization while listening to The Local Natives on Austin City Limits last night, a band from Los Angeles (of which I am a local native).  In a place as big as Los Angeles, there is no one particular sound or music type.  But what I loved the most about my formative years was the raw music and power of my favorite bands.  X, Bad Religion, Fishbone, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. In the beginning they were twangy and beautiful and raw.  And what I realize now is that when I hear a band from Los Angeles like the Local Natives or Deap Vally, it makes me feel like home in the same way a photograph does or the smell of the ocean.  I feel so drawn in during those moments of listening, drawn to that sprawl of vapidness that I found so beautiful and yet so heartbreaking.

From Myanmar to Austin: Side Effect wants to punk you up Burmese style. (source: Side Effect)

This connection of geography and music has spurred on a new love of festivals, which  bring together musicians from around the globe. I am excited for SXSW this year (my first year), with my interest especially piqued by the ‘Four on the Floor’ spotlights of bands by geographical location, as well as the geographical listings next to each band on the artist roster. To make the experience even more personal, I recently found out that the punk band Side Effect wants to be the first band to come out from behind the curtain of Myanmar to try to make it to SXSW.  It boggles my mind to think of what the journey and experience would do to their music, and for that reason I’m helping to support their quest on PledgeMusic.  I can’t wait to see if they make it, so I can hopefully check them out in person (and of course, report back here).

So what will a geography nerd do at a music festival this year? Why, map the bands I see (of course)!  So stay tuned this late March, as I create my first ever musician map of the bands I see at SXSW.

Award night hotels for New Orleans Jazz Fest

This year the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is celebrating its 45th anniversary with an all-star lineup.  One of the longest running festivals, it is also one of the most diverse in terms of music (despite the moniker).  This year the festival is being held over two long weekends, from April 25 to May 4.

The festival is held about 10 minutes north(ish) of the French Quarter in a residential area  and next to one of the iconic New Orleans cemeteries.  There really aren’t any options (other than one B&B) within walking distance, so the festival partners with Gray Line Tours for continuous shuttle service between three different stops near downtown and the French Quarter.  The shuttle gets preferential access to the site (meaning less traffic lineups), and is really a good deal.

Jazz Fest attendees are really lucky this year because there are still a few good hotels left on award nights within walking distance of the shuttle stops, and right smack in the middle of the French Quarter action.

Some of the fun from 2013! (Source: New Orleans Jazz Fest)

Weekend 1 & 2 Availability

Availability for the first weekend is pretty slim by now.  But there are a couple of options.

Country Inn & Suites New Orleans (315 Magazine Street) – 44,000 points/night
This hotel is closer to the convention center than the heart of the French Quarter, but not horribly far from a shuttle stop.  Not super close though for those that can’t walk 10 or 15 minutes.  For those that have a Club Carlson credit card, read up on award nights as you can save lots of points and a get an extra night free.

Wyndham Riverfront New Orleans (701 Convention Center Blvd) – 30,000 points/night
The Wyndham Riverfront, as the address suggests, is also right by the convention center. At 30,000 points/night, this is a good deal consider you would have to pay about $350/night to stay during the festival.

Weekend 2 Availability

IHG has a few more hotels available for the second weekend, in great locations.

Crowne Plaza New Orleans French Quarter (739 Canal Street) – 40,000 points/night
You can’t beat this location for fun, fun, fun in the French Quarter, and it’s just a few blocks to the shuttle stop in front of the Sheraton.

Intercontinental Hotel New Orleans (444 St. Charles Ave) – 50,000 points/night
The Intercontinental is a ritzy place also in the heart of the action, and also just a few blocks walk to the Sheraton shuttle stop.  It’s a bit more spendy, but this is a lovely hotel and a good deal for the points as well.

Have fun jazzing it up with these free stays in the Big Easy!