Best of the fests

The festivals worth your time (and money) this summer

The cozy Huichica Music Festival at Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma.

The cozy Huichica Music Festival at Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma.

Photo courtesy of Huichica

As soon as it feels too hot to be spring in Northern California, you can hear the sound of drums beginning to beat in the distance, luring crowds to fairgrounds and parks for weekend-long music festivals that continue, one after the other, through the end of summer. Instead of running down the entire list, I’ve taken a critical look at the artists, locations and prices (sorry BottleRock and Outside Lands; can’t afford to spend the night!). Here are my recommendations for your 2019 festival season:

Wildflower Music Festival: May 4, End of Normal. A fun all-day fest in Chico! With live music by visiting and local performers, food trucks, beer, and stuff for kids to do, the annual benefit for Wildflower Open Classroom school, has stepped up its game. Performers include country-soul singer Nicki Bluhm, veteran groove band ALO and local jammers Electric Circus, Triple Tree, Hot Flash, and Wolf Thump. Tickets: $45.

Huichica Music Festival: June 7-8, Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Sonoma. Set in the scenic foothills, Huichica is a chill scene. Billed as a “micro-fest,” and featuring a broad range of mostly up-and-coming or below-the-radar indie acts, it doesn’t attract your typical crowds looking for megastars or to twirl in the dirt to a never-ending jam. This year’s headliners include New Jersey dream-pop crew Real Estate and R&B mainstay Lee Fields and his band the Expressions. Lodging might be pricey in Sonoma, but tickets aren’t that bad and you can get a free one by signing up at the website for a four-hour volunteer shift! Tickets: $55-$110 (single day) to $155 (two days).

Vans Warped Tour: July 20-21, Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View. In 2018, the long-running pop-punk/metalcore/ska/skate-punk cross-country tour called it quits. But it’s returning this year for a series of shows at three locations in celebration of what would have been its 25th anniversary. For the occasion, the caliber and selection of bands is largely improved, with the likes of Andrew W.K., Jawbreaker, Fishbone, Ozomatli, The Vandals and The Offspring on the roster for the Shoreline shows. Tickets: $71 (single day) to $141 (two days).

Kate Wolf Music Festival: June 27-30, Black Oak Ranch, Laytonville. Kate Wolf isn’t the biggest name in summer fests, but the quality of its offerings across four stages is better than most. This year, the ranch/hippie commune in Humboldt County will host an impressive selection of music legends—Kris Kristofferson, Los Lobos, Booker T, John Hiatt—and a wide range of Americana, folk and rock acts, including Poor Man’s Whiskey, Rainbow Girls and locals Joe Craven & The Sometimers. Tickets: $75-$110 (single day, no camping) to $230-$330 (two- to four-day passes, camping included). Parking extra.

Burger Boogaloo: July 6-7, Mosswood Park, Oakland. John Waters hosting anything is worth a drive to the Bay Area, but John Waters hosting two days of high-energy punk and garage-rock shenanigans is almost too much to handle. For its 10th anniversary, the event will bring in some true legends to headline—Australian garage-punks The Scientists and kings of reverb-drenched distortion The Jesus and Mary Chain—and fill the rest of the schedule with the likes of King Tuff and Shannon and The Clams. Tickets: $129 ($49 if you buy three together).

High Sierra Music Festival: July 4-7, Plumas-Sierra County Fairgrounds, Quincy. The party-weekend in the Sierra Nevada foothills is filled with typical groovy Americana and jam crews of the festival scene, including Greensky Bluegrass, Umphrey’s McGee, Leftover Salmon and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. Tickets: $75.75-$99.75 (single day) to $200.75-$290.75 (for two- to four-day passes, with camping). Parking extra.

California WorldFest: July 11-14, Nevada County Fairgrounds, Grass Valley. The premiere world music festival in the North State has an especially stacked lineup that includes reggae legends Toots and the Maytals, Mexican singer/songwriter Lila Downs and the spectacular Trombone Shorty from New Orleans. Tickets: $75 (one day) to $125-$195 (two to four days). Camping: $40.

Guitarfish Music Festival: July 25-28, Cisco Grove Campground & RV Park, Cisco Grove. If you’re looking to dance and groove into the night, but you want to avoid the crowds of High Sierra, consider making the trek into Tahoe National Forest for the more intimate Guitarfish. This year’s funk/jam/world lineup includes SambaDá, the California Honeydrops and energetic Mexican rockers Kinky. Tickets: $50-$90 (single day) to $180 (four days). Camping included; parking extra.

For the Funk of It: Aug. 10-12, Belden. The locally produced all-funk fest has a tight lineup that includes Matador! Soul Sounds, Five Alarm Funk, Mojo Green with Hornmageddon and locals Lo & Behold. Tickets: $125 (three days, with camping). Parking extra.