Ann Arbor is a far different place in the summer. Some would call it boring, but there’s a lot going on, both in town and nearby. Music fans are especially in luck – Michigan is within driving distance of some of the most exciting music festivals of the summer. And it’s not like you can spend five days watching great bands play in a dusty field during the school year.

Brian Merlos
(Image courtesy of newcenter.com)
Brian Merlos
(Image courtesy of rothbury.buzznet.com)

Rothbury Festival

Rothbury, MI

July 3-6

$244.75 – $475


There’s a lot of buzz surrounding the inaugural Rothbury Festival in Rothbury, Mich. A mere three-hour drive from Ann Arbor, Rothbury is a four-day festival boasting acts like the Dave Matthews Band, Widespread Panic, Modest Mouse, Primus, Yonder Mountain String Band and the Black Keys. Tickets are kind of pricey, but the show’s a whole hell of a lot closer than Bonnaroo and has a water park. And who can argue with a water park?

Comerica Cityfest 2008

Detroit, MI

July 2-6



It’s hard to get much closer, and you can’t get cheaper than free. The festival formerly known as Tastefest is, according to its website, “a five-day outdoor food and culture rich entertainment street festival in Detroit’s historic New Center over each Fourth of July weekend.” More than 40 restaurants will be selling samples of their cuisine, and the band lineup isn’t bad, either. Ann Arbor’s own NOMO, Great Lakes Myth Society, Lightning Love and Mick Bassett will be in attendance, as well as oldies legends the Zombies (they sang “She’s Not There” – trust me, you know it), as well as George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic. And if you’re looking for (inter)national talent, you’re in luck – Calexico and Broken Social Scene will be playing as well.

Ann Arbor Summer Festival

Ann Arbor, MI

June 13-July 6

Prices vary by event


I’d tell you to go to this festival, but you won’t have much of a choice – it pretty much dominates downtown Ann Arbor for a month. The Mainstage events are quite good this year, with Willie Nelson and A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor the main attractions. Top of the Park will feature their usual outdoor film showings and musical performances also, though the schedule hasn’t yet been released.

Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival

Manchester, TN

June 12-15

$209.50 – $244.50


Speaking of Bonnaroo, it’s looking to be another great year for the festival giant. The inclusion of Metallica is a tad mystifying, but is itself illustrative of Bonnaroo’s impressively diverse lineup. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss will be there, continuing their acclaimed collaboration, as will Pearl Jam, Jack Johnson, Widespread Panic, M.I.A., Iron & Wine, B.B. King, the Raconteurs, and, honestly, way too many more to even try to list here. Whether you really want to watch Sigur Rós play outside on a hot Tennessee day is your prerogative, but either way the show will be worth the drive.

Pitchfork Music Festival

Chicago, IL

July 18-20

$30/day, $65/weekend


If Rothbury is too expensive and Bonnaroo is too far, Pitchfork Media’s third annual festival may be just what you’re looking for. All Tomorrow’s Parties’s “Don’t Look Back” series continues this year on Friday with Public Enemy, Sebadoh and Mission of Burma performing their newly released albums. The rest of the festival is just as impressive, and will feature Animal Collective, Vampire Weekend, Spoon, Dinosaur Jr., M. Ward, !!! and the Apples in Stereo. At $65 and only three hours away, you have no excuse to miss this show.


Harbor Springs, MI

July 11-13

$63 – $85


This one’s a little different. Blissfest is a long-standing tradition in Northern Michigan, and brings together some of the best folk and dance music musicians around for a weekend of peace and love. This year’s festival will feature Ann Arbor darlings My Dear Disco, along with area favorites Seth and Daisy May and Steppin’ in it. Blissfest is a great place to sit in the sun and enjoy some great, obscure music.

Movement: Detroit’s Electronic Music Festival

Detroit, MI

May 24-26



This one’s coming up pretty fast, so you’ll want to get on it. The current incarnation of the DEMF will once again get Detroit moving this Memorial Day Weekend with a long list of electronic producers and DJs, including Detroit Techno pioneers Carl Craig and Kevin Saunderson. Mash-up mastermind Girl Talk will be playing live, and Moby will be spinning a DJ set.

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