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Sun, sweat and sound checks: Festival preview

Ready for a rock ’n’ roll road trip? See everyone from the Beastie Boys to Sonic Youth to The White Stripes at three of this year’s best music festivals. By Marry Mulholland
/ Source: contributor

You’ve set your watch forward an hour, the official spring equinox has passed, and you’re beginning to feel that you should be flipping burgers on the back porch rather than stuck in drive-home traffic. This can only mean one thing: Festival season is almost here.

While Europe dominates the big summer music festival circuit, U.S. festivals are increasingly shouldering their way into music-fan radar with shocking band reunions — the Jesus & Mary Chain will headline next month’s sold-out Coachella Festival in Indio, California — and impressive line-ups. The excitement of seeing 20 beloved bands in one place over a matter of days can outweigh festival cons (crowds, sweat, expense and port-a-potties).

For the festival beginner, the Pitchfork Music Festival (July 13 to 15) makes for a gradual introduction to the scene. Taking place in the urban headquarters of snarky, taste-making online music news site Pitchfork, and at a fraction of typical festival cost (a super affordable $35 for a two-day pass), the camping-averse can taste the drunken, dehydrated fruit of a summer festival and recuperate in the confines of a Holiday Inn. While Pitchfork is yet to announce its complete festival line-up, a sampling of their eclectic favorites — from husky-voiced pin-up Cat Power to coke-dealing hip-hop duo Clipse ­— promises a worthwhile weekend for the music blog addict.

In collaboration with the British festival All Tomorrow’s Parties’ “Don’t Look Back” Series, Pitchfork will present Sonic Youth performing their seminal 1988 album “Daydream Nation” in its entirety, start-to-finish. If you can stop hyperventilating for an hour or so and fork over your lunch money for this extra Friday night ticket ($15), this show will add teeth to the “once-in-a-lifetime” cliché.

Gorge yourself on musicIf mid-summer humidity isn’t your thing, you may opt for the temperate grandeur of the Pacific Northwest in spring: the Sasquatch Music Festival, takes place at western Washington’s Gorge Amphitheater over Memorial Day weekend (May 26 to 27). Besides its bold trio of mainstage headliners — Bjork, the Beastie Boys and the Arcade Fire — Sasquatch boasts an enticing array of newer artists.

The Gorge may be just big enough to accommodate the Zeppelin-inspired guitar thunder and howling vocals of Brooklyn power-psych-rock trio Earl Greyhound. And its green canyons may also be the ideal setting for the wistful Saturday morning pop of Swedish multi-instrumentalist Loney, Dear, and the gruff, bluesy campfire songs of San Francisco guitar-and-drum duo Two Gallants.

The smallest of Sasquatch’s three stages, the Yeti Stage, is largely devoted to showcasing regional favorites — with the impeccably taut, impossibly catchy Strokes-y rock of Seattle trio The Blakes most recently added to the roster.

Heavy-hitters hit TennesseeIf you’d rather choose from a menu of international superstars, the Bonnaroo Festival is this summer’s heavy hitter: The Police, Tool and The White Stripes all headline this four-day extravaganza in Manchester, Tennessee. Beyond its cast of indie-bands-gone-huge — Franz Ferdinand, the Decembrists and Wolfmother among others — the festival-goer willing to hang out at smaller, less crowded stages won’t be disappointed.

When the pale, glasses-wearing quartet Hot Chip line up behind keyboards, they’ll bring an electro-pop dance party that belies their computer engineer look. Scruffy Philadelphia band Dr. Dog, also renowned for their live show, will play their blissful, Beach Boys-inspired rock, intertwined with three-part harmonies and co-frontmen who alternately recall Joe Cocker and Ringo Starr. And if you need a break from the sunshine, don’t miss the harrowing melancholy of Austin, Texas’ drone masters the Black Angels.

So start saving your money, looking up cheap flights and befriending that neighbor with the fancy camping equipment. Pitchfork, Sasquatch and Bonnaroo are all guaranteed bets for a memorable summer weekend — and if you can’t swing the trip this summer, there’s always next year.

Note: Long Winters frontman John Roderick will be blogging about Bonnaroo for MSNBC this year.