Editor's Note: Updated May 2019! Originally published Oct. 2018.
While they all share similar roots in culture, counter-culture and free love, Glastonbury, Burning Man and Coachella couldn’t be any more different. While Coachella won’t spare you a moment lost from all of the social media exposure, at Burning Man, you’ll be lucky if you could even get a cell phone signal. In the middle of Burning Man’s playa is an effigy that takes centre stage as its spine ignites its flames into the hollows of the sky, while Glastonbury and Coachella’s feature the world’s biggest bands and performers. What they have in common is that they’re life-changing experiences and while they may not all be your cup of tea, there may be one that belongs on your bucket list. They’re today’s top three world-class festivals, and here’s why.
What to Expect at Glastonbury
The biggest and most notable of the European music festivals, Glastonbury is known as one of the most diverse (and muddiest) performing arts festivals in Europe. Festival patron saint Kate Moss and her iconic mud-steeped Wellies may have helped put Glastonbury on the map for the next generation, but the festival’s rich history dates back to 1970, where legends like David Bowie and Velvet Underground took to the stage. Since then, the annual event has paved the way for today’s music festivals and continues to be the festival to end all festivals.
The festival grounds itself has been described as an amorphous dreamland. For five days leading up to the summer solstice, bands, arts installations, and tents where you’ll find everything from salsa dancing to chanting monks, take over the Somerset, England countryside (located about 225 km west of London). There are a couple dozen areas that make up the entire festival grounds, including the Pyramid Stage and The Other Stage, which are the main stages; a chilled out Acoustic Stage; Shangri-La, an after-hours epicentre which is like its own mini festival within a festival; and Glasto Latino and The Common, two of the festival’s biggest after-hours dance clubs and party hotspots. There’s so much to see and do and experience, five days won’t seem like enough time. Each day will fly by.
Not to mention the headlining acts and performers. In what almost feels like an afterthought in comparison to the spectacle of your surroundings, the revelation of bands and musicians that pass through Glastonbury cause a massive wave of excitement, even for those not attending, and this year may not be any different.
Glastonbury at a Glance-onbury
After breaking up in 2011, LCD Soundsystem reunited for a performance, following Coachella in 2016, and headlined with New Order, Adele, Beck, PJ Harvey, Chvrches, Coldplay and Muse. In 2017, Radiohead, Foo Fighters, Run the Jewels, Lorde and Ed Sheeran all took turns on the main stage. Glastonbury 2018 was a ‘fallow year,’ time taken off to let the greenfield recuperate, which has festival revellers spring-loaded in anticipation for Glastonbury 2019. Rumoured headliners for the Glastonbury 2019 line-up include Paul McCartney, ABBA, Madonna, the Arctic Monkeys, The Cure, Bruce Springsteen and Taylor Swift.
Glastonbury was one of the first to create the definitive festival experience and continues to uphold its reputation while donating most of the profits from the festival to charities like Oxfam, Greenpeace, and WaterAid, as it has done from the beginning. Glastonbury definitely belongs in your top three list of music festival tours. Glastonbury will take place from Jun. 26-Jun. 30, 2019.
What to Expect at Burning Man
Every year just before Labour Day, over 70,000 people from all walks of life come together for a boundary-testing week of self-discovery in the ephemeral Black Rock City, Nevada (located about 300 km north of Reno). With only the basic necessities in tow, burners navigate physically demanding desert conditions while actively abiding by a set of guiding principles that include self-reliance, inclusion, self-expression and participation. And then a wooden effigy so large it could probably be seen from space, is set on fire.
Burning Man is not your typical festival.
Described as an art experiment, the event grounds, or Playa, is a playground of art exhibits, installations, art cars, and anything else you could imagine from makeshift cinemas to pubs and restaurants. Everything is constructed in the weeks and months prior and then torn down at the end with the goal of leaving no trace behind, one of the guiding principles woven into the event’s cultural ethos.
You won’t find vendors trying to sell you items here. Instead, you’ll receive gifts, hugs, acts of kindness while you contribute your own part. Everyone is required to participate in one way or another with some form of interactive, creative and incredible experience. Attendees can also volunteer for any one of the departments that make up Black Rock City.
Like a scene out of Mad Max, everyone emerges from plumes of omnipresent dust. Every year there’s a different art theme. Everyone’s dressed to fit the art theme, their own theme, for the elements and omnipresent dust, or not at all (it’s an option). In 2018, the theme was artificial intelligence (I, Robot), and 2019 will be Metamorphoses, or the consuming journey of change. Burning Man will take place from Aug. 25-Sep. 2, 2019.
What To Expect at Coachella
It’s the Instagram-famous music festival that’s rocked the world since 1999, single-handedly (kinda) brought back flower crowns as a summer wardrobe staple, and regularly welcomes some of the world’s biggest musicians and performers to its stages to practically bring a house down of 126,000 people to its knees.
The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is a giant, annual three-day music festival held every April in the Indio, California desert (about 37 km southeast of Palm Springs).
Fringe-vested Hollywood celebrities can be spotted throughout the grounds, making their ways from stage to stage or through the complex of art installations, SoulCycle pop-ups, beauty bars, lavish lounges, and farmer’s market (yes, you read that right) beneath the famous balloon chain.
Coachella’s superfood selection is certainly at the top of its game, with plenty of vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free options, but let’s not forget what makes Coachella one of the world’s biggest music festivals. Coachella has always featured pop icons, rock legends and up-and-coming acts that would soon take the world by storm. The main stages have seen every big act you could imagine, from Prince, Paul McCartney, Morrissey and Lady Gaga to Radiohead, Jay Z, Beyonce, LCD Soundsystem, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine and the Beastie Boys. Coachella 2020's line-up will be announced in January, and takes place over two weekends every April.
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