Top 5 Free Music Festivals in America

Publish date:

SUMMER IS COMING, and as far as many music fans are concerned, that only means one thing: music festival season is in full-gear. Unfortunately, for many music lovers, the financial burden of supporting the biggest festivals—think Coachella, Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits—has become crippling in the last decade in a half. What’s changed? We’ll let Matthew Ismael Ruiz of Flavorwire answer that: 

So what’s different about festivals in 2016 vs. 2001? Well, for one, more people are attending. In its inaugural year, Coachella drew 25,000 fans. Last year? 180,000, over six days and two weekends. Prices are also ballooning. A pass to the first Bonnaroo, for example, cost $100. This year? Early birds got in at the discount price of $325. Even accounting for inflation, these are significant increases. 

And it isn’t only “the big three” with expanding ticket prices, smaller fests are getting in on the action too. New York City’s Governors Ball (who this year boast Kanye West, The Strokes, and the Killers as headliners) goes for $305 for their three-day stint. Attending Dover, DE’s Firefly festival (presented by Coachella organizers Goldenvoice and featuring the likes of Mumford and Sons and Florence and the Machine on their lineups) will put you back $299 for a four-day pass. On top of that throw on travel expenses, lodging, food, drinks, and you’ve got a tough pill to swallow.

Fortunately, there are several great music festivals sprinkled across the U.S. that don’t cost a dime at the door. We’ve looked into some of the and these are your best bets for a free music festival in 2016:


French Quarter Festival, New Orleans (April 7-10)

Arguably the largest music festival in the entire country, French Quarter Festival has grown rapidly since its inception in 1984. Here every kind of music lover can find a place to enjoy themselves, because the entire city fills up with jazz, blues (can you even imagine New Orleans without it?), and other music genres like funk, Latin, classical, Cajun, rock, swing, and world music. You shouldn’t have to look hard to find a solid groove. And the best part is, that you won’t need to pay to be there—just don’t forget to take a bit of money to enjoy traditional cuisine items like Jambalaya or Cajun meat pies! 


Make Music Pasadena, Pasadena (June 11)

Despite the sad fact that Make Music Pasadena lasts only for one day, it’s always full of life. An astonishing 150 music performances take place on 30 stages and venues spread out across beautiful Pasadena. The music here mostly leans rockish, but the jovial spirit is universal—hundreds of restaurants line the streets of Downtown Pasadena, making it something of a foodie Mecca. Unique selling point? MMP invites all furry attendees as long as they are leashed—so don’t leave your dog at home.


Festival International de Louisiane, Lafayette (April 20-24)

One of the most unforgettable free festival experiences available might just be the Festival International de Louisiane, the largest Francophone music and arts festival in America. Every April, FIL runs for five days of Francophone music from the Louisiana region, as well as France, Belgium, Nova Scotia, Quebec, the Ivory Coast, Israel, and many other international locales. Even better, FIL also doubles as one of the premiere food festivals in the region, boasting dozens of food vendors pulling inspiration from Spain, France, and Africa. In a musical festival landscape where most major lineups feel indistinguishable from each other, the Festival International de Louisiane feels truly special. 

hardly strictly bluegrass.jpg

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, San Francisco (September 30-October 2)

Each fall at the legendary Golden Gate Park you can stop by at one of the wildest festivals in the United States: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. Originally named Strictly Bluegrass, this festival started in 2001 and was a small celebration of American Roots music. Nowadays, the festival welcomes massive crowds—some 750,000 people attended in 2015—all free of corporate sponsorship. We can thank festival patron billionaire banker Warren Hellman, who started this festival with the noble mission to bring good music to as many people as possible. Now in its 16th year and bigger and better than ever, it’s safe to say that mission has been accomplished—and with the sizable endowment Hellman left for the festival, it will continue to be for years to come.


Musikfest, Bethlehem (August 5-14)

One of the oldest festivals on this list, Musikfest is worth visiting if you are a music lover counting every penny. First held in 1986, this truly massive music festival attracts about 1 million visitors each time it is hosted, thanks to its hybrid system of free and ticketed stages. In the past, Musikfest has hosted the likes of Duran Duran, CAKE, Sheryl Crow, and Kesha, alongside its various free stages. A unique feature here—or perhaps a caveat?—is that Musikfest is billed as a music festival for everyone, including families with small children. 

All that’s left is your standard festival prep—comfortable shoes, breathable clothes, so much water, maybe a tent, a sleeping bag. We can’t help you get all that for free, but there are plenty of deals available out there, like these Kohl’s coupons, that can help make your festival-going that much easier on the wallet.