12 of the Most Intimate Music Festivals in the US

Article by: Lauren Jahoda|@jahodarose

Wed May 13, 2015 | 00:00 AM

Gather ‘round! But do it quickly, because attendance is limited at these 12 US festivals that bring big names and big experiences to small audiences. The emphasis is upon the quality of each individual festivalgoer’s experience, rather than drawing the largest numbers possible – a boutique, bespoke-style trend that's growing throughout the global festival community. If you’re one of the select few who are lucky enough to get a ticket before they’re sold out, you will come away with memories of a lifetime. The old saying, “big things come in small packages” certainly holds true here. It can also be said that, size still matters, but here, in a very different way. Attend any one of these festivals and you’ll see exactly what we mean.

Pickathon, Happy Valley, Oregon

Pickathon stands out for many reasons. For one, although Pendarvis Farm spans 80 acres, the festival is capped at 3,500 people. There are no boundaries between owner, performer, volunteer and patron, only an atmosphere that guarantees each a rewarding experience. Here, the confines of designated press areas, audience areas, backstage-only areas, staff-only areas and artists trailers just aren’t necessary. The freedom to wander is not only allowed, it’s highly encouraged.

Eaux Claires Music Festival, Eau Claire, Wisconsin

This newcomer arrives in Wisconsin this July, created and curated by Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) as his homegrown celebration. Vernon will team with Aaron Dessner (The National) and the production group behind Boston Calling to bring EC to life. With a cap of 6,000, the first round of pre-sale tickets sold out on the day of its release.

Newport Folk Festival, Newport, Rhode Island

Shortly after Newport Jazz Festival (1954), George Wein delivered Newport Folk Festival in 1959 (alongside Pete Seeger), which years later came under the curation of Executive Producer Jay Sweet, who made the festival what it is today – a 10,000 cap sell-out fest nestled in historic Fort Adams State Park in Newport, Rhode Island. A single year at Newport Folk Festival means a lifetime with your “Folk Family.”

What The Festival, Durfur, Oregon

WTF began as a beachless beach party, with 60 DJs/musical acts and a huge wading pool in White River Valley. Only expecting to draw 1,200 fest-goers, WTF instead sold out at 2,000 attendees in its first year, and has since purchased Wolf Run Ranch – 250 acres near Mt. Hood in Dufur, OR, and increased their cap to a whopping 5,000.

Old Settler’s Music Festival, Austin, Texas

Old Settler’s emerged in the Austin, TX music scene around the same time as SXSW. In 26 years however, Old Settler’s remains beautifully the same, in all the right ways. While its lineup and musical acts get better and better with each year, the fest's size (10,000 cap), shape and color are all intact.

Solid Sound, North Adams, Massachusetts

Similar, and also senior, to Eaux Claires, Solid Sound is a festival curated for artists, by artists – a Wilco production from start to finish. Last year’s attendance reached about 7,500, and returns for its 4th festival (in 6 years) in 2015 at MASS MoCA in North Adams, MA. With falconry presentations, hikes, the largest contemporary art museum in the US, KIDSPACE and Circus Smirkus, the New York Times just recently recommended Solid Sound as a family-friendly festival.

Desert Hearts, Los Coyotes Indian Reservation, California

Roughly 2,500 people flock to the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation northeast of San Diego twice each year, to distance themselves from the corporate fest rules and mega fest crowds. The festival’s founders attended Coachella and left looking to create a smaller, vibe-focused festival with complete independence. Desert Hearts has no curfews, 72 hours of uninterrupted celebrations on a single stage, and a passionate, yet inclusive micro community of boutique fest lovers.

Levitation (Austin Psych Fest), Austin, Texas

The eighth edition of Austin Psych Fest arrives in 2015 with at least one notable alteration: its name, Levitation. Carson Creek Ranch, where the festival takes place, is located just a few minutes from downtown Austin and with an attendance of roughly 5,000, Levitation is considered a sanctuary for those who subscribe to its exemplary curation, picturesque landscape and an experience that is as unique to the festival scene as a fingerprint.

Way Over Yonder, Santa Monica, California

Newport Folk Festival expanded its “Folk Family” to the West Coast in 2013, with the introduction of its smaller, and much younger, sister festival, Way Over Yonder, way over, well, on Santa Monica pier, to be exact. Yep, there’s even a Carousel Stage. The camaraderie and spirit backing all Newport Folk events are alive and well on the west coast, from the grounds of Fort Adams to the wooden boards of Santa Monica Pier.

Treefort Music Fest, Boise, Idaho

This downtown Boise festival lands a spot on our list for its 400 bands, 17 venues, yet roughly 10,000-person attendance. Having just closed out its 4th year in March 2015, with new co-owners on board, the festival is finally beginning to see profitability for all the hard work behind it. The festival’s owner and founder, Lori Shandro, has paid out of pocket to cover the losses of the festival’s first 3 years, without ever taking a salary and instead, pays her co-founders. Like its founding fa[mo]thers, Treefort is a relentless contender on the US festival scene.

The Ride Festival, Telluride, Colorado

With practically every weekend of the summer season engrossed in another festival, Telluride, Colorado might just be the unofficial festival capital in the US. The Ride Festival is the newest to the Telluride scene, having gotten its start in 2012. With an attendance of 9,000 and impeccable musical acts, The Ride has quickly risen to the occasion and is sure to grow in the years to come.

Lightning In a Bottle, Bradley, California

Lightning in a Bottle began in 2000, as a private birthday party and since 2008, become a public event. Festival creators, the Do LaB, recently settled on a new festival home in the woods around Lake Skinner in Bradley, California. Although it just makes our capacity limit of 15,000 for the list, Lightning in a Bottle is known for its flawless execution, and has mastered the art of providing transformative creative experiences.