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From Rivers to High Sierras

The coolest festivals for the summer heat.

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Slaughter by the Water

When it comes to metal festivals, the Bay Area doesn't hold a candle against the East Coast or Europe. Thus, local metal heads are known to shell out big bucks to fly to the Scion Rock Fest or Maryland Deathfest. Why there isn't a comparable festival here when the Bay Area has produced such a strong lineage of talent is perplexing – and also tragic. So thought the organizers of Slaughter by the Water. Nicholas Gomez of Zombie Holocaust and Brian Montague held their first event last year at the Oakland Metro, with a strong thrash focus, appropriately. This year, they're going huge, booking bigger names, a more diverse lineup, relocating to the sprawling, 45,000-square-foot Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, and advertising all over the country. Confirmed acts include Nuclear Assault, Autopsy, Cattle Decapitation, Whiplash, Zombie Holocaust, Warbringer, Ludicra, Undivided, Vindicator, Dread, Hatchet, Insanity, Exmortus, and Witchaven. Montague says there will also be a "Heavy Metal Expo," featuring clothing, record label, and skateboard vendors, plus the heavy metal food truck, Grill 'Em All. (K.R.)

Outside Lands

When Outside Lands launched in 2008, it announced itself with guns blazing: The three-day outdoor festival promised to be the Bay Area's answer to Coachella or Lollapalooza, and its organizers came out of the gate with a remarkably high-profile lineup for a brand-new festival — Radiohead, Beck, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Jack Johnson. In the years following, the festival experienced its fair share of growing pains — namely: claustrophobia-inducing, movement-inhibiting bottlenecks in year one; shitty weather, slow ticket sales, and the last-minute withdrawal of headliners The Beastie Boys in year two; and an increasingly uninspiring lineup that reached its nadir with Furthur and Kings of Leon as headliners last year. But the bottlenecks have now been fixed, and bad weather's unavoidable in the Bay Area in August, and — most importantly — this year's lineup is easily the best it's ever been. Headliners Phish, Muse and Arcade Fire should satisfy those looking for the classic outdoor-festival experience, but even halfway down the bill you'll find acts that typically sell out on their own: Girl Talk, The Decemberists, Big Boi, Major Lazer, Arctic Monkeys. Pro tip: Download the iPhone app for maps, customizable schedules, and more. (E.C.)

Monterey Jazz Festival

In the 53 years since Monterey Jazz Festival's inception, jazz audiences have transformed dramatically, as have the definitions of "straight-ahead" and "avant-garde." That said, Monterey fest programmers remain committed to presenting all parts of the jazz eco-system. This year's showcase artist is Robert Glasper, a Blue Note pianist who slides easily between hip-hop, gospel, and be-bop idioms. His source material ranges from Thelonious Monk to J-Dilla hip-hop samples. Bay Area saxophone idol Joshua Redman will serve as the artist-in-residence, while post-bop pianist Geri Allen will debut her 2011 commission piece "The Dazzler," a jazzy homage to Sammy Davis Jr. Other locals at the 54th fest include modern jazz saxophonist Steve Coleman and Five Elements, Bay Area ex-pat organist Wil Blades, singer Pamela Rose, and Berkeley High alum Benny Green performing with his trio and special guest Donald Harrison in tow. They'll round out a program of A-list jazz musicians and pop artists, including Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Terrence Blanchard, Poncho Sanchez, India.Arie, Lionel Loueke, Chris Potter, and Joey DeFrancesco. Monterey has always prided itself in adventurous programming that's still scholarly. Clearly, it's succeeding. (R.S.)

Mission Creek Music and Arts Festival

If one goes to Noise Pop to see who's big, one should head to Mission Creek Music and Arts Festival to see underground talent that might one day become big. For the past fifteen years, a dedicated group of volunteers, led by founder Jeff Ray, has kept Mission Creek focused on highlighting emerging local talent in all genres, with little interest in catering to trends or who's "hot." Thus, you're likely to see bands you've never heard of, in venues you never knew existed. The organizers of Mission Creek have successfully expanded the festival over the years while remaining steadfast in its vision — this year they held an event in Iowa City, Iowa, and are adding literary events, art shows, and other performances to its schedule. Organizers pushed back this year's festival from July to September, but it will still be held in a dozen venues in San Francisco and the East Bay. The lineup hasn't been announced yet, so check the festival's web site as the date gets closer. (K.R.)

Reggae on the River

There are few better reasons to spend a weekend kickin' it in Southern Humboldt County than Reggae on the River, two days of wall-to-wall dub beats and reverence to Jah. Past editions have included hip-hop DJ Mix Master Mike, various members of the Marley dynasty, and tree-sitters (in the Julia Butterfly vein). This year's lineup bears both the Marley and the Kuti imprimaturs, thanks to main stage artists Ky-Mani Marley and Seun Anikulapo Kuti. Famously eccentric former Bad Brains frontman HR will also perform, along with crooner Gramps Morgan, who is part of yet another famed reggae lineage (he is one of Denroy Morgan's seventeen sons, five of whom formed the band Morgan Heritage). Tony Rebel, Queen Ifrica, Bushman, Rootz Underground, Sila, and Native Elements help round out the lineup. (R.S.)

Art and Soul

In 2000 — long before Art Murmur and the new Fox and the invention of Uptown, when Oakland was widely considered an art-and-culture wasteland — Art and Soul did something unheard of by showing us that downtown Oakland can be a bona-fide arts destination. Ten years later, the East Bay's OG arts and culture extravaganza is still going strong. This year's lineup has yet to be released, but the festival's well known for attracting big-name acts: Cake, MC Hammer, and En Vogue last year; Shawn Colvin in 2009; the Indigo Girls in 2008. Best of all, with tickets typically topping out at less than $20, it's significantly cheaper than almost any other music festival around. (E.C.)

High Sierra Music Festival

Bands with giant, obsessive cult followings will commandeer the main stage at this year's High Sierra Music Festival, a giant camp-out with four music venues, workshops, daily parades, and fire dance performances. This year's headliners include My Morning Jacket, Neko Case, and Ween, saxophone great Maceo Parker, jazz guitarist Bill Frisell with his Beautiful Dreamers, 78-year-old Jamaican ska pioneer Ernest Ranglin, and the Yonder Mountain String Band. A late-night after-party at the Funk 'n Jam House will feature San Francisco-based electronic belly dance group Beats Antique, and Oakland soul singer Audio Angel will serve as one of three artists-at-large. In keeping with the theme, festival organizers have arranged for nightly vaudeville shows and troubadour sessions. And there will surely be plenty of skiffle bands roving the grounds. (R.S.)

Sierra Nevada World Music Festival

What is it about Northern California and music festivals that lure the most world-famous reggae stars? Oh yeah, the kind bud. Seriously though, the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival has always brought A-list stars to the Mendocino County Fairgrounds, and this year's lineup doesn't disappoint. Reggae pioneers Toots & the Maytals, whose career is approaching the half-century mark, are the big draw, along with Steel Pulse. Ozomatli, Rebelution, Midnite, Anthony B, Horace Andy, Pablo Moses, and Thomas Mapfumo, among others, will also be on hand. The Bay Area will have a presence, too: local performers include Afro-Cuban outfit Jesus Diaz y su Qba, the eclectic Rupa & the April Fishes, and Oakland's Reggae Angels. There'll also be kids' activities, vendors, and plenty of opportunities to feel positive vibrations. As far as summer reggae festivals in Northern California go, this one should be near the top of your list. (K.R.)

Mountain Winery Concert Series

A show at Mountain Winery would probably be worth the schlep to Saratoga based on sheer bucolic splendor alone — think grassy knolls, vine-covered buildings, and beautiful, Mission-inspired architecture. But the winery also does a bang-up job booking big-name nostalgia acts for its annual summer concert series, housed in the winery's intimate 2,500-seat ampitheater. This year, highlights include Devotchka, The Indigo Girls, Emmylou Harris, The Psychedic Furs, Billy Idol (and about three dozen more). (E.C.)

Harmony Festival

With a name like "Harmony," it would be criminal for this festival not to be built on brotherly love. Hence the need for Michael Franti & Spearhead, who pretty much have the market cornered in that area. Primus and The Flaming Lips will also headline — no relation to the theme, but that alone should make Harmony worth the price of admission. And lest you think the name is just shorthand for some empty political credo, check out the speaker lineup. Featuring a full roster of quirky, left-of-center personalities like comedian Will Durst and beloved anti-corporate satirists The Yes Men, it puts a major premium on substantive content. The weekend kicks off with a Friday night tribute to Jerry Garcia, featuring Steve Kimock, Jesse McReynolds, Moon Alice, the Dave Nelson Band, and members of Railroad Earth. An eco village, tea house, people's parade, techno-tribal dance, "Goddess Grove," and "Harmony altar" will all help enhance the proceedings. (R.S.)

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