Gathering The Tribes: From Burning Man To Undersea Fests, Something For Everyone

Artist Larry Harvey and some of his friends gathered on Baker Beach in San Francisco on the evening of the summer solstice in 1986 and ritually burned an effigy – long rumored to represent a romantic rival – and Burning Man was born.

Now the grandaddy of outsider festivals – though not a music festival, per se – Burning Man quickly grew from a few friends on the beach to a gathering of more than 100,000 at its digs (since 1991) on the Black Rock Desert north of Reno, Nev.

Burning Man, with its elaborate art installations, theme camps and DIY ethic, has inspired a firestorm of “alternative” festivals that are as much about lifestyle, creation and community as music. A sampling of just a few of the hundreds of such events are listed here in date order.

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LIFE AS ART: A festivalgoer at Lightning In A Bottle, which last took place in 2019 at Lake Buena Vista near Bakersfield, Calif., is part of the show. The five-day event includes yoga classes, workshops, harm reduction seminars and, oh yeah, music. Photos By Jessica Bernstein

McMenamins UFO Festival
May 13-14 | McMinnville, Oregon

A 1950 UFO sighting is the inspiration for this outlier fest, now in its 24th year. Alien enthusiasts can hear expert speakers like author and UFO “experiencer” Whitley Strieber and Politico’s Bryan Bender, who reports on the Pentagon, NASA and aerospace industries. There’s also live music, an Alien Costume Ball, Alien Abduction Dash 5K, UFO parade and pet costume contest. Lineup includes Kirby Swatosh & the Moon Rock Patrol.

Lightning In A Bottle
May 25-30 | Buena Vista Lake, Calif.

Five days and nights of music, art, yoga, wellness workshops and other activities, this lakeside camping festival has evolved into a family-friendly retreat for self-expression and discovery for people of all ages, featuring music that goes deep into the night. Lineup includes Glass Animals, GRiZ, Kaytranada, Black Coffee, Four Tet, Chet Faker and more.

Melt! Festival
June 9-12 | Gräfenhainichen, Germany

Taking place in an “open air museum” called Ferropolis, the grounds are surrounded by gigantic iron machines, giving the fest a dystopian, steampunk aesthetic. Per its website, “All of the lifestyle and fashion scene’s music connoisseurs and trendsetters gather, melting into a limitless creative flow thanks to an authentic affinity for underground music culture capturing the zeitgeist.” Lineup includes Arlo Parks, Caroline Polachek, Jamie XX, Futurebae, Kareem Ali and more.

Secret Solstice Festival
Reykjavík, Iceland | June 24-26 (unconfirmed)

While this event’s website isn’t confirming dates or a lineup yet, the annual event within the Arctic Circle is considered to be one of the world’s longest parties – the sun doesn’t set for 72 hours. Side events including concerts inside glaciers, dormant volcanoes and natural hot springs set the stage for the Norse-themed fest, which includes a VIP Viking hot tub near the main stage. Past lineups have included Martin Garrix, Robert Plant, Rita Ora, Morcheeba and Pussy Riot.

Exit Festival
July 7-10 | Novi Sad, Serbia

Exit takes place in a medieval fortress and sources its roots to a 2000 Serbian democracy movement. Lineup includes Calvin Harris, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Iggy Azalea, James Arthur and more.

Underwater Music Festival
July 8-9 | Looe Key Reef, Florida

The Underwater Music Festival is exactly
as advertised. Waterproofed speakers are hung from a boat over the live coral reef
and play ocean-themed music while divers, often attired in mermaid and other thematically appropriate costumes, play “instruments” such as the “trom-bonefish” and “fluke-a-lele.” It’s all in fun for a good cause: protecting live coral reefs including Looe Key Reef. Lineup includes The Little Mermaid, Nemo, Mr. Limpet.

Flow Festival
August 11-13 | Helsinki, Finland

Flow Festival started in 2004 in an old railway warehouse and was organized by the music collective Nuspirit Helsinki to introduce music “that the organizers personally found exciting” – and to promote innovative urban development. Lineup includes Gorillaz, Florence + The Machine, and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.

Desert Daze Festival
Sept. 30 – Oct. 2 | Lake Perris, Calif.

It may not be Joshua Tree, but Lake Perris provides a perfect backdrop for the psychedelic-adjacent festival. This year’s lineup hasn’t been announced yet, but 2021 included The War On Drugs, Kamasi Washington, Toro y Moi, Japanese Breakfast, Tim Heidecker & Weyes Blood performing Fear of Death, Yves Tumor, and Ty Segall.