How To Festival: Basics For Beginners

As we prepare to head back to our old Kentucky home for Forecastle (we may even be flying through the air as you read this), we’re trying to contain our excitement at seeing favorite bands, old and new. But festival-ing is serious business, and it’s best to have a plan of attack to truly get the most out of your experience. And so we present: How To Festival – Basics for Beginners.

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Part I – Travel: Getting to and from the festival venue is key. Forecastle is pretty chill, as festivals go, and it’s not a requirement to camp out (though there is space for that if you like). We like being able to sleep in the comfort of our adolescent bedrooms after a day sweating it out in the sun. But whether you’re camping out or arriving anew each day, how you’re getting there is important. Assuming you’ve got initial travel covered (from your home to the festival city), you need to secure transportation from the place you’re sleeping to the place you’re soaking up the sunshine and the tunes.

If you’re headed to a Bonnaroo-style festival, make sure your get there early enough to place your tent in a prime area. Or if you’re like us and prefer a roof over your head in the evenings, we recommend staying someplace within walking distance of the festival, or securing a designated driver. Safety first! We managed to secure Zelda’s little brother as our chauffeur for the weekend (thanks, broseph!).

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Part II – Weather Preparedness: Zelda texted me on Monday, “It’s supposed to rain all weekend.” Devastating news, yes, but will it stop us? NEVER! This is just another factor we have to take into account for our festival plan. Before you leave your abode, check the forecast and see what you’re up against.

If it looks like rain, pack a poncho or a rain jacket; don’t be the douchebag with the umbrella blocking the view for the people in the back (you don’t want to have to carry  an umbrella around all weekend anyway). Rain or shine, it’s definitely summer, so even if it’s overcast WEAR SUNSCREEN. This is life advice for festivals and general outdoor events: Skin cancer is a real and serious concern, and sunburns will mar all your happy festival memories when you realize you can’t move your shoulders without pain and your eyelids are peeling.

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Part III – Gear Up: Be selective with the stuff you bring. It’s important to be prepared, but you’re going to be mobile for most of the weekend, so the less stuff you need to carry around, the better. Top five things you should have on hand? Water bottle, rain jacket, sunscreen, money, and phone (bonus points for a back-up charger).

It’s also important to dress for function and fashion. I know you want to embrace that sundress life, but don’t underestimate the importance of pockets. And we can’t over-emphasize the importance of your shoe choice. Again, we all want to to look as cute as possible, but your feet won’t thank you for breaking in your new strappy sandals over those three days. This also applies to that comfy pair of flip flops that you love so much. You’ll thank me when the toe thong doesn’t pull through the sole, leaving you shoeless during the last headliner as the rain starts to pour. If you’re not a tennis shoes/sneakers person, may I suggest you embrace the sport sandal lifestyle. My Chacos have lasted me ten years, and they’re still going strong.

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Part IV – Scope it Out: Make a plan. Decide which bands are priorities for you, and which ones you can skip. Plan in downtime to peruse the vendors and rehydrate and eat. When you arrive, get the lay of the land. LOCATE THE RESTROOMS along with the food concourse, each stage, and ways to sneak into the VIP area and use their fancy bathrooms… A lot of festivals have apps where you can create your own line-up and make sure you get to see everyone you desire.

And as corny as it sounds, pick a designated meeting point. That way, if people get lost or you go your separate ways before the end of the day, everyone can meet up when you’re getting ready to leave.  On a related point, you should also have a contingency plan. If for some reason (severe weather, electronic malfunction, etc.) the festival is suspended, know where you’re going to meet and what you’re going to do during that time. Pick a restaurant, bar, or some sort of indoor venue where you can ride out the storm (literal or metaphorical).

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Part V – Forget Everything I Said: Okay, not all of it. But half the fun of the festival life is going with the flow, following your whims and the whims of the weather and the people around you. Dance in the rain. Run barefoot in the dirt and mud. Be a cliché (you know you want to). Enjoy yourself, and don’t stress out about it. It’s meant to be fun, so have fun….but seriously please wear sunscreen.

Long Time Gone

Wednesday morning I woke up early. My weird work schedule has me basically nocturnal of late, so I was shocked to discover that a. 6:15 a.m. is an hour that exists and b. it’s light outside, at least in my corner of Brooklyn. I stumbled through the steps of getting ready: brush teeth, wash face, yawn vociferously, put a little mascara on. A couple taps of my phone and I was out the door, waiting for a man named Nessely to take me away.

We rolled through the streets of Crown Heights, and Bed-Stuy, and Williamsburg, finally sweeping onto the BQE. The Manhattan skyline looked groggy, too. The early morning sunshine streaked the office towers and apartment buildings, still scrubbing the sleep from their eyes, as we passed into Queens. Nessely didn’t talk much, just bobbed his head along to the radio — a Cameroonian station, as best I could tell, from the bits of French I caught, the lilts and slurs so different from the Parisian accent I’m accustomed to. Dropping me off, he swung my little suitcase out of the trunk with practiced ease. “Have a safe flight,” he said. “You too,” I replied. ‘Oh, um, I mean…,” but he was already gone.

The reports of long TSA lines have not, I fear, been greatly exaggerated. With the businessmen and the moms wrangling toddlers and the overexcited Midwestern tweens fresh off their first New York experiences, I began to regret my decision to forgo coffee and breakfast at home in favor of a few more moments sleep. Inch by inch, we crept forward. A caravan of wheelchairs blocked the line for a good five minutes. The Au Bon Pain man stopped us again to run several large plastic boxes of sandwiches and wraps through the x-ray machine. My toes shrank from the cold tile floor as I juggled tote bag and suitcase in one hand, industrial grey plastic box containing my laptop and sandals, lotions and potions in the other. “Welcome to LaGuardia,” an LED sign flashed at me, optimistic. I texted a picture to a friend who replied, “Hey look, they misspelled hell.”

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I like airports, as a rule. Despite the security hassles and long lines and bad food, there’s something about them that thrills me, scratches my wanderlust. They’re places of potential: to go anywhere, be anyone. I settled into a cracked pleather seat for a breakfast sandwich, a coffee, and some people watching. The sandwich was cold. The coffee was needed. The people watching yielded a smattering of solo travelers like myself, but a much larger number of family units, all seemingly headed back to Somewhere, Middle of America after a jaunt to the big city, bearing plastic  bags from the M&M Store and Madame Tussaud’s bulging with souvenirs for the folks who didn’t make the trip.

I always have ambitious plans for my travel time, stocking my laptop with movies and TV shows and bringing multiple books and a magazine or two — something for whatever mood I find myself in. But instead, as usual, I slept. I snoozed right over New Jersey and Pennsylvania and Ohio, waking up somewhere over Indiana with just enough time for an episode of “You’re the Worst” before I landed in Chicago.

The flight from Chicago to Louisville is, as our flight attendant kept reminding us, extremely short, so we better “chug-a-lug those drinks.” Less than an hour (and one hastily drunk ginger ale) after take off, I peered out the windows, hungry for a glimpse of familiar landmarks. The brown and green patchwork remained largely anonymous, but I still felt a frisson of excitement, and something deeper too. I was making my descent to home.

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It was hot when I got off the plane, hot as I waited by the curb, hot as my brother drove me home in my, now his, car, which has many wonderful qualities (among them the fact that she has kept running for 22 years), but air conditioning is not one of them. Lucy got us back to the house, sweaty and disheveled but in one piece, which is the point, really, when riding in a Volvo older than its driver. A quick shower, a round of hugs, and some scarfed leftovers later, and I was back in a car: dad at the wheel, brother in the co-pilot seat, my sister beside me in the back playing DJ.

Cincinnati, Ohio, is 100 miles from Louisville, give or take. It sits on the river, like us, a city straddling two regions, but leaning on its Midwestern foot where we tilt Southern. We were eager to arrive at our destination, opting for a dinner of drive-thru Steak and Shake so we wouldn’t lose any time. We arrived, finally, as storm clouds were just starting to darken the sky. Thirty minutes of attempting to find parking and few last-minute checks later, we were on our way, so close to victory we could taste it.

I don’t know if any of you have ever been to Riverbend Music Center, but it is a strange place. The complex seems to go on for miles, encompassing a water park, race track, casino, movie theatre, a carnivalesque cluster of rides and games dubbed “Coney Island,” and who knows what other entertainment. Our goal was the J. Ralph Corbett Pavilion, which turned out to be a large hill constructed of concrete and covered in bright green astroturf. The place hummed with chatter. Having come from Crown Heights that morning, the sudden onslaught of cut-off shorts, cowboy boots, fake tans, Bud Light tallboys, and other accoutrements of Middle America was a bit jarring. We spread out our blanket, dubbed the drunk biddies squawking to our left “basic bitches,” and settled in to wait.

You know what livens up 20,000 people waiting for a show? A sudden and fierce influx of rain. The skies above the Ohio opened up with a vengeance, dumping a sudden load of large drops on the crowd the way only Southern rainstorms can. There was a moment, among the squeals and frantic covering of hair-dos, where I feared there might be a riot, but everyone seemed to accept the wet. We were all so excited to be there. We had been waiting for years. And nothing and nobody was going to rain on our metaphorical parade.

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Luckily for us, the skies did clear eventually, turning a delicate shade of cotton candy pink. The openers came and went, and the crowd grew restless. We were all damp and frizzy, our beers long gone. The obligatory family selfie had been snapped. And then, just as I started to really feel the meager four hours of sleep I’d gotten the night before, I heard a familiar strain of guitar. It was joined by a banjo and a fiddle. The crowd rose up. And onto the stage stepped the Dixie Chicks.

Now we’ve written on here before about our love for the Dixie Chicks, those three Texas gals that provided the soundtrack to our childhoods. I’ve loved them for as long as I can remember, dating back to elementary school carpool rides (I still expect a skip when I listen to “If I Fall You’re Going Down With Me,” even though I now jam out to my phone or computer instead of the battered CD that I received for a single-digit birthday many moons ago). Scout and I lost our goddamn minds, in all caps, when they announced their reunion tour. And my family was equally excited. Music is a big deal in my house — my parents did meet in a choir, after all, so the nightly songtime and many family singalongs shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise — and one of the largest figures in our familial canon is the Dixie Chicks. So when the tour was announced, with the first stop a mere hour and a half from home, my siblings and I had an idea. We would buy tickets, four of them (my mom, while a great lover of music, is not a lover of loud concerts or large crowds, so she opted out). And for Christmas (albeit 5 months delayed), we would take our dad to the show.

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So it was that I found myself on the banks of the Ohio, with my favorite people in the world, listening to one of my favorite bands. And it’s true, there were mosquitos and rain and a group of obnoxious women next to us who kept yelling at Natalie Maines to play fewer slow/new/cover songs. But overall, it was perfect, from “Taking the Long Way Around” to the Ben Harper they closed with, the whole crowd chanting about how we believed in a better way. There was a moment, in the throes of “Goodbye Earl,” when I realized what was so special about it. There were older people at the concert, and some skinny teenagers who documented the entire occasion on Snapchat. But the vast majority of the audience was between the ages of 20 and 30 and female. They, like me, grew up with this band. We loved them, fiercely, in the way you only really love bands or books or other cultural touchstones that you encounter as a kid and take on as such a fundamental part of your identity, you can’t fathom your life without them. As Natalie put it when she opened the show, “Well, it looks like the kids grew up. And y’all look fucking great.”

To that I can merely say: thanks girl.  We learned it all from you. Welcome back. Welcome home. And I can’t wait to see y’all again in a couple weeks.

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May Playlist: Once You’ve Loved Somebody, or The Dixie Chicks and How They Made Us

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to talk about a band. On the surface, this is a simple story of three Texas gals — a fiddler, a strings player, and a singer — who found each other and started making music. They released four albums, toured the world, ran into some hot water with their conservative fans by expressing uncomfortable truths, took some time off to make babies and marriages and lives outside a tour bus. And then, one day in November 2015, they made an announcement to the world. They were back. And we promptly lost our goddamn minds.

Because, you see, the Dixie Chicks are so much more than a band. They were our teachers and therapists and cool big sisters, providing the soundtrack to our childhoods and teaching us about love and loss and confidence and humility. They taught us what it meant to be a woman, and to be a Southern woman: how to stand your ground and fight for what you believe in, that it means to embrace your heritage and make it your own, that being vulnerable is not the same thing as being weak. Their songs are embedded in our bones, woven into the very fabric of our souls. There are certain bands that come along at crucial points in your life, that speak to the very heart of you and never let go. That is what the Dixie Chicks are to us. They are home.

We knew, the second they announced they were heading back out on the road again, that we needed to be there. Luckily, Scout’s momma agreed, and so come June 13th we will be in Madison Square Garden with her and our bestie Katie to soak it all up (Zelda, truly blessed, is actually seeing them TWICE, first with her family on June 1st. Scout doesn’t want to talk about it.). And as we count down the days until that fateful night, we’re reacquainting ourselves with the canon, greeting familiar songs like old friends. These are some of our favorites, in the order in which they entered our lives (this was in the time before shuffle, y’all, when we would buy the physical CDs and stick them in our boomboxes, letting them unfold like a magical, musical story). This is the story of how three gals shaped two gals, and helped bring them together as friends. We hope you love them as much as we do.


As always, you can listen along here, or we’re on YouTube and Spotify.

5 Reasons We Love The Secret Sisters

We first discovered The Secret Sisters at our hometown music festival, Forecastle, many years ago. We ventured onto the grass by the Bourbon Lodge (yes, that’s a thing we have in Kentucky — a lodge just for bourbon) during a lull in our schedules, and lucky for us, we happened to witness Laura and Lydia Rogers do their thing. They’ve featured on many a Zelda & Scout playlist (most recently our Southern Gothic-themed October playlist). We loved their debut album and their sophomore effort. We love their style and their wit. We love them. Here are five reasons why.

1.  Rich Musical Heritage: The Secret Sisters grew up just outside historic Muscle Shoals, Alabama. In the 1960s, Muscle Shoals was home to  two studios — FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio — that hosted some of the most famous names in music: Aretha FranklinOtis Redding, and Bob Dylan, just to name a few. Spending their formative years in the shadow of some of the most important music of the 20th century, it’s only right that the sisters’ sound pays homage to that history.

2. Old School Southern Sound, with a Modern Twist: The Secret Sisters’ self-titled 2010 first album puts a modern lady twist on a lot of  traditional country classics, from old ballads like “Why Baby Why” and “Do You Love an Apple” to jazz standards like Frank Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid.” The classics are deftly mixed in with a couple original songs (“Tennessee Me” and “Waste the Day”). They established their sound by paying tribute to the genre’s history before venturing into more songwriting on their sophomore album. And on Put Your Needle Down, their 2014 follow-up record, they brought the same old school sound, but with their own twist, on originals like the deliciously dark “Iuka” and the cheeky “Good Luck, Good Night, Goodbye.”

3. Sisterly Love: We love nothing more than a family affair when it comes to music. Zelda’s own family is all about music bringing the family together, after all. And in a world that often pits women against each other, even sisters, we’re happy to see two ladies embracing their love for each other and creating as a team.

4. Enviously Cool Vintage Style: Okay, this is seriously one of our favorite things about The Secret Sisters: They’ve brought their vintage sound over into their wardrobe. From state fairs to Letterman, they always look like they walked out of an early episode of Mad Men, or are doing an exceptional job channeling our favorite Marvel heroine, Peggy Carter, with their dresses and hair in victory rolls and pin curls. Most of all, they are big proponents of body positivity, which is nice to see from anyone in the entertainment industry.

5. Humor: Perhaps not evidenced simply through their music, Laura and Lydia are funny. Their live shows are full of jokes and stories that make us downright guffaw. Their show at City Winery remains one of our favorites that we’ve seen in the city in these last three years, a perfect mix of beautiful tunes and down-to-earth banter, such as you only find between sisters.

The Rogers ladies are between labels at the moment (a tragedy, in our opinion). So until they drop another album, you can feast your ears on their self-titled debut and their amazing second album, Put Your Needle Down.

Photos via: The Secret Sisters and The Southern 

November Playlist: City of Strangers

Commuting is an integral part of New York City life — hours spent on crowded subway platforms, sweltering in the summer and icy in the winter months, smelling of piss and one dollar pizza. When you climb into that packed train car at 8:30 a.m. (or 3:15 p.m. in Zelda’s case), your headphones are your only defense against the hordes of other sleepy, uncomfortable, resentful New Yorkers who’ve chosen to shove themselves in a metal tube and hurtle towards their daily grind. So the music you choose is important: It’s the thing that keeps you going when your train is stalled between stations, drowns out the preachers and the kids selling fruit snacks and the dancers’ cries of “Showtime!” This month’s playlist is all about songs that will keep you moving…even if your train isn’t.

These are tunes that move to the rhythm of rails, whether MTA, Amtrak, or Eurostar. They’ve seen us through signal delays and journeys up and down the coast, early mornings when we haven’t had enough coffee and late nights when every jolt and screech inches us tantalizingly closer to our beds. We’ve got several newcomers to the Z&S musical catalogue this month: from British basso George Ezra, alt-soul Chicago duo Milo&Otis, Brooklynite Chris Staples, and Minnesotan Jeremy Messersmith to Vampire Weekend, Troye Sivan, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Beach Weather, and Her Majesty Adele (here we have classic bestie favorite “My Same,” but if we’re being perfectly honest, our commute this month has been all about her newest track, just like the rest of the humans…). And, of couse, some old favorites make appearances as well, from Seth Avett’s sweet “Ballad of Love and Hate” to Ingrid Michaelson’s end-of-the-night, no-delay-will-get-us-down, dance-around-the-kitchen anthem, “One Night Town.”

So if you see us this month on a fluorescent-lit car somewhere, you can bet this is what is bumping our eardrums. A little bit sweet, a litte bit sad, a little bit “Screw you, MTA!” These are the songs that carry us on.

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As always, you can listen along here, or we’re on YouTube and Spotify.

August Playlist: Change is Gonna Come

Oh man, guys. This month is a lot. Zelda moved to a new hood, Scout got a new roommate and continues to search for new employment, and it feels like pretty much everything in our lives in in limbo at the moment. So what do we do in times of uncertainty, when we find ourselves untethered and compass-less as we attempt to navigate this crazy city? We stick our headphones in or turn our Jambox up, and we let these songs soothe our anxious souls. Sometimes life throws you curve balls. Sometimes we can’t see the path. But we try to lean into the uncertainty, embrace the new opportunities. And, when all else failsdance. it. out.

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As always, you can listen along here, or we’re on YouTube and Spotify.

Come Hear the Music Play

Summer has been in the New York air this past week (something which, for many months, we wholeheartedly believed we’d never be able to say again). The sunshine and the palpable humidity have put us in mind of one of our favorite summertime, and Southern, activities: listening to music in the great outdoors. May is also the real kick-off to festival season in the South, with Jazz Fest (New Orleans) and Shaky Knees (Atlanta) getting things off to a rip-roaring start. There’s more to summer music-going down in Dixie than a certain Tennessee tent city. Here are six of the options available to you south of the Mason-Dixon line if you’re looking for sunshine, songs, and a damn good time.

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Rooster Walk (Axton, VA): Created to honor two childhood friends, Edwin “The Rooster” Penn and Walker Shank, who passed away in their 20s, this annual shindig at Pop’s Farm draws around 3,500 people each year for a celebration of life, community, and music.Named the Number One Under the Radar Festival in the South by Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine and recently features in Huffington Post, Rooster Walk has raised over $70,000 for scholarship funds and other charities — a damn good time for a good cause to boot.

When: May 21-24

Price: $135 for the weekend, $25-50 for a single day

Do I Have to Sleep in a Tent: You may if you so choose.

Don’t Miss: Lake Street Dive! Their smooth retro jams are headlining on Friday at 8:30 p.m.

For More Info: roosterwalk.com

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Free Press Summer Fest (Houston, TX): A raucous, rain or shine good time held in Eleanor Tinsley Park. Houston has been enjoying a hipster renaissance of late, constantly topping lists of the country’s best cities for young folks looking for opportunities both professional and recreational. From the headliners (R. Kelly, Weezer, The Decemberists, St. Vincent…) down to the itty bitty stages (Houndmouth, Brandi Carlile, The Mountain Goats, and more), this festival proves it’s true what they say: Everything’s big in Texas.

When: June 6-7

Price: $168.50 for the weekend

Do I Have to Sleep in a Tent: No siree Bob.

Don’t Miss: Belle and Sebastian! This Scottish duo hardly ever tours in the U.S., and it is one of the greatest tragedies of my life that I have never seen them live. Don’t make the same mistakes I did, kids.

For More Info: fpsf.com

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Forecastle (Louisville, KY): Our favorite of the summer music festivals. We may be biased since it is in our hometown, allowing us to festival it up by day and then sleep for free and in our own beds at night, but even so this festival offers a pretty perfect balance of big name acts and local talent, while also providing a pretty wide array of genres for its size, and tons of yummy local food options to boot. Held on the banks of the Ohio, we came for the face paint and the sunshine and stayed for the Bourbon Lodge.

When: July 17-19

Price: $184.50 for the weekend, $74.50 for the day

Do I Have to Sleep in a Tent: Nope!

Don’t Miss: Houndmouth! Our favorite things to ever come out of Indiana are making the 3rd appearance at the festival (and 2nd on the big kid stage).

For More Info: forecastlefest.com

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Sloss Music and Arts Festival (Birmingham, AL): Can’t make it up to Louisville? Check out this brand new festival sashaying onto the scene this year. The folks behind Sloss want to celebrate the “regional craft beer and specialty cocktail scene,” along with great food and great music. And even though they’re newbies, their lineup is kickass — from The New Pornographers (one of my favorites) to Modest Mouse to Tyler, the Creator. Also, they suggest you bring a hula hoop. Interpret as you will.

When: July 18-19

Price: $135 for both days

Do I Have to Sleep in a Tent: No ma’am!

Don’t Miss: The Avett Brothers! We love these guys wherever we see them, but their Americana sound is really best enjoyed outside, preferably under a sunset, with fireflies in the air.

For More Info: slossfest.com

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Floyd Fest (Floyd, VA): Small and mighty, showcasing the best of Appalachia and the American music tradition (with plenty of contemporary rock in the mix), these guys describe themselves as a “magical musical mountain experience.” If that wasn’t enough to convince you, check out the line-up (from Emmylou Harris on down to new-favorite-band-name Chamomile and Whiskey) and the big-hearted sense of community. If a bear hug were ever a music festival, this would be the one.

When: July 22-26

Price: $240 for all five days, $100 for just one

Do I Have to Sleep in a Tent: You *get* to sleep in a tent.

Don’t Miss: Grace Potter! Featured way back on our very first playlist, Grace is downright fabulous, with badass to spare.

For More Info: floydfest.com

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Secret Stages (Birmingham, AL): Forget everything you know about music festivals. This indie treasure hunt is spread out among seven stages, all within a two-block radius in the heart of downtown Birmingham. The so-called “Walking Festival” offers a 60-band smorgasbord from which you can take your pick, with a majority of the bands hailing from around the South. Come find your new off-the-radar favorite, like the little musical hipster you know you are.

When: July 31-Aug. 1

Price: $25 for the weekend

Do I Have to Sleep in a Tent: No way, Jose!

Don’t Miss: Twin Limb! Louisville natives who did a stint opening for Houndmouth earlier this year.

For More Info: secretstages.net