It used to be that a half-dozen sloppy slices of pre-made pizza and cold(ish) beer were all any festival goers expected. If you’ve ever put down a dissolving hot dog that’s been stewing in lukewarm water for 4 hours, you’ll begin to understand why so many concert goers resort to drug use. In those dark days, it seemed the only rules for acceptable festival food were:
1)This looks like food, kinda.
2) It’s fried!
Friends, a new day has dawned! Fests all across the country are ditching the “beer and burgers” paradigm that has fated so many music lovers to hunger, heartache and heartburn. Here’s a list of the 5 tastiest fests in the USA, those that have dug out of the funnel cake and chicken finger trenches of yesteryear. Hey, your ears shouldn’t be allowed to have all the fun.
1) Outside Lands
Outside Lands is our indisputable winner. This San Francisco festival was the first to seriously up the ante on music munchies, and is largely responsible for bringing about the gustatory renaissance we’ve been seeing in festival food tents across the country. Dishes available at the fest include but are in no way limited to: chicken curry nachos, maine lobster rolls, breakfast burritos, maple bacon waffles stuffed with fried chicken and okonomiyaki japanese pizza. As the list goes on our appetite grows, so we’ll stop. Did we mention they have a crème brûlée cart? Well, they do.
What really makes Outside Lands the bomb is Wine Lands, the tent that Rolling Stone hailed as Outside Lands’ “fifth stage.” This is a massive tent devoted entirely to showcasing the best that young Californian winemakers have to offer. With about 30 wineries and 110 or so wines to be tasted, the possibilities are endless. Not a fan of wine? Try Beer Lands! It’s the same exact thing, but with craft beer.
The only problem with Outside Lands? We’d never make it out of the picnic area.
2) Austin City Limits
Imagine taking all of the insanely delicious and inventive food trucks in Austin (the food truck capitol of the world) and parking them in the same place. If you can imagine that, then you can pretty much imagine the incredible food scene at Austin City Limits.
Past menus have included meals as tasty and out there as kimchi fries, rabbit and rattlesnake sausage, chicken tikka masala wraps, watermelon agave icepops, truffled mac n’ cheese and (of course) mountains of some of the best Texas BBQ you ever did eat. The ACL food culture is so strong that the festival even has a trademark dish: the “Hot n’ Crunchy.” Ahh yeah.
The festival’s website boasts that ACL’s food offerings are “far from funnel cake & turkey legs,” and boy are they right. This epic food town’s finest come out to play, and so should you.
Manchester, Tennessee may not have the culinary clout that cities like Chicago, New Orleans and Austin do. However, Bonnaroo (the event that takes over town each year) most definitely does. With great music came great food, and lots of it.
In this big ‘ole noisy field down south there’s an astounding array of bites on offer from around the world: poutine, samosas, bahn mi, jerk chicken, gator tail nuggets, chowmein, jalapeño corn dogs and gyros all help round out an astoundingly global menu. Food can be found all throughout the festival as well, which makes life easier and tastier. This sleeper pick ain’t snoozing when it comes to feeding their masses- and doing it with flare.
4) New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
New Orleans is many things: a jazz town, a voodoo town, a drinking town and a fingerlickin’ good food town. The capitol of Creole culture is a place like no other, and the dishes are proof positive that there’s something special and all its own happening down where the good times roll.
If the idea of eating some of the world’s best and most authentic crawfish sausage po boys, cajun jambalaya, alligator pies, gumbo, muffuletta, beignets and oysters while soaking up the sounds of some of the best musicians around tickles your fancy, this is the place to be. The New Orleans Jazz Fest might not have any celebrity chefs, farmer’s markets or boutique eateries on the roster, but they have real deal southern soul and authentic Creole and Cajun eats– which is just as good, if not better.
When it comes to chowing down, Chicago’s famous fest has stepped it up big time. This past summer, they had celebrity chef (and Chicago native) Graham Elliot put a good ‘ole curating on their food offerings.
The results? Munchies like lobster corn dogs, truffle and parmesan popcorn, a slew of veggie and vegan options, Bao galore and some classy sandwiches from James Beard Award Recipient Tony Montuano’s “Bar Toma.” And yes, there was some deep dish pizza kicking around too.
Those with a thirst take refuge in “Da Beers” beer garden, featuring a multitude of craft brews. Those looking to shop produce while also indulging in some of the nations finest musical acts can stop by the farmer’s market- a probably impractical but nonetheless lovely addition.