The summer’s top music festivals, ranked

An analysis of artist lineups at the biggest events in music

The month of June marks the unofficial start of summer, which means beach days, cookouts, and three-day concert marathons attended by thousands of sweaty festival-goers is right around the corner.

Navigating the increasingly crowded music festival landscape has become a more and more challenging task in an age of what Paste Magazine called “Peak Music Festival.” The decision of which weekend to spend with large groups of strangers is one that shouldn’t be taken lightly, and with a myriad of options, a closer look at festival lineups is required to make an informed choice. Using data from SeatGeek for an analysis of each group of performers, we can say concretely where each festival ranks across a handful of key categories.

For the full viz, visit naterattner.com/festival-rank

Lineup Value

“Lineup Value” represents how much overall monetary value a festival’s group of performers comprises, based on the amounts each of those artists fetches individually for a ticket on the secondary market. With artists such as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Lady Gaga each driving ticket prices of nearly $200 at an average tour stop, lineup values can total in the thousands of dollars at the high end.

One could argue that the massively successful Coachella, one of the most famous festivals in the world and a pioneer of the “destination festival” movement, may be an unrecognizable beast compared to it’s anti-establishment roots and a turnoff even for mainstream music critics. But the numbers back up Coachella’s 2017 lineup choice despite the criticism that the “Music and Arts Festival” is becoming less about music and more about selfies. Anchored by a star-studded trio of Lady Gaga, Radiohead, and Kendrick Lamar, eight artists that performed at the Empire Polo Club in April drive an average ticket price of more than $100 on the open secondary market, and Coachella’s lineup overall offers the most value of any festival this summer.

Ticket Price

“Ticket Price” is exactly what it sounds like: a ranking based on the price of admission to festival grounds. Prices run anywhere from a couple hundred dollars or less for smaller festivals to well over a grand for those seeking a VIP experience at a premiere event. Prices can fluctuate quite a bit on the secondary market; the numbers used here represent the lowest-priced ticket seen available at any point on SeatGeek.

Even with a lineup offering Chance the Rapper, Tool, and Mumford & Sons, Boston Calling, a four-year-old event which found a new home at the Harvard Athletic Complex this year, is a very affordable festival experience.

Value for Price

In some cases, the price of a ticket does not directly correlate to the total value a festival lineup offers. To find where savvy fans can get the most bang for their festival buck, the “Value for Price” category is determined by dividing Lineup Value by Ticket Price.

Boston Calling is atop the list again in this category, due to its best-of-both worlds combination of a solid lineup and inexpensive tickets. With five performers that fetch an average resale ticket price of more than $100 individually — and tickets available for well under $300 — the Cambridge event is a strong choice for value seekers.

Lineup Depth

Though big-name artists get the best real estate atop the festival posters, part of the beauty of a multiple-day experience is the chance to catch more than just a few acts. Top-heavy lineups may draw in the casual fan, but true weekend warriors might be interested in the range of artists across lineups, knowing they can squeeze in twenty or more acts if planning efficiently. “Lineup Depth” accounts again for the ticket demand driven by performers individually, and then ranks each festival by the artists’ median ticket price.

Lollapalooza’s lengthy and diverse lineup, where acts like Lorde, The xx, and Blink 182 are second-tier headliners, is the deepest of the summer. While Lolla’s foundation of Chance the Rapper, The Killers, Muse, and Arcade Fire is excellent, other festivals offer a similar caliber of top-billed acts; it’s the mid and late-afternoon list that sets it apart. Only when planning for the festival at Chicago’s Grant Park can you get nearly halfway through the lineup poster and find Migos, Lil Yachty, Vance Joy, and Kaytranada, all of which are popular enough to boost the median ticket price of Lollapalooza’s lineup to the top of the list.


The above Rankflow chart was built with ZingChart, a JavaScript charting library. Lineup and artist data from SeatGeek.