Hottest Summer Music Festivals

Project Pabst
View from the crowd at 2015's Project Pabst. Photo courtesy Project Pabst.

By Jon Shadel

Let’s talk about summer. After weathering through three seasons of spitting rain and gloomy skies, antsy Portlanders get ready to kick seasonal affective disorder with three hedonistic months of revelry. And with balmier days than San Francisco, Seattle or Vancouver, Portland makes an ideal venue for the dozens of summer concerts, outdoor parties and festivals it hosts each year.

From local bands rocking out at street fairs to national acts taking the big stage at major festivals, the city’s calendar is packed full of groovy events. No matter what moves you — classical, sizzling blues, nerdy indie rock, hip hop, raving EDM or all of the above — there’s a party out there where you can camp out with friends and sway to the beat beneath the brilliant blue of a limitless sky. And to help you make your musical plans, we present our top picks for summer festival season.

Chamber Music Northwest

What: This casual, five-week concert series features rousing performances of masterpieces from the chamber repertoire in various venues throughout the city. Don’t miss pre-concert picnics, which have long been a part of the festival tradition, on the picturesque grounds of Reed College.

When: June 25-July 31, 2016

Where: Various venues 

What The Festival

What: The nation’s biggest disco ball? Check. The largest temporary wading pool in the country? Yep, got that. Top DJ talent and booty-shaking bass? Oh baby. This weirdo Burning Man-meets-Coachella festival happens each June in a field surrounded by a forest with majestic mountain views. Count this among the mind-expanding dance parties you can’t miss.

When: June 17-20, 2016

Where: Wolf Run Ranch, Dufur 

Waterfront Blues Festival

What: The premier blues festival on the West Coast happens each Independence Day weekend. More than 100,000 fans suffer through the heat on Portland’s waterfront to hear sizzling jazz talent on wail and howl until fireworks light up the sky.

When: July 1-4, 2016

Where: Tom McCall Waterfront Park

Mississippi Street Fair

What: For one day each July, Mississippi Street closes for traffic and welcomes the city for a big block party, featuring tons of local vendors, artisans and — best of all — five stages of family-friendly entertainment, including a number of rising independent rock bands like Genders and Thanks, which have both played here in previous years.

When: July 9, 2016

Where: Mississippi Street

PDX Pop Now!

What: Since 2004, more than 100 volunteers have brought Portland’s up-and-coming indie talent to the masses, with an all-ages festival held on two stages beneath the overpass to the Hawthorne Bridge (meaning it stays dry during the rare summer rainstorm). Best part? It’s free, so you can spend that extra wad of dough on rad merch from local bands.

When: July 22-24, 2016

Where: Located near AudioCinema (226 S.E. Madison St.), with a beer garden and food carts on site.


What: No festival captures Oregon’s independent ethos better than Pickathon. This low-impact, sustainable festival bucks the major festival trend with no corporate sponsors, a crew of dedicated volunteers and absolutely no plastic. While it’s strayed in recent years from its bluegrass roots, Americana sounds still dominate the lineup along with acclaimed indie acts. This year sees critical darlings Yo La Tango and lo-fi pop torchbearers Beach House join a number of local acts at Pendarvis Farm.

When: August 5-7, 2016

Where: Pendarvis Farm, Happy Valley  

MusicfestNW Presents Project Pabst

What: Not a fan of tent camping or questionable food?  Well, you might like Portland’s largest festival, which welcomes top underground talent to the waterfront each summer. MusicfestNW recently merged with Project Pabst, and this means the planners of both festivals have cranked up the volume and blended the best elements of both for two days of music and a number of exclusive concerts held in clubs throughout town. When you’re hungry, you’ll find food trucks on site and others just blocks beyond the gate.

When: August 27-28, 2016

Where: Tom McCall Waterfront Park 

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