10 Books To Kick Off Your Summer Of Music Festivals
It’s that time of year again: the hazy, humid, dog days when you, your fringe vest, and your daisy chains finally reunite for some good ol’ fashioned grooving, city noise ordinances be damned. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m talking about music festival season. And what better way to get your rock ‘n’ roll vibes going than by reading some books about music festivals? (OK, frankly I can think of a few better ways to do that — like say, actually listening to some of your fave tunes — but books are my go-to for everything.)
I’ve always loved music, since I discovered my Dad’s collection of 33s and 45s — The Doors, The Eagles, a little Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Goo Goo Dolls before they recorded A Boy Named Goo — back in middle school, and proceeded to systemically pilfer one record after another (if he noticed his collection was looking a little thin, he never mentioned it.) But there’s something particularly special about outdoor music, when everyone is a little more relaxed, a little freer, and filled with the heady energy of summer. So whether you’re totally rocking the music festival circuit this summer, or just catching a few of your favorite bands, these books about music and musicians will definitely put you in the right spirit.
Check out these 10 books every music festival lover should read.
1. Here She Comes Now: Women in Music Who Have Changed Our Lives edited by Jeff Gordinier and Marc Weingarten
We all have that one musician who always seems to speak to us more than any other, and that’s what the essays in this collection are all about. Written by women, about the female musicians whose music has profoundly impacted their lives, Here She Comes Now celebrates everyone from Patti Smith to PJ Harvey to Taylor Swift to Nina Simone, and the ladies who have spent their lives listening to them rock.
2. Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life: A Book by and for the Fanatics Among Us by Steve Almond
Who hasn’t secretly relished the thought of being a rock star — even if only for just one night? If you’re one of such dreamers, writer Steve Almond knows exactly how you feel, and he wrote all about it in this book. Part memoir, part reportage, part rock criticism, Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life takes you behind the scenes of what really makes the rock ‘n’ roll world go ‘round — the fans.
3. The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper
Another music-obsessed mind, Jessica Hopper has spent over two decades living, breathing, and writing the music industry — and if your own music collection could use a little spruce, Hopper is your go-to gal. There are so many artists featured in this collection of Hopper’s criticism — including some of my own forgotten favorites, plus artists I’d never even heard (or heard of) before. Her writing is funny, thoughtful, critical, and totally entertaining. Plus, outside of the nod Hopper gives to female music critics like Ellen Willis, Lillian Roxon, and Caroline Coon, this really is the first collection of criticism by a living female rock critic. How can you resist?
4. Canyon of Dreams: The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon by Harvey Kubernik
The Laurel Canyon neighborhood, nestled in the Hollywood Hills, is known for more than its beautiful scenery. Zip code 90046 has been home to some of the most iconic musical legends of all time — Jim Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Canned Heat, the Mamas & the Papas, Carole King and so many more. Canyon of Dreams: The Magic and the Music of Laurel Canyon traces the musical history of the canyon back almost 80 years, and features interviews with some of the music industry’s most influential artists.
5. Petal Pusher: A Rock and Roll Cinderella Story by Laurie Lindeen
I’m always up for a good story about the rockin’ women who’ve stepped into a predominantly-male arena (in this case, literally) to shake things up a bit. Petal Pusher: A Rock and Roll Cinderella Story transports readers to music-hub Minneapolis, circa the 1980s and ’90s, when sky-high hair, ripped acid-wash jeans, and indie rock ruled the day. Equal parts critical, adventure-filled, heartbreaking, and empowering, Laurie Lindeen’s story moves from a cultural epicenter of rock-and-roll into the life of a woman dealing with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, emerging as a female musician in a male-dominated field, a burgeoning romance, and creative dreams that may or may not be larger than them all.
6. Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life by Elliot Tiber
Don’t hold me to this, but I suspect it’s quite possible that I’ve read every single English-language book written about Woodstock. And I still just can’t get enough. I feel like Woodstock is that thing all us die-hard festival-goers are constantly chasing — the dream of that perfect, iconic, life-changing experience of music, and art, and friendship, and peace, and love. Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life tells the story of Elliot Tiber, a young man who was not only a figure in the successful planning of Woodstock ’69, but who himself was transformed by his time at the festival.
7. On the Road with Janis Joplin by John Byrne Cooke
Writer John Byrne Cooke first met the legendary Janis Joplin when he was her manager, circa Joplin’s days playing with Big Brother and the Holding Company — the band at the center of San Francisco's then-music-scene. Cooke later followed Joplin when she broke off as an independent artist, touring with her through Europe, across the U.S. and Canada, and to Woodstock. On the Road with Janis Joplin offers readers an intimate look at Joplin’s young life, until her tragic death in 1970.
8. I'm with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie by Pamela Des Barres
Readers either love or hate this book — and sometimes both at the same time. But like it or not, groupies kind of come with the rock star territory, and Pamela Des Barres is one of music history’s most famous. Cataloging the crazy antics of her 1960s and ‘70s days spent backstage, Des Barres writes of affairs with everyone from Mick Jagger and Keith Moon, to Paul McCartney and Jim Morrison — and she totally owns it. Des Barres was not a backstage gal to be messed with; she was in total control of her own choices and destiny.
9. Dylan Goes Electric!: Newport, Seeger, Dylan, and the Night That Split the Sixties by Elijah Wald
Who knew that Bob Dylan’s transition from acoustic folk music to electric rock was so transformative? (Well, a lot of people probably knew that actually, but I wasn’t alive then, so I’m only hearing about it now.) Playing the Newport Folk Festival, Dylan left his folksy roots behind and performed for the first time backed by an electric band — a risky, in-your-face move that attracted and disappointed fans everywhere. Just one of the many ways Dylan has left his indelible imprint on music.
10. I Was There: Gigs That Changed the World by Mark Paytress
If you only read one book about world-changing concerts, this should probably be the one. Offering readers photographs, personal accounts, and researched histories of nearly 100 years of live music, from literally every genre you can think of, I Was There: Gigs That Changed the World will make you wish you’d been there too — and hey, if you’re lucky, maybe you actually were. Call me up sometime and tell me about it, will ya?
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