Summer Festival Running Playlist

This post was originally written for the “Running Rocks Blog” in 2012. I can’t help but feel nostalgic, so I’m leaving it more or less in its entirety…


Along with [then boyfriend now husband!] and Lady Southpaw bassist Andrew, we have become connoisseurs for summer rock festivals. This year we attended both Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. We also attended a few other more regional events like the first ever [and now defunct] Orion fest and this weekend we’ll be at the Riot Fest [which was sadly cut short due to bad weather that year], headlined by Gogol Bordello, one of my absolute favorite live acts of all time! We were rocking out to them until almost 5AM last year at Bonnaroo. If you’ve never seen or listened to Gogol I strongly encourage you to get on that ASAP. You won’t be sorry.

Attending a summer festival is a lot like a marathon. It’s an endurance event!! Granted, the fueling strategy is a lot different… it usually involves alcohol and fried food... but it is also very common to see people walking around with camel packs that yes have WATER in them. Hydration is high on your mind since you spend most of the day in the hot sun on your feet, trekking from stage to stage and bopping around to one great band after another. By the end of it you’re covered in sweat and running on endorphin fumes.


2012 Summer Festival Playlist Summary:

I made the order of the playlist reflect the line-up at this summer’s festivals. I started with Charles Bradley both because the slightly slower bpm made for a good warm up, but also because he kicked off one of our days at Bonnaroo this year. It was mid-day, the sun was bright and Bradley was absolutely blowing it up on one of the mainstages. That guy is a real performer. In general in the early part of the day there are lots of indie bands playing the smaller stages. We caught a great set where the Punch Brothers did of all covers on a whim. This is also the time of day when you make discoveries, like the White Rabbits was a band I learned about because of Lollapalooza.

One of the biggest highlights for me this year was seeing Metric for the first time at Lolla. “Gold Guns Girls” has been a regular running song for me for awhile now and they seriously killed it live. It was definitely one of the best songs of their set. “Speed the Collapse” is from their new album and is also a good, though more chill, running song. I was so excited to see Santigold at Bonnaroo. She played songs off of both albums and when she started doing a solo version of the Jay-Z song, “Brooklyn Go Hard,” that features her, I freaked out because I wasn’t expecting her to do it and, you know, Brooklyn is where my heart is.

Then there are the headliners. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Metallica live. I wouldn’t consider myself Metallica fan, but they had a great line-up at their festival. Cage the Elephant and Arctic Monkeys played back to back and I love those guys. Then I have to give an honorable mention to Gary Clark Jr., who we saw at 3 different festivals this summers because he was great! Sadly, I could only get my hands on an EP of his and the closest song to a running tempo was a hair too slow at around 160… It’s called “Bright Lights,” and is totally run-able, but it messes up my whole making lists of songs around 180 bpm thing. I didn’t have much Metallica to test either, but the one song I did try, “Sad But True” was, not surprisingly, an excellent running song. I’m not that into the metal aesthetic, but I will say this for it: it’s very consistent rhythmically, the guitars are hard and driving, and the pace is fast, all things that make for great running music. Now, if we could just get them to write better lyrics and dress better…

The other big headliners I saw were: The Black Keys, Jack White, Radiohead and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Wow. They were all phenomenal. There’s a reason why these guys are all big, they are all fantastic musicians and real animal performers.

We saw The Black Keys sell out Madison Square Garden this year and they are consistently great. Those guys are crazy talented. Their set at Lolla was fantastic. It’s tough to name a favorite, but that would be one of them for sure.

It was cool to see Jack White doing a solo show while still throwing in some hits from his many successful bands. In the second half he brought out an all female backing band. I’m sure it was motivated by the look, but I can’t help it, I thought it was so awesome to see a guy at the center backed by a bunch of women because you never see that in music.

Then there’s Radiohead. I have loved Radiohead for a long time so seeing them live is always special for me because their songs reflect so many different periods of my life. Although, Drew and I like to joke, if you want to see how many smug hipster douche-bags you can fit into an arena (or in this case on a festival grounds) go to a Radiohead concert. Admittedly, I’m probably one part smug hipster douche-bag but maybe it’s because we were all listening to Radiohead in our formative years. They set a really high bar for musicianship and innovation.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers blew me away. I gave them the final spot among the headliners because 1) We saw them headlining both Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza, 2) they are technically the elder statesmen of the bunch, 3) they still know how to rock and kick more ass than guys half their age, and 4) Flea has to be one of the coolest guys on the planet! He went on a rant at Bonnaroo that brought tears to my eyes because he’s so authentically cool. He’s a gnarly punk who is also doing great work to bring music to kids that is utterly inspiring. Plus he’s in elite athlete shape!

Finally, there are the after hours bands. These usually consist of DJs and an eclectic mix of jam bands. The main criteria is that they have to be able to keep playing into the early hours of the morning until everyone crashes for 3 or 4 hours before they get up and start the whole process again for each remaining day of the festival.

I tested this playlist a few times on hot summer runs and I have to say it was really effective for me. I think both because it was a refreshing mix of different new or new-ish music, but also because it got me in the mindset of a summer music festival. You really have to be in it for the long haul and keep your energy going.