10 Best Summer Music Festivals You're Not Seeing

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- Giant music festivals haven't been a symbol of rebellion or free expression since the fences came down at Yasgur's Farm. In 2012, they're big-budget events that need corporate backing.

It's not always as overt as the Bud ( BUD) Light Summer Concert Series, but corporate involvement is as inextricably tied to the summer music experience as mud patches or fragrant puffs of smoke that occasionally emanate from the crowd. Those deep pockets helped the music industry increase global ticket sales 15% and boost attendance 1.2% in 2011 despite having 20% fewer live shows than it did in 2010, according to Billboard.

With average attendance up 27.3% and average gross profit soaring 45% in 2011, we took a look at some of the biggest festivals of summer 2012 to see which companies went all-in with sponsorship:

Hangout Music Festival
Date: May 18-20, Gulf Shores, Ala.
Corporate backer: General Motors ( GM)

Anheuser-Busch InBev, Microsoft ( MSFT) Xbox and Sirius XM ( SIRI) are helping the bros bro up this brodown, but GM's Chevrolet gets top billing when Umphrey's McGee, Dispatch, The String Cheese Incident and Red Hot Chili Peppers take the stage. The $159 to $209 three-day passes are sold out, but an $849 VIP pass gets free beer and drinks, early access, private restrooms and entry to the main stage VIP swimming pools when the pope of aging frat boys, Dave Matthews, takes the stage with his band on the festival's last day.

Sasquatch!
Date: May 25-28, George, Wash.
Corporate backer: esurance ( ALL)

It's not great that the esurance logo mucks up otherwise perfectly quirky retro posters and ads or that Kokanee beer, Honda ( HMC) and Verizon ( VZ) leave their stamp on the fest as well, but it's tough to argue the result. The four-day pass is $315, but is offered with $170 to $375 upgrades that include better stage access, showers and views of the Columbia River Gorge. Sounds expensive, but even the base price gets fans more than $130 worth of acts including Jack White, Beck, Bon Iver, Feist, The Shins, Metric and a Portlandia live show.

CMA Music Festival
Date: June 7-10, Nashville, Tenn.
Corporate backers: General Motors, American Airlines ( AMR) and Anheuser-Busch Inbev ( BUD)

This is about as big as country music festivals get, and the 65 acts that fans get for their $135 four-day ticket (the last available) are pretty formidable. That corporate subsidy gives fans a view of contemporary stars such as The Band Perry, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Lady Antebellum and Brad Paisley, but also includes legends including Kenny Rogers, Glen Campbell, the Oak Ridge Boys and Mel Tillis.

Bonnaroo
Date: June 7-10, Manchester, Tenn.
Corporate backers: Ford ( F), Dell ( DELL), Garnier Fructis and MolsonCoors ( TAP)

Those 150-plus acts and headliners such as Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Phish and the Beach Boys (yep, Bonnaroo went back to its softer, hippier roots this year) don't come cheap. The least expensive remaining tickets are $259, with RV upgrades costing between $180 and $1,399. They'd cost a lot more if not for Garnier Fructis salons, Dell computer labs, Miller Lite water misting tents and State Farm Insurance's bag check.

River's Edge Music Festival
Date: June 23-24, Harriet Island, Saint Paul, Minn.
Corporate backer: Citi ( C)

Sure, Citi's coffers help bring in big acts such as The Dave Matthews Band, Tool and The Flaming Lips and 26 other bands and keep ticket prices down to $110 for a two-day pass (though VIP packages go for two to five times that). But that sponsorship also gives Citi a chance to showcase its Citi Private Pass, which gives Citi cardholders access to ticket presales and preferred seating. Consider everyone's back scratched.

The Governor's Ball
Date: June 23-24, Randall's Island, NYC
Corporate backers: Honda and MolsonCoors

Why the Governor's Ball? Well it used to be held on Governor's Island just off the southern tip of Manhattan, but then folks figured out that you could only get there by boat, so that was right out. Instead, Beck, Fiona Apple, Modest Mouse, Passion Pit, Built To Spill and Santigold will play on Randall's Island, a little sliver of earth on the East River between Manhattan and Queens under the RFK-Triborough Bridge. Don't say Honda and Miller Lite never get you nice things.

Summerfest
Date: June 27 through July 8 (closed July 2), Milwaukee, Wis.
Corporate backer: MolsonCoors

When U.S. Cellular, Briggs & Stratton ( BGG) and Harley-Davidson ( HOG) have to play second fiddle, you know hometown company Miller shelled out big bucks to paste its name to this multiday event. Then again, that's how fans get three-day passes to a festival including Aerosmith, The Roots, Iron Maiden, Common, Death Cab For Cutie, O.A.R., Train, Kelly Clarkson, Avett Brothers, Cake and Bob Mould for $36.

Essence Music Festival
Date: July 6-8, New Orleans
Corporate backers: Time Warner ( TWC) and Coca-Cola ( KO)

The bad news is that, even with such heavy-hitting sponsors, three-day tickets still run between $150 and $900. The good news? That still get you in to see R&B and soul powerhouses including D'Angelo, SWV, Mary J. Blige, The Stylistics, The Pointer Sisters and Aretha Franklin.

Lollapalooza
Date: Aug. 3-5, Chicago
Corporate backer: Anheuser-Busch Inbev, Sony ( SNE), Toyota ( TM), Citi and Google ( GOOG)

The three-day Pitchfork Music Festival in July is a warning shot for Chicago residents. The $95-a-day Lollapalooza concertgoers are a full-on air-raid siren telling them to get out of the city. It's bad enough that Chicagoans already have to deal with this year's NATO summit, but all those Red Hot Chili Peppers and Black Sabbath fans cavorting in a corporate signage-covered Grant Park can make protesters and dignitaries seem preferable by comparison.

Outside Lands
Date: Aug. 10-12, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
Corporate backers: Heineken, PayPal ( EBAY), Toyota and esurance

Here's the conundrum for Outside Lands: Do you go roots and attract a broad base of concertgoers with the bohemian aesthetic San Francisco is known for or do you tell everyone that the Human Be-In is over and clear some space for VIP tents? The fest and its sponsors chose the latter and went with a Silicon Valley-friendly lineup of 65 acts topped by Metallica, Neil Young, Stevie Wonder, Foo Fighters, Jack White and Beck. Paupers can still get a $225 three-day pass, but the $495 VIP pass comes with with exclusive polo club, viewing area, lounge seating and massages. If you have to ask how much a 450-square foot VIP cabana is, you obviously haven't upgraded your portfolio since the Summer of Love.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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