Three summer festival circuit's must-see acts — Khalid, Jessie Reyez and James Bay — spoke with Billboard about all things related to music's favorite season, from flower crowns to backstage encounters, plus pro-tips for first-timers and more.
R&B-pop sensation Khalid, 20, will hit Governors Ball and Lollapalooza
What was the first festival you ever went to as a fan? It was in El Paso, Texas: Sun City, an EDM festival. It changed my life. I was 17. I went to see my superheroes for the first time. I was like, “I want to be a superhero too], so I’m going to make music.” And here I am.
Who have you seen give a standout festival performance? Imagine Dragons was crazy live in Brazil. Lead singer] Dan Reynolds did things that I could never see myself having the confidence to do, and that inspired me because I’m like, “Wow, I don’t have to rush myself to be there right now, but when I’m ready to be it’s going to be amazing.”
What's the best advice you received about playing a festival? A festival crowd is always different because you have to keep in mind — this is what I’ve been told — that there are probably people in that crowd who are not familiar with you. You can go to a festival and the crowds might not be singing every single word like it’s your own show, it’s your job to win them over and to make them watch you. It’s not about hearing them sing, I don’t want to just hear everybody sing the words, I want to realize and accept the fact that people are actually watching me and soaking in everything that I’m giving them. Festivals can be a little stressful, but you got to remember there are like 50 other artists on that lineup too who are going through the same thing, and my favorite part is always watching them. I always take in things from other artists and use it as inspiration for the next performance that I have.
What is the best artist perk you have enjoyed? No lines. I get anxiety from crowds. Free food, free drinks. You might even get a golf cart in there, who knows. Sprinter vans. And meeting other artists. I think that’s a cool part it too because if you’re on the same lineup with someone that you listen to it’s such an easy way to connect and just to tell them how much you appreciate them. Every time I go to a festival I always make sure I tell at least one new artist that I have never ever spoken to that I appreciate their music, and you know nine times out 10, luckily, they say the same about me.
What’s the coolest backstage run-in you’ve had? Meeting Lana Del Rey. Meeting Wiz Khalifa was a moment. He’s a very nice guy.
If you could see an artist play an album in its entirety live, what album would it be and why? Frank Ocean, Blonde. He is an exceptional artist and an inspiration to everyone. I don’t think any artist can say that they have not been inspired by at least one Frank Ocean song.
Flower crowns: Yes or no? I like flower crowns. I’ve got to get one. Look, if I get one, it’s a yes. If I don’t get one, it’s a no.
What’s next after festival season? After the summer, I definitely want to release a lot new music, collectively and in album form. Hopefully, that’s before the year is over. I think we’re on a good track to do that]. I’ve said it, so I guess I’ve got to stick to my word now. — Lyndsey Havens
After her first U.S. festival set at Governors Ball in 2017, R&B singer Jessie Reyez, 27, is billed on Bonnaroo and Outside Lands
What is the best advice you’ve gotten for how to play to a festival crowd? Just stay present. Don’t let it fly by. I’ve gotten that advice not just for shows and festivals, but for life. Sometimes we just always think about the carrot that we’re chasing; we don’t think about right now]. A lot those clichés that we’ve been hearing since we were kids are the keys to life. You just hear it so ten that it almost loses its effect, but it’s legit.
Who have you seen give a standout festival performance? Frank Ocean at the 2017 Flow Festival] in Finland — that was insane. He brought out a huge orchestra, like a symphony, strings and everything. It’s an incredible feat when you’re able to make something so massive and still secure the intimacy, make it feel like we’re in your room. Have your headphones on, make it feel like it’s just you, but then have speakers and a surround sound system so that no matter how far away you are from the stage you can still experience it. Have VHS so it feels like a home video. I thought that was incredible. But I could sing Frank Ocean’s praises all day.
Do you go out into the crowd after your set and hang? Hell yeah, I do. Go and say thank you to people. I’m not possible without people who care. The dream is not possible. So fuck yeah, I walk out, party and take shots.
Flower crowns: Yes or no? Yeah, fuck it. Who am I to tell you not to wear a flower crown?
If you could see an artist play an album in its entirety live, what album would it be and why? That question is too hard. Bob Marley would be fucked. I’d make it a jam session, fuck an album — I’d get Amy Winehouse and Bob and Otis Redding all in a room and be like, “Let’s just jam.” If you throw Lauryn Hill in there? That’d be crazy. The literal definition litness.
Any artists in particular you're looking forward to seeing at your festivals this summer? Kali Uchis. Hell yeah, I can't wait to see her live. I fuck with her stuff. And she's Colombian, too. And Daniel Caesar], obviously, he's my dude. And Princess Nokia, and Brockhampton.
What comes after festival season for you? More music, more videos, the Halsey tour. Trying to fit in laundry and yoga where I can — that sounds like paradise to me. In the broader scope things, it’s still chasing the days where I can sell out a stadium, where I can have a shelf full Grammys, when I can make more an impact with my philanthropic efforts and have an orphanage and name it after my mom. Then I’ll be straight. And get featured on South Park. That would be great. — Dan Rys
British pop-rocker James Bay, 27, will return home for U.K. festival Isle Wight and head abroad for Montreal’s Osheaga
What was the first festival you attended as a fan? I went to like a blues festival when I was about 15, where all these old famous blues people were playing. As a young teenager, I was into a lot blues and the whole camping experience — it was my first time doing that kind thing. I was definitely dreaming becoming a singer], I can tell you that much. I was working hard trying to get better at writing and singing and playing, and I was certainly dreaming. I think, in hindsight, I would stand in front any stage and watch any artist that I loved and be very inspired enough to sort know that I wanted to do that, but I didn't know what it'd take.
Who have you seen give a standout festival performance? I got to see The Rolling Stones for the first time ever at British Summer Time] in London’s Hyde Park]. I’d signed a record deal four months before, so I took away so much from it. I’d just moved to London as well, so it was on my doorstep.
What is the most memorable performance you’ve given at a festival? Playing the Glastonbury festival in England in 2015] on the Pyramid stage in front 70,000 people, which is insane. My debut album Chaos and the Calm] had just come out. That was one my first big experiences. It’s one those things you tell your grandkids about].
What is the best advice you’ve gotten for how to play to a festival crowd? A festival can be a tough place for an intimate song. At Glastonbury, Florence + The Machine headlined and she had some gorgeous, intimate, downtempo moments surrounded by lots high-energy, uptempo stuff. So though she didn't give me advice], I watched her whole set work.
What is the coolest backstage run-in you’ve had at a festival? Brittany Howard Alabama Shakes] and I found each other backstage at a festival in Scotland, and there was a very small tent with instruments: guitar, bass, amps, drum set. We barely said two words to each other. She got on the drum kit — she’s an amazing drummer — and I picked up the guitar, and a bass player turned up. We had about half an hour’s worth jamming out.
If you could see an artist play an album in its entirety live, what album would it be and why? Stevie Wonder playing Songs in the Key Life. That is still something I would absolutely love to see live — I have seen him live before, but he did a big setlist all his greatest hits, which was amazing. I’m such a big fan his individual records — there’s four or five I know front to back — and Songs in the Key Life is one them. — Taylor Weatherby
A version this article originally appeared in the May 5 issue Billboard.