Summer music festivals usually bring to mind wide open spaces, whether they’re in parks (Lollapalooza) or parking lots (Warped Tour). But for those who really want to get up close and personal with their favorite artists, there’s nothing that compares to Howell, Michigan’s Bled Fest. Now in its 11th year, the all-ages event takes place on six stages inside an old high school on the Saturday of every Memorial Day weekend. The two main stages are in a cafeteria, with side stages in classrooms, a hallway and an auditorium. So, yes, in some ways, you can live out the fantasy of your favorite band playing at your school.

With recent headliners ranging from Every Time I Die to Hawthorne Heights, the festival is best known for showcasing all things punk, hardcore and emo-related, but its past lineups have featured artists as eclectic as party rocker Andrew W.K., prog-metal band Scale The Summit and post-rock outfit Sunlight Ascending. Most importantly, Bled Fest is an intimate experience—but not in the soothing, tender, or acoustic-leaning way that description sometimes suggests. Stage diving, grabbing the microphone and taking photos are all highly encouraged, and most bands are available to talk at the merch section in the gym. Whether you’re a Bled Fest veteran or looking to experience it for the first time, here are ten bands you must see in 2015.

 

Modern Life Is War

A decade ago, this Iowan five-piece set the standard for emotional hardcore with their masterpiece, Witness. Having reunited in 2013 with the excellent Fever Hunting, Modern Life Is War are celebrating the 10-year anniversary of their most famous album with a nationwide tour. Their Bled Fest appearance is sure to be one of the most intense sets of the day and an amazing experience for those who were too young to see them in their prime.

 

Touché Amoré

Bled Fest rarely gets bands from as far away as California unless it is  a convenient stop on tour, so organizers must have been thrilled to land a headliner who are not just one of the best bands in Los Angeles, but who are on top of the screamo/post-hardcore world right now. Bled Fest is the only remaining date scheduled for Jeremy Bolm and Co. in 2015, so if you live in the Midwest and haven’t seen them, make plans to get to Howell, ASAP.

 

Pianos Become The Teeth

The Baltimore-based outfit are Bled Fest regulars—this is their third appearance in four years—and their sets are always a highlight, even when time constraints cut them short, as they did in 2013. This performance should be a change of pace, considering how Kyle Durfey abandoned screaming on last year’s Keep You, but expect a packed and passionate crowd as usual. They’ll just be singing every word instead of shouting.
 

Koji

You may know this singer-songwriter from his splits with La Dispute and Into It. Over It., but frequent Bled Fest attendees might know him better as the guy walking around the grounds all day with his acoustic guitar. While he will have a full set in the building at some point, a truly authentic Bled Fest experience is not complete unless you’ve sat outside for a moment and enjoyed the spring weather while Koji serenades everybody. You can also check him out later this summer on the Warped Tour Acoustic Basement stage.
 

Alaska

One of the most wonderful things about Bled Fest is the mix of big-time national acts and local flavor. And while it’s amazing to see breakout Michigan acts like La Dispute and Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) rock their home state in an unusual setting, sometimes the best performances are from bands who rarely leave the Mitten State. Enter Alaska, an emo band based 20 minutes away from Bled Fest in Brighton, Michigan. Their set on Stage D was a highlight of last year’s early performances, which are traditionally jam packed with strong local showings. If you use festivals to populate your new artist playlists, you can’t go wrong checking out Alaska.
 

Modern Baseball

The emo explosion of the past few years has been kind to Bled Fest, and Modern Baseball are no exception, making their second appearance in three years. The Philadelphia band’s 2014 album, You’re Gonna Miss It All, established Brendan Lukens as one of the most honest and heartfelt lyricists in the genre, which is perfect for a festival that encourages audience members to get onstage and sing into the same mics as the performers.

 

Rozwell Kid

Featured in last month’s AP Reccomends (AP #323), West Virginia’s Rozwell Kid are a wild live act whose stage antics beg to be seen. Playing their first ever Bled Fest, it will be a treat to watch them bring oddball humor to the DIY stage. They’re the closest thing to Weezer that you’ll get for an affordable price.

 

Aviator

After debuting last August on No Sleep Records with Head In The Clouds, Hands In The Dirt, this Boston post-hardcore band are on the rise. They sound like early Thrice with a hint of modern emotional hardcore, making them an ideal fit for Bled Fest. If you catch them, you’ll be able to say you saw them before they blew up.
 

Small Brown Bike

From La Dispute to Bear Vs. Shark, Michigan has been established as a hotbed for quality post-hardcore for years, and Small Brown Bike are its reigning elder statesmen. Formed in the small western town of Marshall, SBB are approaching their 20th anniversary (although they took a five-year break in the 2000s). While Bled Fest is a great showcase for young talent, it’s always special to see veteran bands who influenced many of the other acts on the lineup.

 

Make Do And Mend
Note: After we had posted this, MDAM posted a statement regretfully announcing they won't be able to make it to the festival this weekend: 
“It is with heavy hearts that we are announcing that we will not be able to make it to Bled Fest this coming weekend. Please go and support all of the incredible bands playing, and have a blast for us.”

These melodic punks gave a strong mainstage performance in 2013 supporting Everything You Ever Loved, so expect a triumphant return this year after the release of February’s Don’t Be Long. Their hooks will have you humming all day, and their on-stage energy beg for raucous audience participation.