Some call it Rocktober — that last burst of fall shows that jam-packs the October calendar as we brace for winter. But really, October shouldn’t get all the credit. Fall always brings out an exciting crop of live acts and festivals, both in Boston and around the state. Here are some of our picks for this season’s live music highlights, from hip-hop and pop to folk and bluegrass.
Friday, Sept. 13
Boston’s own Cliff Notez continues carving out his own lane in the city's hip-hop scene with the release of his much-anticipated second album, “Why The Wild Things Are,” marked with not just a release show, but what he describes as an “experience” coming to Oberon. While he’s keeping the details under wraps for now, his inclination to share the spotlight bodes well for a varied and thought-provoking performance. Since the upcoming album is stacked with collaborators from across genres, all across the Boston area — Latrell James, Anjimile, Photocomfort, STL GLD and Mint Green, just to name a few — there’s no telling what the night’s mix might include.
Agganis Arena, Boston
Tuesday, Sept. 17
Is Lizzo an obvious pick for this list? Maybe, but we’d be remiss not to include her. In the months since the release of her ultra-feel-good album “Cuz I Love You,” her rapid ascent has brought her crossover of pop, soul and hip-hop to so many new audiences that she outgrew the House of Blues before even arriving in May. Now that she’s coming back to town for a proper arena show, know that her show promises to be part pep-talk, part concert, and part party, thanks to her dance squad, The Big Girls, and her flair for dazzling audiences with virtuosic flute stunts.
Thursday, Sept. 19
Over the past year, artists like Lil Nas X and Kacey Musgraves have made strides toward redefining pop-cultural ideals of what country music sounds like, and Orville Peck might be next to take the reins. Infused with elements of haunting dream pop, his take on outlaw country traverses desolate soundscapes, exploring classic Western tropes and heartbreak through a gay cowboy’s perspective. Peck, who’s permanently clad in a cowboy hat and fringed mask, imbues the whole project with a cinematic, romantic sense of mystery.
MASS MoCA, North Adams
Friday, Sept. 20 - Sunday, Sept. 22
There’s no better time to explore Western Mass. than at the height of fall, and MASS MoCA’s FreshGrass festival offers an extra incentive to venture out into the Berkshires for a full weekend. This year, the roots-focused festival’s lineup features acts spanning folk, bluegrass and beyond, with highlights including Andrew Bird, Mavis Staples, Greensky Bluegrass and Iron & Wine. With a mix of outdoor and indoor sets, it’s an ideal way to experience music and art with plenty of leaf-peeping mixed in.
Gateway City Arts, Holyoke
Saturday, Sept. 21
Both curated and headlined by art-pop duo Rubblebucket, the third annual Dream Picnic festival brings a playful, eclectic mix of artistry to Holyoke. This year’s lineup features STRFKR’s danceable synth-pop, Guerilla Toss’ raucous psychedelia, and sets from Massachusetts locals And The Kids, Carinae and Sidney Gish. With experimental music performances and a sound bath on the premises, it offers something for those seeking a more esoteric experience, too.
Cambridge, various venues
Wednesday, Sept. 25 - Sunday, Sept. 29
Cambridge’s Together festival is back for its 10th installment, a five-day string of events celebrating dance, art and technology. This year, the fest’s world-spanning lineup of artists and DJs includes Daniel Avery, Powder, Josey Rebelle and Peach. But even if you aren’t familiar with the artists themselves, it’s worth coming out for the experience. Together’s events create an atmosphere where everything and nothing is out of the ordinary and self-expression reigns, whether that means showing up in street clothes, clubwear or head-to-toe glitter.
The Sinclair, Cambridge
Friday, Oct. 11
Sheer Mag’s growling guitar harmonies revive a classic ‘70s riff-rock sound — the Thin Lizzy comparisons abound — but singer Christina Halladay’s crackling howl is reserved for a more modern agenda. The band’s political punk ethos drives them to perform songs about gentrification and protest alongside others focused on romance and heartbreak. Touring behind their just-released album, A Distant Call, the Philly band arrives in Boston as a shot of energy amid the tension of debate season.
Big Thief and Palehoud
The Wilbur, Boston
Sunday, Oct. 13
Big Thief’s sound offers much to get lost in: hypnotic fingerpicking, sudden atmospheric shifts, poetic lyrics that refract as much as they illuminate. As if that wasn’t enough, their new music just keeps coming. Following the release of “U.F.O.F.” in May, they’ve already announced their next record, “Two Hands,” due out just days before their Boston show. But while Big Thief tops the marquee, opener Palehound is worth showing up early for. Just a few years ago, the band was making a name for itself in Allston basements; now, Ellen Kempner’s plainspoken-but-poignant storytelling and dexterous rock arrangements are primed to command more storied stages in their own right.
The Royale, Boston
Saturday, Nov. 2
Known as the “queen of New Orleans bounce,” Big Freedia creates rapidfire hip-hop that mixes EDM with endless call-and-response chants; she’s both the star of the show and her own hype-person. She might not be a household name yet, but that doesn’t mean you don’t know her voice: for starters, she lent her talents on Beyoncé’s “Formation” and Drake’s “Nice for What,” before last year’s release of her fifth studio album, “Third Ward Bounce.”
The Paradise, Boston
Wednesday, Nov. 20 - Thursday, Nov. 21
With the release of her debut album, “Immunity,” Carlisle native Claire Cottrill indicated that she’s moved on to a more mature sound than the bedroom-pop that brought her to internet fame. It was a risk, considering the size of her online following, but it’s already served her well: the glossier, darker sound shows off her most nuanced songwriting yet. If the size of her early-afternoon Boston Calling set this year was any indication, her local draw isn’t to be underestimated. The Paradise just added a second night, but both are sure to sell out.