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The Grown Up’s Guide to Music Festivals

How to Survive a Music Festival as an Adult

I love music, I love music festivals – the pure combination of talent, the general goodwill and bon vivant of the crowd there to take in favorites and find some new ones. What I don’t like? Standing in lines, desperately searching for somewhere to pee and the inevitable encounter with the attendee that parties a little too hard and is either going to fall on me, barf on me or make me want to lock them in a porta potty. I had much more tolerance when I was younger, everything seemed like such an adventure…now I am all about making my experience less of an adventure and more about enjoying the music and being comfortable. I have come up with a list of ways to help you, a grown up, enjoy a music festival to it’s fullest…

1.  Consider the location and plan accordingly

Is this in your city or are you traveling? Is it in an area accessible to the nearest city like Tortuga or Pittsburgh Jazzlive or is it out at a remote location like Bonaroo? If the former, make your accommodation arrangements way, way in advance, as the first thing you do, and choose to be walking distance to the festival. You do NOT want to have to navigate parking, taxis or the madding crowd. Check the festival website for hotel partners as they often have great packages available including tickets and the like. If it’s a trek to the festival grounds, then look at camping and RV rental options on site. If that doesn’t appeal then check out the guaranteed or VIP parking options or direct shuttle service to avoid delays and unnecessary hassle. It is heartbreaking to miss a favorite band because you are waiting in a never-ending parking line.

2. The Internet is Your Friend.

Check out the festival website, get on the list for updates, join the facebook group – these are your best ways to find out about early bird offers, hotel partners, new artists and such. Generally you will not only be able to see a map of the grounds, the artist schedule and FAQ’s but it will also give you codes for early offers for tickets, car rentals, flights et al. Some festivals even have an app to help you build a schedule. It will also tell you what the rules are around kids if you plan to bring them, what special amenities or family areas they may have etceteras.

3. What can you bring and what can’t you?

Every festival has it’s own rules but generally they will allow you to bring a small bag, a blanket or chairs to sit on, and umbrella, sunscreen, bug spray and personal items. The usual no-no’s are outside food and drink, weapons, drugs, stuff you might look like you are trying to sell to other patrons like glow sticks, t-shirts. (Though I have packed a few glow bracelets for my kids when we have gone as a family to help keep track of them at night with no problem) Check on the size of the chairs, the size of the bag you can bring and if there is a special place you would have to place the chairs. If the ground is turf I usually opt for a blanket roll up instead of chairs because with a multi-stage festival it can be a pain to schlep chairs. If the ground is sand or mud – chairs are a better options, especially if it rains. Festivals have gotten very sticky about cameras as well and you won’t be able to bring a camera with detachable lenses to most festivals. In order to get some great shots with your iPhone camera check out the cool, tiny, detachable iPhone lenses at

4. My Hit List of Stuff to bring…

  • Blanket with a waterproof coating on one side to sit on. Beach or picnic blankets are the best as they usually tie up and are easy to carry.
  • CASH – ATM’s often run out of cash and there are long line ups and high fees.
  • ID and your credit card – some festivals ID everyone, even grannies, before letting them buy a drink.
  • Wet wipes, toilet paper or napkins, hand sanitizer – for all sorts of reasons.  You will thank me – it doesn’t matter how much they plan, at some point there will be a need for toilet paper.
  • Print out the schedule and the map – they usually have ones to hand out but familiarize yourself with the layout before hand.
  • An empty refillable thermos type cup (I have become a huge Tervis Tumbler fan) – the crappy glasses they usually have spill, don’t keep anything cold or hot and are really small. If you give the bartender the option of giving you a drink in your own glass they are usually pretty generous on the pour as well.  You can also use the cup at water filling stations if they have them.  Given that most festivals are in the summer heat, staying hydrated is super important.
  • A collapsible hat, sunscreen, bug spray and a small umbrella/rain ponchos- rain or shine you will be comfortable. A mini first aid kit with a few bandaids, some painkillers like Advil or Tylenol, allergy meds etc is handy as well as any special medication you regularly use. (Fairly certain medicinal marijuana doesn’t make the okay list but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone)
  • Your phone and a portable charged battery pack, and charging cord. You’ll be taking pics, and checking the schedule and burning power.  Some festivals have charging stations but the lines can be long.  Having a back up battery pack can save you the panic of trying to connect with your group and having a dead phone.
  • Earplugs. Or noise reducing headphones for little ones.

4. To VIP or not to VIP – that is the question.

Many of the festivals offer some sort of premium upgrade which may include a number of enhanced services, access and amenities. Sometimes it is a modest increase in price and sometimes it is many, many times more expensive than the basic admission. Each festival is very different so read the fine print and figure out if this offers you value based on your needs and desires for your experience.

  • Does the VIP include food and drink?  If you cannot bring in anything and don’t have in and out privileges then you are a capitive audience so having access to better or included food and drinks is a bonus.  Also, check the prices of the vendors.  If the beers are $10 a piece and you are there for three days consider how much you might pay out of pocket and if it is worth it.
  • What enhanced amenities or privileges come with VIP admission?  If you get in and out privileges, or access to better, private restroom facilities or parking this can be worth the heftier price tag.  What about special areas to get out of the rain or sun?
  • Do you have reserved seating or standing space for the performances so you don’t have to muscle your way through the sweaty, perhaps drunken masses to see your favorite bands?  Is there a more tame family friendly area if you are bringing your kiddos?
  • Is it possible to purchase VIP for one performance, one day, or is it an all or nothing situation?  Sometimes you can pick and choose when you want the enhanced access and that is less expensive than the whole shebang.

5. Special Considerations With Kids

  • Make sure kids are allowed, some festivals have age limits depending on the nature of the festival, sponsors, alcohol being served etc.
  • Consider if the location, environment and amenities lend themselves to kids attending.  Or if you can pick and choose to bring them to some things and not others.  I have brought my newish baby in a carrier to a laid back folk festival but wouldn’t necessarily to another type of event.  Or we have brought our kids to the daytime events and then left them with a sitter to check out the nightime shows.
  • Check what special kid items you are allowed to bring such as a bigger bag, a stroller or food and drink.
  • Everything you need to bring goes double for kids – hats/sunscreen/water bottles. Make sure your kids have your name and contact info on a card or sticker inside their pocket or shirt where it can’t be seen publicly but they can refer to if they are lost.
  • Take a picture of your kid at the start of the festival so you have a pic of them in what they are actually wearing just in case the horrible happens and you get separated. A cell phone pic can be shared very quickly among security peeps to help reunite you asap.
  • If there is a kid “sign in” or registry on the festival grounds, use it. The folks running it will also share with you all the kid friendly stuff that is available and usually there are some fun little giveaways for them.

6. Plan Ahead

  • Use the schedule to plan on who you want to see and do some research into the up and comers that you have never heard of to add some new faves into your schedule – check if there is a festical app to make this all easier.
  • Dress in layers with comfortable shoes so you can deal with whatever comes your way.
  • Start following the bands on twitter and facebook as they will often let you know if they will be available for picture or autograph opps at the festival.
  • Bring anything you might want signed or be prepared to purchase something at the kiosks that sell band merchandise as a souvenir.
  • Not all lines are created equal. Pay attention to the different entrances and restroom areas. Often there are killer lines at one and no lines at the other. People often swarm to the first, most obvious line ignoring the one that requires a 1 minute walk.

Just because you are getting older doesn’t really mean you have to grow up too, too much.  Rock it out and have an awesome time during music festival season…your kids might even stop rolling their eyes at you and think you are (a tiny bit) cool.





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