So you’ve decided to attend a summer music festival. Congratulations! Welcome to a marathon of melodies, merriment and mud. There are over 30 festivals in June alone and one of the biggest, Bonnaroo, takes place this weekend in Tennessee.
You may not remember all the details after being overserved, overmedicated or overexposed. You may to want to use an alias to protect yourself and the reputation of your family. You might smell like Andy Dufresne emerging from the sewer in The Shawshank Redemption.
Don’t alarm yourself. This is normal. This is fun. This is a music festival. Follow our handy, dandy guide and you’ll survive with some of your dignity in tact.
The music festival has come a long way since the embryonic days of Woodstock. They are not quaint little gatherings anymore. Many have corporate partnerships. And since the 2000s, there has been a steady increase in the number of festivals. Businesses and advertisers love them because they bring in young crowds.
According to billboard.com, 32 million people go to at least one music festival every year. A little less than half of those people – 14.7 million – are Millennials. Last year, the average Millennial spent $163 on music with 17 percent spent on admissions to festivals. Big money with a focus on the 18-to-34 year-old demographic means that music festival balloon hasn’t burst yet.
Bonnaroo draws 800,000 people over four days. That’s not even the biggest. Milwaukee’s Summerfest bills itself as The World’s Largest Music Festival and lasts 11 days, bringing as many as one million people. That’s not even the coolest. The festival to see and be seen is Coachella in California, where if you think you saw Leonardo DiCaprio with Rihanna – you probably did.
— BuzzFeed (@BuzzFeed) April 18, 2016
Which music festival should you attend? Most people make their decisions based on the lineup. You should also factor in location, schedule, ease of entry, cost and accommodations (camping versus hotel versus AirBnb). Bonnaroo might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for some and always has a killer lineup.
However, it’s also can be a pain in the arse to get into the park. And if you don’t enjoy camping, this might not be the festival for you. Lollapalooza, located in downtown Chicago, might be more to your liking.
Some festivals have showers on site, but your access to them might be limited by demand. Brace yourself for hygiene challenges. And if you’re one of the unfortunate ones, that first trip to the shower after three or four days in the muck will feel like the greatest shower of all time.
Bring hand sanitizer, baby wipes, snacks, bottled water, clothes and shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty or totally destroyed. (Dress more for comfort than fashion.) Grab a poncho because it’s going to rain at least one of those days; it’s inevitable. Cell phone chargers are good to have, though many festivals have charging stations. And sometimes you might just luck into an open electrical outlet.
Bug spray and sunscreen are useful. I learned a painful sunscreen lesson at Forecastle Festival last year. For the first time in my African American life, I got a sunburn. Didn’t even know it was possible. Now I know what my Caucasian brothers and sisters fear. I felt their pain.
Food options are better these days, thanks to food trucks. Make sure to check the website of your festival to see what is offered. There is no guarantee they’ll be able to accommodate your freshwater, pescatarian, free-range, gluten-free diet.
You will also need a plan. It’s important to come up with a general idea of which bands you want to see and in what priority. Don’t feel obligated to see every single artist. Chances are, it’s going to be hot and humid, and partying all day can wear you down. If you plan correctly, and if the schedule maker cooperates, you might even get in a quick nap between sessions so you’re at peak energy level for the evening shows (usually reserved for the top acts).
You’re also going to need all your strength to navigate through the different kinds of annoying people you’re likely to encounter.
The crowd pusher: Look, everyone wants to be as close as possible. We get it. But there are certain rules of decorum one should follow. The crowd pusher will use any ruse or scheme (“Excuse me, I’m looking for my mom.” Really, dude?) to shove into the mass of humanity to the front of the stage. Never mind the other people who have been waiting patiently for hours. Fortunately, some music festivals have sections in front of the stage that they clear out after every performance. This thwarts the crowd pusher who is the worst. JERK!
The stoners: The laws are changing. It’s more accepted and apparently has medicinal benefits. That still doesn’t change the fact that marijuana smoke smells awful. The stoners won’t have the decency to toke up in a sparsely populated area. Nope, the stoners will continually puff out a mushroom cloud of annoyance in the most crowded area. JERK!
The inappropriately dressed up couple: It’s a music festival. Why anyone would wear some of their best clothes seems like Russian roulette. Still, you’ll see one person wearing a suit jacket and another in a fancy dress with fancy high heels at the festival. Not JERKS, but these are strange people.
Music snob: Without any prompting, gives a total stranger the complete rundown of the 10 best concerts he has seen. He knows these details because he carries it around on a spreadsheet. Points out instantly when a musician makes a mistake. Tells you that Coachella isn’t as good as it used to be when it was all about the music. JERK!
General snob: Silently observes and judges the behavior of others. Strongly believes he is the arbiter of proper etiquette and then opines self-righteously. (Hey, wait a minute! I know that guy.) Total JERK!
— Synox Digital (@SynoxDigital) June 2, 2016
It’s the final day of the festival. You’re caked in mud, your left flip-flop is missing and a bare-chested sweaty guy keeps bumping into you. You’re having a discussion with a girl named Molly who keeps talking about her trip. Or was it some girl behind you taking Molly who having a bad trip? The whole day seems like a hallucination caused by fatigue, alcohol and the thumping bass sounds.
You’ve made it this far. You’ve become one with the festival. It’s almost like Lana Del Rey, Kanye West, Florence + The Machine, Kendrick Lamar and My Morning Jacket are singing exclusively for you.
Life couldn’t get any better. You’ll wake up tomorrow happy until you realize you have to be at the office for work at 8 a.m.
Good visual representation of how I feel returning to work after a music festival: https://t.co/E4QrEf482m cc: @squamishfest
— ʝb. (@jaybrnz) August 11, 2015