North America, Travel Stories

Your Guide to Summer Music Festivals

I should be planning my trip to Mexico. It’s only a month away and many of the details are lacking. Instead, I’m sitting on the porch obsessively watching videos of Joe Purdy (love of my life), and wishing I had the time and money to go to some summer music festivals this year. Ah, to have it all.
TheBarefootBeatDid I mention how much I love this man?
Wakarusa 2009

To turn my time-wasting daydreaming into something productive, I thought I’d share some of my experiences and tips from previous music festivals so you can get the most out of your own experience. Here are some Do’s and Don’t’s for your reading pleasure.
TheBarefootBeatWakarusa 2011

Do…Buy your tickets early. There’s nothing like feeling disappointed when your favorite festival sells out in a few hours and you miss that incredible line-up (that will probably never be repeated) just because you waited around. Follow your favorite festival on Facebook or Twitter for updates on when tickets should go on sale. (Aka don’t be like me and miss out on Telluride by not planning ahead).

Do…Look into carpooling. Most festivals offer camping which is an added expense to tickets. If you can’t talk your friends into going with you, check out Ricky Rides, a car sharing site dedicated to helping devoted fans find rides to festivals all over the U.S. When I went to Bonnaroo last year I used Zimride, another car sharing site to find someone from KC to carpool with. We shared the cost of gas and I made a new friend!

Do…Bring lots of beer. You won’t be allowed to take alcohol into the stage area, but you are allowed to bring your own (as long as it’s not in a glass container) and drink it at your campsite. Beer is cheap and probably the best thing to drink (besides water) in the heat. There will be vendors selling alcohol but it will be overpriced and selective. If you don’t drink, beer is a great way to make friends with your neighbors and an awesome bartering tool.

Do…Pack an extra tarp or canopy for shade. Look, it’s going to be hot. It’s going to be so hot you won’t want any part of your body touching itself or anyone else touching you, for that matter. Most camping areas are in open fields with little to no shade. Umbrellas are useful for walking around with, but you’ll want some shade at your campsite that still allows the breeze to blow through for a cooling effect.
TheBarefootBeatOur first sad attempt at creating shade. We called this our “Hobbit Hole.”
Wakarusa 2009

Do…Let your freak flag fly. Festivals are an alternate reality where pretty much anything goes. I highly recommend coming up with a festival nickname and introducing yourself as this alter-ego. If you can’t think of something, don’t worry, it will come to you when you least expect it. (Just so you know, Andromeda and Star Fortress are already taken). You can also leave your own creative mark by designing a flag for your campsite (this will make it easier to find your car in a sea of tents and impress your neighbors). Most festivals also have costume contests so channel that alter-ego and throw some items in the trunk to represent the free spirit inside.
TheBarefootBeatDancing Mushrooms, Wakarusa 2011

Do…Make a plan. It’s going to be almost impossible to see all of the music you want to without making a tentative plan beforehand. The bigger the festival the more difficult this becomes with headliners from the Beach Boys to Skrillex vying for your attention. If you’re not sure who to include on your itinerary, search for a festival play list on Spotify to hear a sample of the artists that will be playing.

Do…Remember to check out some of the activities available during the day. I’ll never forget the year at Wakarusa when I had the opportunity of sharing a Shabbat dinner with Matisyahu just because we had gone to a Jewish meditation event earlier in the day.

Do…Leave no trace. It’s amazing the level of damage thousands of festival goers can do in a few days. Reduce the impact and pick up after yourself. Take advantage of the recycling programs offered at the festivals and respect the volunteers and festival workers who have worked hard to make the event enjoyable for you.
TheBarefootBeatBonnaroo 2012

Don’t…Forget to pack the sunscreen. You’ll enjoy your time so much more if your skin isn’t blistering. On that note, here are a few other things you should pack:
Aloe Vera (because you’re going to forget to put on that sunscreen)
Glow sticks
Body paint
Picnic blanket
Bug Spray
Toilet paper
Cheap camera (you don’t want your nice one getting stolen)
Fanny pack
Wire hanger (somebody WILL lock their keys in their car, hopefully not you)
Hand sanitizer
TheBarefootBeatThis umbrella and beer coozy came in very handy!
Wakarusa 2011

Don’t…Do drugs. Or maybe do them. The first time I went to a music festival I was very naive about the level and variety of drugs that would be present. The availability of drugs is one of the main draws at festivals for a lot of people, so just be aware of this before you go. Know that your car will be searched for weapons, glass, fireworks, drugs, etc. before you enter the campgrounds. Use common sense when buying or using drugs from someone you don’t know. If you’re not experienced, ask someone who is before you buy or try. Realize that a lot of people will be under the influence. If some random dude starts crashing into your tent late at night, resist the urge to pop him in the eye and realize he’s probably on a bad trip. Take turns watching each other’s back if you’re trying anything for the first time. Have fun. Be safe.

Don’t…Worry too much about food. There will be plenty of cheap food vendors at the festival selling all sorts of delicious fare. Last year at Bonnaroo I ate from the Amish Bakery at least twice a day (their pretzels were so tasty I seriously debated eating the rest of mine after it fell on the ground). Most of the time, it will be so hot you won’t feel hungry, and it will be hard to keep things cool. Ice is available but will be expensive so pack some snacks that will keep well in the heat and plan on eating the rest of the time from the food trucks.

Don’t…Bring anything you wouldn’t want stolen. Unfortunately, a lot of the music festivals that started out small have gotten larger and larger. With bigger crowds comes more potential for crappy people to steal your stuff. Keep your valuables locked and hidden in your car just to be on the safe side.

Don’t…forget why you came. It’s tempting to spend the entire weekend chasing the buzz, but it might be nice to actually remember that amazing Red Hot Chili Peppers set instead of having a vague recollection of passing out on the lawn during “Scar Tissue.” Experiencing your favorite band while high = awesome. Missing your favorite band because of a bad trip = awful.
TheBarefootBeatRocking out to the Avett Brothers
Bonnaroo 2012

Are you going to any music fests this year? What are some of your own Do’s and Don’t’s? What is one of your favorite memories from a past festival?

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  • Reply Vine & Vision February 27, 2024 at 6:23 am

    Thanks for sharing these festival tips and experiences! Great reminders for making the most out of our festival adventures. Cheers to unforgettable memories and epic music!

  • Reply Britany April 30, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    LOVE music festivals. I made it to Lollapalooza all three years I lived in Chicago. Unfortunately, I won’t be making it to any this year… unless there happen to be some along our Mongol Rally route, which, now that you’ve reminded me, I should really look into! Great tips for making the most out of my favorite summer activity!
    Britany recently posted…So You Want to Try Ayahuasca?My Profile

    • Reply Mariah April 30, 2013 at 4:25 pm

      I know, I’m kind of heartbroken I won’t be able to go to any this year either. I suppose we shouldn’t be complaining since we’ll be having different adventures! It’s hard not to want it all though!

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