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Photo: spinlab

From choosing the right festival to tips on camping and pacing yourself through the shows, here’s (almost) everything you’ll need to know about preparing for your next music festival.

WHEN I WENT to my first summer musical festival a few years back, I was unprepared and could’ve used a little guidance. Since then, I’ve covered Lollapalooza, Pitchfork Music Festival, moe.down, and other summer festivals, acquiring along the way a checklist of sorts that I wish I’d had before embarking on that first one.

Seasoned veteran or festival novice, I hope these tips can make your experience more rocking, relaxing, and fun.

Find the right festival for you

One of the best places to start is Jambase.com, an aggregator of all things related to music festivals and concerts. Check out the history of each particular festival via its website or third-party music blogs/sites.

Each festival tries to set itself apart, creating a specific slant through lineup, location, and overall vibe. Generally, festivals will be teaming up with local and regional media and artists to offer unique side shows ranging from improv theater to art exhibits to on-site record stores and activist booths promoting voter registration and green initiatives.

As you do your research, ask yourself the following four questions:

1. How much can you spend?

Festival passes range from $50 to $250 or higher, depending on venue, location, and who’s headlining and promoting the festival.

2. What type of music do you want to hear?

Musical tastes are pretty diverse these days, as most people enjoy several genres, and festival lineups reflect this. Though some are genre-exclusive, most showcase acts playing everything from bluegrass to hip hop.

3. Are you prepared to camp?

For festivals like Bonnaroo and Coachella, much of the experience is about pitching your tent and camping out for the weekend. Some camping events do offer luxury cabins or tents in return for higher ticket prices.

Most festivals provide maps pre-arrival, so you’ll want to know where the camping areas are in relation to the parking and stages. If the distance is far, try to keep your gear light or invest in a small pull wagon or cart.

Depending on how much sleep you want to get or how close you want to be to the action (many festivals run 24 hours), you’ll want to know if the camping sites are near the stages, scattered across the grounds, or both.

Bring the usual camping gear — tent, sleeping bag, etc. — and don’t forget a car charger for your phone, laptop, and other gadgets.

4. Are hotels an option?

If you’re attending a festival located in a city or metropolitan area, such as Pitchfork in Chicago, getting a hotel room for the weekend on your own is an option, or you can take advantage of the festival’s package lodging deals.

Learn the local history before you go

As with all travel, having a cultural awareness of where you’re going can enrich your festival experience and take you beyond simple enjoyment of the music. The uniqueness of many of the best festivals is rooted in their locality. For example, Glastonbury in the UK is held on festival grounds that have been used as such for centuries.

Being clued in on local culture and history will also help if you plan on venturing away during the show to give your ears a rest or want to take a pre- or post-festival excursion to visit nearby attractions.

Stretch your comfort zone

One of the best parts about the summer music festival experience is observing the meshing of different cultures and being around new groups of people. As more and more festivals incorporate different genres, I’ve seen an increasingly diverse cross-section of fans at festivals.

Take the opportunity to interact with other festival-goers, and don’t be afraid to ask for that camping tool you forgot. Chat about last night’s set, or join in a game of Frisbee.

Be smart about drugs and alcohol

I don’t include this tip to be a killjoy, but only as a word of caution. I’ve seen festival experiences come to an early and nightmarish end as a result of irresponsible drug and alcohol use.

It’s a fact that music culture and drug culture overlap, especially in a live-music setting, but be wise about bringing drugs or large amounts of booze with you. At most festivals, you’re going to be thoroughly searched before you even get though the gates. Security will either confiscate prohibited materials or ask you to leave with no ticket refunds.

Make time to chill

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to plan out a few intervals of rest and not run myself ragged trying to see every band. If you’ve done initial research on the area, take a short trek to one of the quiet spots you learned about and give your cochleas a break.

Many festivals have also begun featuring morning yoga classes, a great chance to recharge the mind and body.

I can’t stress this enough: however you do it, whether it’s reading a book, taking a nap, or journaling in a quiet spot, make time to give your ears and other senses a rest. Knowing the festival ground layout and scheduling in time to relax is the most important tip I can give.

Trip PlanningMusic Festivals

 

About The Author

Chris Catania

Chris Catania is the owner and author of Live Fix Media where he explores why fans, bands & brands are addicted to the live concert experience, and how new media is revolutionizing live music culture.

  • anonysumo

    Best idea I've found is plan not to leave. Festivals are crowded, there can be long lines for anything, and quality of facilities or vendors is a gamble. Prepare for the weather (poncho, sunscreen, etc.), comfort (water, low-back folding chairs, blankets), food (snacks, money and caffeine!), and whiz every chance you get. We're loaded up at these things like snails with our homes on our backs, but we also enjoy every minute. Rest and car chargers have been invaluable, as has been a shady camp shelter at some of the sunnier events.

  • MrManager

    should have done this in april

  • Ben

    One of the key things I've learnt to take with me on festivals I've been to over numerous years include imodium. You never know what your gonna be eating from the stalls at the festivals and in my experience you'll waste a whole festival if you don't watch out!

  • Joe | A New Band A D

    My festival top tips start and end at "Toilet Paper". It comes in useful for the obvious stuff, but if you've ever been to a music festival in northern Europe, you'll know the rainy, muddy perils involved. Toilet paper can fix a myriad of water 'n' mud problems, and can also be used as impromptu earplugs if you happen to be unlucky enough to camp next to the moron who plays bongos until the ecstasy wears off at 7am…. Joe – http://www.anewbandaday.com

  • Free Apple Gear

    Great Tips. I plan on going to a festival next year and all of this should come in handy.

  • zeeol

    However, a fairly awful guide that states every obvious decision sub-consciously made by EVERY festival goer, regular or not.

  • ie

    should have done this in april

  • Workout Planet

    Very good tips here, The only I don't agree with is "Make time to chill", I try to sleep as little as possible when I go to music festivals…………..I would say , make the most out of it

  • andrew

    don’t plan on actually getting sleep if you’re camping
    using sunscreen is NOT just for wimps
    people take their bladder and bowel movements VERY seriously
    have an inviting personailty. pretty much everyone is like minded if they’re there and chances are you’ll meet a lot of really amazing people if you allow yourself to
    water = life

  • Pingback: What Was Lollapalooza’s Biggest Health Issue? « Live Fix

  • http://www.camocaps.net Derek

    If you can take in a “factory sealed” water bottle you can take in liquor. There’s a site that sells the sealed caps called camocaps. net

    • http://yesthereissuchathingasastupidquestion.wordpress.com/ Kate Sedgwick

      Actually, all you have to do is duct tape the bottle cap to the seal ring. Open, refill, close, and untape. Enjoy.

  • Pingback: 10 Summer Music Festivals in The United States of America

  • ben keys

    I would like to add that if you’re attending a festival which does let you bring booze in and they require it in plastic bottles, be sure to label those same bottles accurately.
    Otherwise you may end up brushing your teeth with vodka or swigging a healthy mouthful of it in the dark of the night and this is fairly unpleasant.

    Also, if you don’t have any ice, get drunk nice n early before the sun can warm your mixers up.

  • Jonssmith2

    summer festival in usa

    When I went to my first summer musical festival a few years back, I was
    unprepared and could’ve used a little guidance. Since then, I’ve covered
    Lollapalooza, Pitchfork Music Festival, moe.down and other summer
    festivals, acquiring along the way a checklist of sorts that I wish I’d
    had before embarking on that first one.


    vacation in orlando

  • Dj_jizo

    AURA music festival outside of Orlando March 9, 2012 – now ya heard

  • http://festobsessed.com/ MsFit

    I created a website specifically for music festival preparation.  We have an interactive map http://festobsessed.com/map/ calendar http://festobsessed.com/map/ and even preparation tips http://festobsessed.com/2012/01/planning-ahead-for-festival-season/

  • Brett

    Good post, especially the take time to chill part. I wish I’d read something like this before I went to the last festival I went to. Another piece of advice I would give is to take plenty of water with. Go with an open mind and be friendly and you’ll have a party of note.

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