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How to Enjoy a Music Festival: A Handy Guide

The Walkmen at Boston Calling
The Walkmen at Boston Calling

It's June, which means we're smack in the middle of music festival season: SXSW and Coachella are distant memories at this point, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza are on the horizon and New York City's own Governors Ball is set to decimate Randall's Island this coming weekend. (Oh, yeah. And our own 4Knots Music Festival.) Festivals are a fantastic place to discover new music, run into like-minded friends-in-rock/pop/hip-hop/etc. from out of town and witness a few never-to-be-seen-again cameos and surprise appearances that can only happen on that stage at that given moment.

Experiencing a good festival lineup is like catching lightning in a bottle for an entire weekend for the die-hard fans who come in droves. But it's just as exciting and special for the douchebags who flock to stadiums and fairgrounds. You need to be prepared. There's lots to navigate. Fortunately, we're here to help.

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Don't freak out about the accommodations/facilities! Things that will always be gross: Public restrooms frequented by thousands of drunk/high/heat-stroked/carnival food-eating people; fields and fairgrounds trampled by said thousands of drunk/high/heat-stroked/carnival food-eating people. Porta Potties are just terrible all around. Yes, it'd be rad to be able to hit the bathroom without catching diseases and walk through a crowd without stepping on something questionable, but consider the environment and prep yourself ahead of time. The production companies running these events don't want a health hazard on their hands--and they definitely don't want furious people coming at them with complaints--but heading to a big festival with the expectation that you'll be clean and comfortable the whole time is a straight-up joke. If you're germaphobic, freaked out by crowds and genuinely uncomfortable at the idea of being thrown into a teeming mass of people in a relatively enclosed space, a music festival is probably not the place to check out your new favorite band. Thankfully, touring schedules are built around these things for a reason, and you will likely have the opportunity to see Grimes or The National or Jason Aldean or whoever in the area closely before or after their scheduled festival date. That said, you'll enjoy yourself a hell of a lot more if you suck it up and realize that watching The Roots and Jim James play together with the sun beating down on your shoulders is more than worth dealing with 90 seconds of human grossness.

Don't flash your badge in anybody's face! Scored a backstage pass somehow? Cool! Working the event as a reporter or a photographer? Neat! I get that you're excited, but wear that goofy lanyard like a normal person and refrain from shoving it under the nose of everyone who's unfortunate enough to make eye contact with you. LANYARDS DON'T LOOK COOL. You will look like a jerk who thinks they're too cool to be there, and you will achieve the opposite effect in that no one will think you're cool enough to be there. If you're going to try to cut lines or book it to a spot with a better view of Father John Misty, make your badge visible, and don't barge through that crowd wielding that dinky piece of laminated plastic like a water buffalo charging at a prospect during mating season.

Do wear real shoes! There can only be one Shoe Fail Coachella Guy. (Or there should be only one Shoe Fail Coachella Guy.)

Seriously, though, no flip-flops, no platforms, no zillion dollar sneakers that Drake also has. Wear shoes you won't mind trashing that you can sprint across a parking lot in, just in case you have to.

 

The author in her natural habitat.
The author in her natural habitat.
James Joiner

Don't overdo it! Not to pull a teetotaler or McGruff or anything, but do we seriously need to keep talking about how stupid it is to take, drink or smoke stuff from someone you've never met? Electronic music festivals in particular get a bad rap for tons of kids rolling and freaking out (or worse), and the irresponsible actions of a few naive/idiotic people do Irreparable damage to the branding of a festival and its future. People love getting stoned to watch Phish or whatever, but keep your wits about you--or at least within metaphorical reach--because so much can go wrong in a situation like this where you're not in control and you should be.

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Don't watch the show through the screen of your iPhone! You know that "rock concert audience evolution" graphic? It's so true it's sad. Put the phone down for a minute and be there so that you can listen to Paul McCartney singing right before your very eyes! I promise you, your friends will be just as impressed with your stories from the festival--and probably more so--than they would with your pointless Vine of a Wings opening riff. (And don't even get us started on you people who bring iPads to concerts.)

Do enjoy yourself! Prep is your friend: read up on the festival schedule before you get there and plan accordingly so that you arrive at Randall's Island/Manchester/Fort Adams/the woods of Washington/etc. with plenty of time to park and get in. Nothing sucks more than standing in a long, terrible line when you hear the first notes of a set you've been dying to catch, because it's a completely avoidable problem that could've been fixed with heading out a half-hour earlier.

Seems simple, but half of these "duh" statements are frequently overlooked due to excitement, anxiety, naiveté or poor planning--and checking yourself ahead of time will absolutely keep you from a ton of unpleasant situations that would render you a dick at a music festival. And for chrissakes, WEAR SUNSCREEN.

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