Music Festivals

It’s finally music festival season again and there are so many good choices—jazz, classical, bluegrass, reggae, jam, or blues—you’ll find something you like. I have a lot of experience with music festivals, so I thought I would share some good ideas with you.

Do some preliminary scouting. See if you can find someone who has been to the venue before and can give you some hints. Look at the website. Check the rules. Do they allow alcohol? cameras? high back chairs? You don’t want to be turned away at the gate because you brought a banned item. By the way, low back chair means a reclining chair, not a short upright chair; people still cannot see over your head. If that’s your only choice then sit in the back and don’t block the view of all the people behind you.

Things to bring: blanket(s), low back chairs, sunscreen, hat, camera, batteries, earplugs, sunglasses, snacks, drinks (if they are permitted), layers of clothing (we’ve needed everything from bathing suit, tank top, long sleeve shirt, to sweatshirts, jackets, hats, and gloves (sometimes on the same day)). Other than that I wouldn’t bring much. Since you’re carrying it all, you want to travel light.

Get there early. Literally, up to three hours before the gate opens. I really can’t see the point in coming late. You have to crawl over everyone else to find a spot and squeeze in between them or sit way far in the back. You’ll miss some of the show. Just show up early, relax, check out the booths, enjoy the vibe.

Go with the program as far as parking. They will probably have something set up and you will have to pay. Just accept it. If you got there early it won’t be a problem. My only objection is riding a shuttle to the site. It’s fine going there, but getting back to your car is a nightmare. Avoid it if you can.

Getting through the gate can be quick and easy or excruciatingly slow. Have your own ticket in your hand. Have your bags open and ready to be searched. If you are hiding contraband, make sure it is hidden really well. They don’t search that good.

I like to sit as close to the front as possible because I like to take pictures. But the sound is better about half way back and in the middle. We always buy the “gold circle” tickets if they are available which cost more, but the whole experience is usually better too. Often they won’t allow dancing in the gold circle area. If your venue allows dancing, watch out. It’s another reason to set up camp a little further back. You don’t want to get stomped on when they start up.

Setting up camp. Establish your spot quickly. Check where the sun will be later at the height of the day and if there is any possibility of shade. Choose your place and spread your blankets fast. The crowd will fill in right to the edges of where you put those blankets. Open your chairs and spread them around too. Use shoes or backpacks or whatever you have to mark the corners. I’m not kidding here. You’ll have a much better time if you can have a comfortable space. This is critical: as time goes by, natural walkways will become clear. Any open space that can be negotiated, will be. If your stuff is in that path, it will be walked on, without consideration, by thousands of people. If it becomes a problem for you, shift your things to the front of your blanket space and fold back the backside of your blanket out of the way, making it easier for them to get around behind you. You lost space, but you don’t have your view blocked by people trampling your stuff all day long.

Find out if the vendors take money or tokens. If they are tokens, buy a bunch right away. Sometimes these lines get really long and you don’t want to stand in two long lines every time you need a drink or something to eat.

Porta-potties. If the crowd is experienced, they will know to form one long line and the first person gets the first one available. This works way better than one line for each potty. Or free-for-all. That’s just a mess. If you have a choice always go for the furthest one, it will be cleanest. Proper Porta-potty ettiquette says to leave the lid down to contain the smells, but if it’s very busy, that’s not going to help and then you have to touch the lid. If you’ve got any kind of a brain, you can figure out that going during the break is crazy. I usually go for midway in a set, even though it means missing some music, the lines are always shorter then. That way you can be back in time to see the finale of each set.

Make friends. Talk to the people around you, especially the security guards, if they are close by. Offer food, beer, whatever else you have to share. They can become invaluable if you need help later. They’ll watch your stuff when you leave and generally make your experience better.

Multi-stage strategy. Ok, I should not endorse this kind of behavior, but if you really need to see shows on two stages and you promise not to be a hog, you can set up two different camps. When we did this at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass last year we kindly offered our seats to some people standing close by. They were thrilled and when we made our way back there, they were very gracious about giving them back to us. I hate people who spread out blankets right in front and never come back. I’ve gotten to the point where I just set up on top of their stuff. If they come back, I scoot out of their way a little.

Well, all of that, and we haven’t got to the music yet! I usually wear earplugs, these large venues want to show off their loud sound systems. If you like to dance, don’t block other people’s view. Move to the edges. If the crowd makes a move to rush the stage, decide quickly if you want in or out, because either way it will be difficult to change your position after the fact.

We usually stay til the bitter end. That way you don’t miss the grand finale and most of the people have drifted away during the day, so it’s easy to get out. Another day full of music, sunshine and friends, comes to a close.

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