If there’s one thing every college student should add to their bucket list, it’s going to a big music festival. Believe it or not, I actually lucked into popping my music festival cherry in 2006, completely by accident. You see, my friend had bought tickets for him and his girlfriend to go to Austin City Limits that September. Due to schoolwork and a general apathy to the whole experience, she had to bail at the last minute and I caught the windfall, living in Austin at the time. My most vivid memory is seeing Ben Kweller stop performing midway through his set, his nose gushing with blood. A resourceful audience member, most likely an Eagle Scout, threw a tampon onstage, so he temporarily plugged the leak and played a couple more songs before he finally had to stop.
Ever since that weekend, I’ve tried to go to as many festivals as I could afford without traveling too far. This summer, I’ll be hitting up Free Press Summer Fest in Houston for the first time, though I have no doubt it’ll be another memorable weekend through and through.
If you’re going to a festival for the first time though, it can seem intimidating. With a little preparation and planning, you can maximize the experience and avoid some common pitfalls.
First, make sure everyone you’re going with actually wants to be at the festival. There’s nothing worse than missing some quality shows because you brought a sourpuss with you who won’t stop moaning about the heat. Two or more 12 hour days of music can be exhausting, so you’ll want to be with people who are enthusiastic about the event. In 2007, I stupidly brought a (now ex) girlfriend to ACL and not only did I miss almost all of Queens of the Stone Age, because it was “too noisy” (no shit, it’s a music festival, honey), but I also had to skip all of Bjork’s Friday night closing set because the girlfriend petered out after the Killers and wanted to go home. Normally I’m Mr. Brightside, but that weekend marked the beginning of the end of our relationship.
Do research on the lineup. Unless you’re deep into the music scene, you probably won’t recognize a lot of the bands besides the headliners. Just for fun, I decided to see who I missed at ACL 2007, since I don’t have a lot of fantastic memories from that weekend. Evidently I skipped Arcade Fire, Arctic Monkeys, LCD Soundsystem and The National (bands I definitely wouldn’t have skipped, knowing what I know now) because I was a love-struck moron, not in touch with indie rock at the time, who didn’t do proper research. Learn from my error. Unless you can use astral projection to be at two or more stages at once, it’s impossible to see every band on the card, so find out who you like and plan to be at their stage at least 20 minutes ahead of schedule to avoid getting crowded out.
Prepare for the weather. The festival is happening rain or shine, so if there’s rain in the forecast, bring an umbrella. I bailed early on Tom Petty at ACL 2006, because it started pouring at the beginning of his Sunday night closing set and I didn’t have an umbrella. This was after a hot, sunny weekend, so you just never know. Typically it’ll be hotter than hell all day long, without much, if any shade, so bring plenty of sunscreen, too.
Finally, look into what you are and aren’t allowed bring inside the gate. Food and drinks are terribly expensive at the concession stands, so if you’re allowed bring unopened bottled water or any snacks, do it. A lot of times, you can bring in empty bottles to fill at water fountains. Do that too. Blankets you aren’t afraid to throw away at the end of the weekend are also a necessity and you can bring those to any festival. The last thing you’ll want to bring is plenty of cash, just in case you need it for any unexpected purchases inside the gates. Be on the lookout for giveaways as well. You can also score free concessions if you keep your eyes peeled for promoters handing out products.
Music festivals provide a weekend’s worth of excellent entertainment for a reasonable price, if you consider how much it would cost to see each band on their own. In order to get the most bang for your buck though, it’s important to lay the proper groundwork for a memorable weekend.