Festival Survival Guide - Festival Week on BTR


photo from WikiMedia Commons

As we close out Festival Week on BTR, it’s only fair that we leave you prepared and excited for the music festival season that is upon us. You can’t just up and go to these things. Music festivals are not like regular concerts; you’re not buying a $40 ticket to the Verizon Center- this a $200+ weekend pass. And, in order to get the most bang for your buck, you should be well equipped and mentally prepared for what could be a phenomenal weekend.

The first thing a festival-goer should realize is that he or she is most likely going camping for a few days. Of course, there are many music festivals that don’t have camping, like SXSW or Lollapalooza, but most throughout the summer won’t have hotels or lodges nearby. The attendees sleep on the ground, in tents, and it’s awesome. As a seasoned festival-goer, I can promise you that sleeping on the ground is way more fun than it sounds. If being all nature-y is not your thing, try not to let the camping scare you away. Just follow this advice, and you’re guaranteed to have a successful festival adventure.

Before you go:

Check the weather. Make sure to have a good idea of what the forecast will be like wherever the festival is located. It’s important to always have warm clothes and blankets, because it could get very cold at night, but also to have extra tarps in case of rain. Every tent comes with a rain guard, but one tarp underneath and one over (strung between trees, for example) will help keep any rain out. It’s also wise to invest in a warm, waterproof sleeping bag for those surprise night storms.

Buy plenty of sensible food.
Bread, eggs, peanut butter, cheese, fruit, and other easily transportable food is ideal for camping and festivals. Don’t expect to be eating any particularly nutritious or regular meals at these events, veggies and meats simply spoil too easily, but do plan on buying at least one protein product a day from the vendors.  If a grill is available, use it, but understand that they require a lot of clean-up and gas. They can also be dangerous, so please don’t use a camping grill without proper knowledge. Vendor food is delicious (I get one Jerry Roll per fest- trust me, you gotta try it), but can be costly so be wary of budget and costs.

Buy plenty of water. At least a gallon per person per day. No exceptions. Water in the festival is just like any other commodity- they know you need it and they know you’ll pay for it. So just stop at the store on the way into the festival, and pick some up. At least, and I mean at very minimum, one gallon per person per day. Extra if possible, for cleaning hands, dishes, and because others are always in need.

Pack smart. It’ll be hot, so pack shorts and t-shirts- girls, you’ll probably want to rock the bikini top. But nighttime temperatures are unpredictable, so bring a pair of pants and top layers in case it gets cold. Also, bring sneakers! I know it’s summer and flip-flops are the natural first choice, but you’re running around and dancing all day in the dirt and rocks. Protect your feet and wear the sneaks. After a broken toe or two, you learn that wearing shoes isn’t the worst thing in the world. This is also a note to the peripheral packing: garbage bags, chairs, flashlights, paper towels (and I like to bring my own toilet paper because 9 times out of ten, the porta-pottys are out), coolers with ice, cups, etc. Most festival websites have a checklist available of things they think you will need, so reference those if you’re unsure of anything.

Do a final check for the ticket, stop for gas in New Jersey (if it’s on the way), and you’re off!

While you’re there:

Don’t stress about catching every band. It’s damn near impossible, except at All Good where they have no overlapping sets (the downside being that one band is tuning up as another is finishing their set on stages that are side by side). Festival organizes jam-pack the schedule with tons of things to do and tons of music, but one little person can’t be everywhere at once, so don’t get all hectic trying to get to a stage. Catch the bands you really want to see, and as you might here on the scene, just go with the flow. Wander throughout tent city (the affectionate nickname for campgrounds) and see who’s doing what. Visit the workshops and activities, like hula hooping or yoga or firethrowing, and maybe pick up a new skill. Browse shakedown street (the loving title, a Grateful Dead throwback, for vendor row) to find unique clothes and jewelry, beautiful handmade crafts, or the “heady” hippie memorabilia that’s all over. There’s lots to do, so don’t worry about doing it all and enjoy where you find yourself.

Make friends with the neighbors. Camping is a community sport, simply put, so befriend your teammates. They might have something you’ll need, or you might have something really cool to share with them. Sharing is caring at these festivals. The principles of Burning Man, while much more extreme, do stem from the community feeling of participating to the fullest and being selfless in your actions. Some of the best friends I have were my tent neighbors at shows. Give them a chance, because they’re probably very nice people. And getting lost in tent city in the dark is about the easiest thing to do in the whole world, so having more faces and camping spots to recognize is a good thing. On that note, bring a flag or something to stick up in the air above your spot so it’s easier to find. This will come in very handy.

Stay hydrated and energized.
Especially if it’s hot, stay very hydrated. Bring a Camelbak or other easier-to-carry water dispenser so you can bring it into the show. Dancing and running around in heat can be very taxing on the body, so be sure to drink and drink and drink water. Human bodies also don’t like to function on no sleep, so if you need a nap, take one. The atmosphere of a music festival is very much like a party, but this one goes on for 3 or so days, and staying awake to not miss a minute of the party is a bad idea. While it’s very difficult to sleep in a hot, stuffy tent past 9 am, here’s one of my favorite tips: when it gets too uncomfortable to say in the tent, take your pillow and a blanket or mat to a nice, shady area. Maybe it’s the tarp-tapestry shade you built for the campsite, or maybe it’s a lovely tree along the campground edges. Either way, curl up under there and you’ll fall right back to sleep to catch those few extras hours you need to feel healthy and energized and ready to take on another day of fest-ing. Hint: this can pretty much work any time of day, but usually after noon the music starts and people are getting rowdy so sleep is hard anyway. Just make sure you get some.

Have such a great time and stay safe! Try not to lose your crew, have meeting spots, a good marker for your campsite, make sure you have money to get home with, and don’t make stupid decisions. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of the festival atmosphere, but hold on to your values, remember who you are, and everything will work out fine.

As you leave:

Leave no trace. Ever. Anything you brought in make sure you bring out. The festival will most likely have trash locations to bring your trash bags to on your way out, and make sure to bring them there. Also, most festivals recycle so be conscious of that throughout the weekend.

Pack the car as carefully as you did the first time. The ride home is never easy and having a stuffed car is never fun, so just bite the bullet and take time in packing. And don’t be in a rush to get out, because if any real noticeable amount of cars is gone, the line to leave the grounds will last for hours. Relax and relish in the last moments of the weekend, think about your new friends and favorite bands, the new experience you’re going to have after this.  Music festivals are wonderful events and this full on revival of the trend seems to be making a lot of people happy. If I may make a suggestion, and especially if you need a good first festival, check out any of these festivals coming up in the area:

Gathering of the Vibes
Sterling Stage Fests
Catskill Chill
Strange Creek and Wormtown Festivals

Readers, got any good suggestions for me?? I’m always looking for new and exciting festivals to check out, so let me know if you have any! Happy Festival Season!