The People Watching Phenomenon That Is Music Festivals - We're Watching You Week


By Meredith Schneider

Festival goers relaxing during the Nuits Sonores Electronic Music Festival in Lyon, France. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Summer is here, and with it comes music festival season. Awesome for those of us who love live music. More awesome for those of us who enjoy people watching; the modern alternative to bird watching that’s far more entertaining. What we cannot know about birds through simple observation—such as the truth of what’s being convey through their mannerisms, chirping dialect, or what drives their outrageous fashion sense—can be noted about humans, making people watching a far more intricate process. Plus crowded places make this pastime super accessible, which can be a plus for those of us who don’t do patience.

In a poll published this month, MSN brought to light some of the most interesting things people are encountered doing at music festivals. Not surprisingly, the polled demographic affirmed the assumptions that they sleep with strangers (25 percent), do mood-enhancing and experimental drugs (21 percent), and cause mischief (which all led 13 percent of them to get into a fight). A lot of this is very interesting, but what did we find to be the best part about it all? Forty-seven percent of those who participated admitted to partaking in behavior at music festivals that they would otherwise never consider in their daily lives.

This makes sense. Pop culture remembers Woodstock best as a giant orgy where people shared food, drugs, and dancing out of the pure goodness of their hearts. They also got muddy and rocked out like those who were not in attendance may never encounter, if concert footage is to be fully believed.

Even now, people are almost expected to operate out of their comfort zone at music festivals like Coachella, EDC, and Bonnaroo—which makes for a whole new experience for our prying eyes. The following are interesting opportunities to people watch at the next big music festival you attend.

Photo courtesy of Shane Kelly.

1. Mosh pits. Watch them closely. When are you allowed to just start punching and shoving people in every day life? And they will lead to equally enamoring situations like all-out brawls, complete strangers meeting abruptly, and some amazing battle scars.
2. People dancing alone. You’ve got your swayers, who stand in the middle of a wide open space, close their eyes, and sway to the music (and sometimes end up getting sick or drunkenly taking their clothes off). Then there are people who run around and dance with strangers. They seek attention and sometimes are so hyped up they don’t realize they have to get sick. Or take their clothes off. Then, if you’re really lucky, you’ll find the one sober guy who is willing to do all of his robot dance moves for a little extra confidence boost—soak that one in while you can. He will either think he is good and go all out, or he will actually be a show within the show.
3. Fashion. Sure, you’ve got girls who dress up like it’s Halloween and wear as little clothing as possible. But you’ve also got people who wear footie pajamas, guys with big bellies who wear too-tight t-shirts and barely-there shorts, and hippies. These are the fun ones to observe.

Other things to do at music festivals that you might not necessarily do in your own environment include riding fairground rides, constantly searching for a charging station so you can tweet/instagram the next set, bathing each other, including yourself in a strange sleeping situation (hammocks, tents, no pillows, oh my!), shamelessly feeling each other up, and the Woodstock-induced mudslide.

People get dirty at music festivals, and there seems to be no shame. So pack it in and get ready to be a silent observer. At least until you decide you want people to watch you. Think you have what it takes to be an avid people-watcher? Here are some tips to make you a pro before you hit the streets. (Don’t be an amateur who gets caught!):

Photo courtesy of Tim Simpson.

1. It’s called people WATCHING. Commit to avoid interaction at all cost with the object of your wandering eyes.
2. Choose a prime location to people watch from. Make sure you’re not standing in the middle of the beer line and not paying attention to its movement. That just pisses people off. In other words, choose the least annoying spot to be an onlooker.
3. Try not to be obvious. While people watching can be fun, it’s also better not to acquire a restraining order in the process. Know your boundaries, like when to look away (before they look over their shoulder at you) and when to stop.