Illustrations by Sophie Lucido Johnson.
It’s summer in Chicago and aside from the overwhelming amounts of ice cream opportunities, there’s also a music festival pretty much every weekend. While festivals always sound jovial, you inevitably run the risk of ending up parched and miserable, wondering what in the hell you were thinking when you bought a two-day pass. Here are some survival tips, from veterans who’ve been there:
Gauge your level of commitment and excitement. If you are planning to go with a group of friends, don’t be the dictator that gets mad when your friends do not feel like following your carefully-crafted itinerary. If you are lucky enough to find someone who is just as enthusiastic as you are, stick with that person, or don’t be afraid to go by yourself. Most people that go to festivals are down to meet fun people. Go out, dance, and be nice to people; companions will come.
If you are an enthusiastic person, you probably want to be in the front of the crowd … for everything. At big festivals like Mamby on the Beach or Lollapalooza, you want to target the sides of the stage to avoid view obstruction. If it is not barricaded along the perimeter, set up shop on the upper left or right-most quadrants of the lawn space in front of the stage. This is optimal if you don’t want to deal with large crowds trying to exit when the show is over; you’ll just have to move to the side rather than wait for the others in front of you to move along.
Have some sympathy. These are people just like you and they often don’t mind chatting on the job. Press people can be aggressive about getting their shot, but they are usually chill, and they often know where secret after-parties are happening. Bloggers are the gatekeepers of swag. They’ll often stop you if you’re wearing a killer outfit and they sometimes have useful and fun things to give away. I’ve gotten things like bottle opener key chains with feminist quotes on them and USBs with awesome playlists on them just by helping bloggers meet their quota at the end of the day.
Safety is a big issue at festivals and the people that work at them take it seriously; you should too. When I went to Lollapalooza in 2012, there was a big thunderstorm and we had to evacuate the park while it passed. My friends and I ended up going to another friend’s hotel where people just hung out by the indoor pool and some group got playing cards from their room and we all watched them play poker and ate an obscene amount of Ritz crackers. If that does not sound like a valuable use of your time, it could be wise to look up a fun place that can serve as a good hideout if you need to evacuate the park for whatever reason.
With inclement weather comes mud.
Where there is mud, there will always be people stripping themselves of their inhibitions wanting to get All. Up. In. That. Noise. They will fling, they will wrestle, they will invite you to join them. I have never met a single sober person at a festival who was grateful for falling in with the mud people, so unless you have the need to fulfill a Motocross fantasy, avoid the areas of the grass that are subject to becoming muddy. These include areas that are less frequented by foot traffic than others — like the outer perimeters of stages, obscure walkways, and sometimes, to everyone’s surprise, right in front of the Porta Potties … of course.
Especially at backwoods-type festivals like Bonnaroo or Sasquatch, your phone can become pretty useless reception-wise. If and when you do get separated from your friends because one of them fell into a falafel K-hole and the other went to the bathroom all the way on the opposite side of the park (even though there was one right next to the stage you were at), don’t panic. I have found that if I do get separated, I retrace my steps like anyone would — but I also look out for others who have the same stupid face on that I do. Lost people move in droves, but they can be too blindsided by their own anxiety to notice others around them. Often in the act of helping one another get going, you end up finding whomever you need to find, and bonus: Now you’ve gained more dance partners!