The do's and dont's on how to best experience your summer music
Thanks to the combined forces of planetary rotation and orbit and axial tilt, music festival season is upon us once again, and I have been asked to assemble a sort of “survival guide” to aid the uninitiated in getting the most out of the experience while minimizing injury and/or incarceration.
Bear in mind, I was never a tour kid. I didn’t follow the Dead; I’m just a middle-aged guy who’s been playing music a long time, attended many festivals and made many stupid mistakes. That’s the point of making mistakes, really. You make them so that you can help others to avoid them—allowing them the freedom to make even bigger ones. This, in turn, makes you feel better about your own. It’s the circle of gaffe and one of the great things about getting older.
Weathering the Weather
So you love nature? Good, you should, but know this: Nature does not love you. Often it seems as though nature hates you, but this isn’t true (except in Australia where nature’s only business is sweet, sweet murder). Nature is indifferent to you, and will roast, freeze or drown you without a second thought. At this time of year, in this part of the country, it’s going to be hot. Four million tons of exploding hydrogen nuclei per second will do that. Stay hydrated. I will be repeating this a few more times throughout the article because it’s really important and people are so bad at it.
Wear sunscreen, lots and lots of it. If you are a ginger person, consider digging a burrow and staying there until the sun dips low over the horizon.Clothing should be light, comfortable, and on. Seriously, running around half-naked can be great fun, but the idea here is not fashion or fun so much as protection. Some bits burn more readily than others and if it’s a bit you plan on using later in the evening, there isn’t enough aloe in the world to take care of that.
A dear friend of mine was on a gig in Florida with me once and decided to go kayaking in the middle of the day, in the middle of summer. After much admonishing from those of us who knew, he applied a little sunscreen in a perfunctory manner and headed out for an hour or so. It never occurred to him to apply any to his legs or feet, however. By the time the gig rolled around that evening, everything from the knees down was blistered, his feet had swollen to twice their size, he was sick and in agony. He had a bad time.
Pack a poncho and/or an umbrella and have a dry change of clothes. Sooner or later the rain will come and as much fun as you think it is to dance and spin and gad about in it, ten minutes later when you’re soaked and chilled you’ll kill your own grandmother for a dry pair of socks.
Bring one thing with long sleeves. Yes, it’s going to be hot, but it’s nature, remember? On yet another trip down south to death’s waiting room late summer, we found ourselves basking in the upper 80s. Gosh, it was warm! We bedded down for the night and awoke the next morning to find that a freak cold front had pushed through. It was 41 degrees when we headed out to the event. Gosh, it was cold! No one had brought anything that wasn’t specifically for temps in the upper 80s.
Basic Personal Hygiene
There isn’t any. Well, there is, and you should try to maintain it as best you can. If there are showers on site, use them. Take a buddy to watch your back, wear flip-flops if you don’t want your feet rotting off, and shower early and often. It’s a great way to stay cool and you’ll feel so much better if you aren’t crusted in funk. Bring a towel and soap, of course. Always know where your towel is.
A word on patchouli: I used to love the smell of the stuff but, in much the same way a stomach virus will make you hate your favorite food, years of exposure to patchouli and what I can only assume is decaying corpses have left me unable to stand the stuff. IT DOESN’T MASK THE SMELL! If anything, it serves as an advance warning to the innocent that someone nearby must not have bathed for a week or three; nature’s way of saying, “Don’t get too close.”
I asked a friend of mine who is a veteran of hundreds of festivals what he packed in his “festival kit.” His standard gear consists of soap, toothpaste (and brush), pain relievers, allergy meds, Neosporin, Band-Aids, tampons…Wait, what? Why is a dude bringing tampons to a festival? Because someone may need them, and when someone needs one, the person who has them is hero of the day.
Also making the list, wet naps, toilet paper (when the wet naps run out) and anti-diarrheal medicine. “Eww! He mentioned anti-diarrheal medicine! Gross!” Not nearly so gross as not having any when you need it because you know what they have at festivals? Porta-johns.
My best advice on using the facilities at a festival is this: Try to avoid pooping for two or three days if you can. Otherwise, pick the units that are furthest away as they tend to see the least traffic. Bring your own supplies as far as toilet tissue goes. Also, stay hydrated.
Advice on Food
A good festival usually has good vendors, but the food generally isn’t very healthy and can be ridiculously pricey. To the extent that you are able, bring your own. I’m not saying that you should avoid the festival grub. It’s part of the experience and healthy or not, it’s usually pretty tasty, but don’t live off it. Your gut and your wallet will thank you. And do eat something.
It’s easy in the excitement to overlook minor things like nourishment, but your body needs fuel to have fun. Water, which you should be drinking steadily the whole time, is generally available, but again, bringing your own will save you an awful lot of cash and allow you to stay hydrated.
Well, there are two kinds: legal and illegal. Of the legal variety, beer is going to be your number-one bet at most festivals and hey, who doesn’t like a cold one with their buds, amirite? The downside is that the temptation to overindulge is mighty, and you know what’s worse than a walking hangover?
A walking hangover in 90 degree heat in the middle of a crowd of smelly people who won’t quit banging on those damn drums for ten minutes. Trust me, it’s a bad time. Here’s the deal: It’s hot, you’re exerting yourself, you probably aren’t staying well hydrated and the beer is going to dehydrate you that much faster while affecting your ability to make smart decisions (like hydrating).
Moderation, kids. Set a limit ahead of time when you’re thinking clearly and stick to it.
When it comes to the illegal stuff, no one ever does it and I certainly don’t know anything about it. Having said that, here are some tips: Don’t take candy from strangers, EVER! Don’t go looking for candy from strangers. No one with good sense will acknowledge you, which means anyone who does is either too careless to be trusted or an undercover cop. Don’t try something you’ve never tried before.
It’s a bad environment for unpredictable effects. Mainly, don’t overindulge and don’t be a jackass. Personally, I have nothing but contempt for people whose pursuit of a “good time” involves spoiling everyone else’s. And stay hydrated.
The Reason You Went: Music
Well, that’s what you’re here for, isn’t it? Know the schedule of bands ahead of time, especially if there are multiple stages or performance areas.
You may have to make some painful decisions about who you want to see if two different groups are playing at the same time. If the band on stage isn’t someone you want to see, maybe that’s the moment to go get a corndog or learn to knit. Few things are worse than waiting all day for your guys to come on and then having the people on the next blanket over raising hell and whooping it up because they don’t care about the act on stage.
If you feel the urge to get up and dance, do it, by all means! But try to be aware of whose face you may be shaking your ass in and whether or not there might be a better place to do it. Maybe go down front, or off to the side, but try not to block the view of your non-dancing brethren who paid just as much as you did to get in to the event. Same goes for hula-hooping and all the other neat things you might feel the urge to do in response to the music; just take a second to make sure you aren’t doing it at someone else’s expense. It’s all about respect. And hydration.
And Speaking of Respect
A little respect goes such a long way at these things and a lack of it can spoil things for so many people.
Respect the property. Don’t litter. I cannot fathom how people still do that in this day and age. You carried the garbage out there, now carry it back. Respect the crew running the show. I’ve been behind the scenes of a few festivals and the amount of work involved is colossal.
If you’re asked not to do something, don’t do it. If you’re asked to do something, do it. Lend a hand if you can. Yes, you paid for your ticket, but that entitles you to get in, it does not entitle you to be a jerk. Respect the bands. Festival gigs are fun, but they’re also usually a much bigger hassle than showing up to the club. Respect your fellow festival attendees. Everyone is there for a good time, and believe me, a good time can be had by all with just a little thoughtfulness and common courtesy.
So that’s it, kids. It isn’t rocket surgery. Plan ahead, be prepared, don’t overdo anything whether it be dancing, drinking or “what have you,” don’t get too stupid, show a little courtesy and respect. Follow that relatively simple plan and a music festival can be one of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences you’ll ever have!
IF you stay hydrated.