A Beginners Guide To Civilizing The Music Festival Experience
By Guest Contributor Rochelle Douris, Co-host of GROstival, a podcast about the music festival life and related adventures along the way.
One year ago, Graham and I had our first festival camping experience at the inaugural Wayhome festival in Oro-Medonte, Ontario. Without exaggerating, I can say that it changed our lives. Twelve months later here we are, co-hosting a podcast devoted to music festivals. We just returned from an epic road trip to the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee and are making plans to attend the Midtown Music Fest in Atlanta, Georgia and Voodoofest in New Orleans, later this fall. But first, in a few short days, we will return to Wayhome – the place where it all began.
We will not be alone. Without exception, anyone we talk to who also attended Wayhome in 2015 describes it as one of the best experiences of their lives. Most are returning. That shared experience has launched a thousand beautiful Instagram posts, social media groups and hashtags. For all of us, the lead-up to the festival will be a flurry of packing, half-assing it at work and trying to put aside as much spending money as we possibly can.
For many of us, Wayhome was also our first experience at a multi-day fest with on-site camping. Along with the great music, ethereal visuals and new friends, for many of us Wayhome was also a crash course in the unique peccadilloes of festival life. Internet research, even the most intense dives, is simply no comparison with experiencing the real thing, first-hand. It’s kind of like childbirth. All the pre-natal classes in the world can’t possibly prepare you for that moment when the shit literally starts flying.
However, we have learned a fair bit over the past year. If you Google “music festival tips,” some of those lists are longer than the complete works of Shakespeare (and just as intimidating.) So, what follows is our must-list. A few basics that have saved us and hopefully will help to make your music festival experience a little more rainbows and unicorns.
1. WHEN TO ARRIVE: Sooner, the better. If the fest starts Friday, but the campsite opens Thursday at 3pm, give yourself a little gift and take the extra day off work. Enjoy setting up your tent slowly, meeting your neighbours and cracking a few cold ones. And if you can’t get the day off, arriving at weird hours like 2am or mid-afternoon Friday has its own benefits, like missing the line-up completely. If you are stuck in line to get in, enjoy it (you’re not at work, right?)
Read every detail on the festival website.
Find out, download and/or print out directions, rules, times and locations.
Make sure to fill up on gas and pee when you are close to your destination.
Pack snacks and cold drinks for the wait.
Download podcasts, music and/or a great audible book to pass the time.
HINT: Don’t camp within 50 metres of the port-a-potties. Let other people ahead of you in the campsite line if you have to. The “convenience” of proximity can also mean an environment so pungent, you will be breathing through your mouth only.
2. FOOD: Bonnaroo was a surprise in the breadth and variety of on-site food vendors. The variety of flavours meant every day was a new food adventure. We even had the 24-hour vegan Solar Cafe inside our campground. A tofu-scramble burrito at 3am? That’s the height of civilization. The offerings at Wayhome, however (at least for the moment) are not quite as extensive or round-the-clock accessible. While it can be initially exciting to compare deep-fried food truck offerings, by day three I guarantee that you will be craving fresh produce. Bring some granola bars and fresh fruit/veggies that travel easily – but don’t overbuy. The reality is that 99% of your waking hours will be spent far away from your campsite on the festival grounds. Don’t waste your precious festival minutes schlepping back to your campsite for an apple. Everything sold by a vendor on-site costs double what it would in the outside world. Suck it up and don’t complain. Budget for it like grown-up and forget about your diet. It’s only three days.
Not all festival food is some variation on a deep-fried Mars bar. At Wayhome, don’t miss the Indian Tacos (vegetarian option available) from the Flying Chestnut. Our obsession with them caused us to hunt them down at every festival we attended in 2015.
Twice we have packed a camping stove and twice haven’t used it (but we’ve seen others who do.) I guess for us the bottom line is we are there to see as many bands as possible, not to cook.
The only exception is coffee. At Wayhome, the festival site isn’t open in the morning, and the one off-site food truck serving coffee had a 30-minute line-up, last year. In this case, the stove could come in handy. Buy some Via instant from Starbucks and a little pot to boil water. Done!
3. PHONE CHARGERS: You will want to take photos, follow your favourite bands (or podcast 🙂 on Instagram and Twitter, and most importantly FIND YOUR FRIENDS in the endless sea of people. Texting will become crucial. And yes, there are charging stations, but the line-ups are long. Factor in the time spent waiting for your phone to charge, then the line-up waiting to pick it up and you get one big waste of time.
Bring several pre-charged phone chargers.
Alternately – the best thing we have chanced upon is this genius charger from China which we have only been able to find on ebay. One of these and a bunch of AA-batteries and you are set.
Please don’t be that entitled ass who idles their car while they charge their phone. Your neighbour is literally inches away, inhaling your exhaust.
4. GARBAGE AND RECYCLING BAGS: Bring a few big ones. Use them!
5. BEATING THE HEAT: The heat can render even the most outdoorsy people incapable of rational thought. There’s no breeze amongst 20,000 closely-compacted tents and fuel-operated generators powering air-conditioners are wrong on so many levels (I don’t really have to go into it, do I?) There’s a place for those – it’s called the RV-camping section. If you’re going to go to all that effort, why not go the extra mile and just rent an RV? Clearly, you don’t REALLY want to camp, anyway. So why not live your own dream?
However, let’s not get crazy. I am debilitated by heat. I lose the will to live (or, at least, to put on make-up and get dressed.) But there are more neighbourly ways to deal.
Bring battery-operated fans and extra batteries.
Fill ziplock bags with ice and tuck them in your hat or your bra.
Add extra water and several drops of peppermint oil to a box of unscented baby wipes, then keep it in your cooler. Use them all over. These wipes are a great refresher before heading out for round two. Graham carries them with him to the port-a-potty.
Buy ice every day and fill your cooler. They sell it from little carts that drive through the campsites regularly. Yes, it costs twice as much as ice in the outside world. Again, you can’t change what is. So, budget for it! You’ll be so glad you did.
Duct-tape four silver mylar emergency blankets from the dollar store together to make one big one and drape it over/secure it to your tent’s roof to reflect away the sun’s rays. Even better, do the same for your vehicle. It’s ten degrees cooler in the shade.
Freeze a 24-pack of bottled water and throw it in your cooler – cold water and bonus food-cooling for the entire weekend.
Bring your own cooler and borrow another one from your friend.
6. YOGA-MAT SPRAY: This is one you will likely not find on any other festival-tip site. These yoga-may cleaning sprays are available at most health food stores. They are essential-oil based, not overpowering, and smell like heaven. I brought one on a whim to Bonnaroo and we ended up using it for everything – cleaning, sharing and refreshing everything – our tent walls, our bedding, even ourselves. We sprayed it in medical masks and bandannas to hold over our noses while walking past the ripening banks of port-a-potties. We will never again be without it.
7. PORT-A-POTTIES: Truth time. I’m a huge baby. I am terrified of port-a-potties. I just can’t do it, unless its early in the festival. Three days in, a festival port-a-potty is the equivalent of hell on earth. I once saw a documentary about how they empty them at the Glastonbury Festival in England, and there are things I saw that I can never unsee. This year, for the first time in fifteen years, the Bonnaroo festival installed and permanent concrete bathrooms on the festival site. They even kept them moderately clean! The cold-water in the sinks alone was a revelation in the forty-degree heat. I have never washed my hands as thoroughly or slowly. But at most festivals, it’s port-a-potty or nothing. Or is it?
My friend Ann is tremendously pragmatic. She says it’s simple – wear a peasant skirt, no underwear and stand over by the fence, pretending to have a conversation with your friend. For me, there’s just too much margin for error, there. And no way to deal with splash-back. But I have to applaud her ingenuity.
This year, we discovered the Peebol. I love these little pouches. And what happens in the tent stays in the tent (except the actual receptacle, of course.)
8. COMFORTABLE SHOES: Wear something that will absorb the shock of walking, standing and dancing for hours. Something that can get dirty. Something that can get wet and dry quickly. Music festivals are maybe the one place on earth where Crocs are okay. No-one will judge.
9. RAINCAPE: You don’t need anything fancy. Hit the dollar store and buy a couple. Carry one with you at all times.
10. SUNSCREEN: Get one that comes in a squeezable tube that fits easy in your fanny-pack and carry it with you/re-apply frequently. (p.s. this is also the one place where fanny-packs are still okay.)
11. SHOWERS: I’m going to sound like a broken record, but again, budget for it. Most camping festivals bring in companies that set up temporary shower stalls which you can use for a fee (around $10.) They get pretty dirty, the water can be cold and the water-pressure minimal, but a shower can change your entire festival day. We brought two portable vinyl camping showers with us to Bonnaroo and both went unused.
Wear some rubber flip-flops to the shower and bring a water-proof shower bag with a hook to hang over the shower rod.
This is the perfect use for those little bottles of body wash/shampoo you scooped the last time you were at a hotel.
Bring your phone and earphones for the line-up (then stow it in that water-proof bag) or make friends in the line-up. (p.s. this is also the one place where talking to strangers is expected and (shock!) even welcomed.)
12. EARPLUGS: Not for the festival itself, but for the campsite. After you dance into the wee hours at the silent disco, make sure the few hours of sleep you DO get are restful. Campsites can be 24-hour party central. Amazing when you want to party, a bummer when you want to sleep. Don’t get mad! Just engage the buffer!
Whether you make use of any of these ideas or not, the key to really enjoying a music festival is just rolling with it. If it rains, it rains. Whatever happens, it’s never really that bad. Why? Because you’re at a festival, escaping from the long list of “have-to’s” associated with your regular life and savouring the joy of music with 40,000 like-minded others.