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April 16, 2013 at 2:38 PMComments: 1 Faves: 0

Kyle's 2013 Music Festival Survival Guide

By Kyle McCarthy from SLN More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the Culturology Blog Series

"I just wanna feel everything" - Fiona Apple

So do we, Fiona... so do we.

Even Ohioans Like Music

Well, the first weekend of the recently expanded Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival has come to a close (with the equally enticing lineup of Weekend 2 still on the horizon). And, with its end, the summer music festival season is officially upon us. Between now and the conclusion of this strange odyssey (unofficially marked by The Voodoo Music Experience, which occurs the first weekend of November in New Orleans), millions of people, young and old, will flock to dozens of different musical festivals throughout the United States.

There are the big boys, of course (Coachella, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, and Austin City Limits), but there are also dozens of lesser-known festivals that pack some serious sonic punch. Here in Michigan, we have the Electric Forest (formerly known as Rothbury); Alabama has Hangout; Sasquatch is in Washington. Even the vast, desolate turnpike known as Ohio stages Rock on the Range, proving once and for all that, no matter what rat's nest you call home, you can likely find some pretty rad music within a reasonable radius of a brisk VW road trip.

For those of you music lovers who've never been to an extended outdoor music festival, you’re seriously missing out. Seeing 30 or so bands in a 72 hour time frame is the closest thing to Nirvana (both the band and the experience) that I’ve ever been a part of. However, there are several things to keep in mind when venturing through those glorious turnstiles for the first time, especially if you're a first-timer.

Hydrate Constantly

Since this is the cardinal rule of festival survival, it's listed first. Drinking copious amounts of water should be your number one priority during your time at your favorite concert collectives. Although most food and drink options will be pretty expensive, organizers make sure to keep water prices reasonable for the sake of their customers (and to avoid potential lawsuits). A good rule of thumb would be to drink at least one 20 oz. bottle of water for every show you attend.

Bottled Water

Remember, you're going to be outside for extended periods of time (perhaps the entire weekend), and the sun has no mercy for the malhydrated (a lesson I learned at my first festival adventure - Bonnaroo 2007). As if temperatures well into the 90s aren't bad enough, the heat at large festivals is exacerbated by the thousands of profusely sweating humans surrounding you at any given moment. Most festivals offer air-conditioned tents, and you can always find a nice shade tree for an afternoon siesta, but if you aren't drinking enough water, you're setting your body up for a horrible experience. Dehydration can cause headache, increased heart rate, fever, sleepiness, and delirium leading to unconsciousness  - pretty hard to rock out when you're passed out.

Lay off the Substances

I know, I know... A lot of you don't want to hear this, and most of you won't listen, but some of your favorite mood-setters can actually negatively impact your experience. Having a few too many beers or smoking some herb may seem harmless in the comforts of your temperate apartment, but over-serving your system in the heat mentioned above could potentially prove lethal. Without sounding like your mother: You may think it's a good idea at the time, but you spent a lot of money on that weekend pass, didn't you? What's the point in missing out on the tune crusade in favor of getting high/loaded? You might think that it will augment the experience, but it could also have the direct opposite effect. For instance, instead of standing front row for the incomparable Cat Power at Lollapalooza in Chicago, you can swallow some “Boomers” and spend the next six hours or so puking, crapping, and generally freaking out in a port-a-potty thousands of miles from home. Your call, I suppose.


The sad fact is that there are pushers waiting around every corner at festivals, and they see every concert-goer as a potential client. There are even entire regions of the sprawling landscapes of music festivals devoted to these sorts of transactions. Here, peddlers offer almost anything you can think of, from the clunky apparatuses of nitrous boosters to conveniently packaged servings of Special K. Festival police largely look the other way when it comes to these business proceedings, opting instead to focus on the health and well-being of the narcoticly naive. If you really want to get the most out of your experience, I'd suggest you do the former to avoid becoming the latter.

Finally, a word about alcohol (as if you haven't been lectured enough already!). Once the gates open, the beer overflows from the well-stocked kegs of the food tents, not to mention the hooch located within your camping neighbors' coolers. If you are going to drink, you are well within your rights, but I really wouldn’t suggest it. Like other mind-altering substances, if you drink to excess, there’s a good chance that you’ll spend most of your time ralphing in the woods or standing in line to either pee or get another (and another) beer. On top of that, there's also a good chance that you'll blackout and not remember most of the music!

"But Kyle, we just want to feel the music, man!" Right, I get that, but you're high; you're not making any sense. Many music junkies who use recreational drugs excuse their behavior with the rehearsed, “it’s just part of the culture.” Nope, not buying it. You don't have to immerse yourself in a miscalculated perception of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle to emulate your favorite bands and artists. If you think so, you're likely more of a poseur than a true music fan. I'm not saying you have to be a square to have a good time, but don't let your good judgment fly out the window and spoil the whole weekend.

Okay, that concludes the PSA section of the Kyle's 2013 Music Festival Survival Guide.

Plan Accordingly


It's a funny thing, but, at most music festivals, the usual standards of fashion and hygiene are largely disregarded. Everyone knows that they're all in it together, that everyone could use a shower and a clean shirt, and people reserve judgment. If you've never been to a festival before, you might want to adapt this line of thinking in advance. No one cares what you're wearing, and no one cares what your hair looks like... at all.They came to see a collection of some of the greatest musicians in the world, not to hit on you.

Therefore, pack light. Here are the essentials:

  • Toothbrush
  • Dry Shampoo
  • One, and only one, change of clothes (Two pairs of underwear)
  • Sunscreen
  • Cell Phone (If this feels wrong, see the "Truly Adventurous" below. This is you.)
  • Ibuprofen (See lecture above)
  • Bathing Suit (You'll thank me for this one when it's raining.)
  • Flashlight
  • Toilet Paper (Bring two rolls if you want to be popular.)
  • Festival Schedule (You can customize your own online for most larger festivals)

Trust me, this is all you will want or need.

*For the truly adventurous, this list can be narrowed to a toothbrush, some sunscreen, and a few paper squares. (Like I said, for the truly adventurous.)

You should keep your festival schedule on your person at all times. These are extremely helpful in allowing you to maximize the amount of concerts that you really want to see. If two or more of your favorites have conflicting stage times, you'll be confronted with a tough decision, but at least you'll be in the know.

Aside from having time slots and locations listed for every band playing, schedules usually come with band bios, useless advertising, and useful maps. It's entirely possible (and fervently encouraged by yours truly) that you may wind up separating from your group to take in a show of particular interest. If this happens, you'll likely make new friends, but that doesn't mean that it's time to sever ties with your principal group. It's easy to get caught up in the mood of a festival, but you're all riding back together in the same car, so make sure to keep in constant contact.

Live. Rock. Rolls.

By all means, see and hear as much live music as you possibly can this summer! Some of my greatest memories come from the time spent at hundreds of shows enjoying the music that I love with a few thousand of my best friends. As a seasoned veteran of the outdoor music event, though, I caution you to think about the potential consequences of deviating from my survival guide.

What it all comes down to, what can't be stressed enough, is MODERATION! To ensure that you have the best time possible and walk away with awesome memories from an awesome experience, just be safe. Flash your devil horns; bob your head; crowd surf. But, instead of mindlessly screaming “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll,” I plead with you fellow music lovers to adopt the mantra, “Long LIVE Rock ‘n Roll” and practice it throughout the summer.

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1 Comment

  • The other thing to watch out for at music festivals. People who are so full of *&^% their eyes should be fully brown.

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