Avoiding Summer Festival Faux Pas and Foibles

A few years ago, a No Depression staffer was about to head out to the Sasquatch! Festival (the exclamaition point is part of the name, not an editorial comment) and  they put up their list of camping supplies on Facebook. They asked friends to take a moment to read it, and if anyone saw something that was missing to please let them know. I looked it over, checked the weather forecast, and replied that if I was me, I'd stop at The Home Depot and pick up a generator, air conditioner, and sump pump. I'm a city boy who loves the country and folk music, but the thought of sleeping under a canvas roof and sharing an outhouse with a few thousand people is not high on my to-do list. Nevertheless, 'tis the summer festival season and I know that I'm in the minority. And, while there are quite a few blogs on the internet with tips and ideas, I thought I'd add a few pointers of my own. 

Comfortable Clothes and Manageable Hair: While many people want to make it a fashion statement, a weekend of sun, steamy tropical showers, and mud might really mess with your hair, horns, feathers, and lace. If it's an old time music or bluegrass fest, looking like you are in search of the Boy George Stage might quickly identify you as a newbie or simply set you apart from your fellow concert goers. 

Overalls and Cell Phones: This goes for both males and females: if you must wear an adult-sized version of your kid's Osh Kosh B'Gosh Overalls, for God's sake please put a shirt on underneath. It's bad enough we have to see your saggy bottom and eczema, but I sort of draw the line at moles and nipple rings. And the cell phone thing. Who cares if the babysitter calls and tells you that Junior ate the dog food and is in the hospital getting their stomach pumped? You're not going to miss Steve Earle's set for that, so just simply turn it off at the gate when you enter and be done with it. 

Protective Headgear and Sunscreen: With any luck, it'll be pretty damn sunny out there in front of the stage for at least one out of the four days for which you're spending $1275 (which doesn't include food and drink). The sun’s ultraviolet radiation generates free radicals that damage DNA and skin cells, accelerate skin aging, and can cause skin cancer. You'll want a sunscreen with broad-spectrum or multi-spectrum protection for both UVB and UVA. Ingredients with broad-spectrum protection include oxybenzone, octylmethyl cinnamate, cinoxate, sulisobenzone, salicylates, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, Parsol 1789, and Mexoryl SX. A good hat can help keep the sun out of your eyes and might offer a little sunburn protection. On the right is an example of really bad choices for your head. Actually...their whole look in general sucks. 

Comfortable Shoes Are Your Best Friends: You know you'll be on your feet a lot  since nobody sits for more than fifteen minutes at a time when you're at a festival. You mingle, eat, drink, get inked, buy stuff, go to your car, hike to the tent, stand in line. Make sure you pack light, so I'd reccomend that a simple way to choose your footwear is to just bring things beginning with the letter S. So, saddle shoes, sandals, skates, ski boots, slides, sling-backs, slippers, sneakers, steel-toe boots, stiletto heels and of course, swim fins.

A Word About Drugs and Alcohol: While the picture and hat may be humorous, nothing can ruin your experience more than having some drunk or stoned person throw up and pass out 0n your feet just as your favorite act is performing onstage, or your ribeye and soy burger is ready to take off the grill. Maybe that person is you. It can happen, even if you think you're being responsible. Many festivals today, including Burning Man, Coachella, and Glastonbury, offer everything from yoga classes to AA meetings to sober tents for those who might need a little help from their friends in enjoying a healthy experience. While inebriation alone doesn't cause violence, the assaults and incidents of violence at Woodstock 1999 were terrible examples in the psychology of group behavior when we lose our ability to reason. So have fun, but don't get crazy. Pace yourself. 

Love Thy Neighbor: A few years ago at the Clearwater Festival, I returned from the food area after eating dinner and discovered that my blanket and  possessions weren't where I had left them. In their place, where I had been sitting most of the day, were four chairs, a table with a white tablecloth and flowers, a spread of wine, fruit and cheese, and a butler or housekeeper who was serving the people now occupied in my spot. They were about my age, dressed nicely in a fashion and style not like most of us denim-draped, sweaty and sunburned folks, spoke over the music, and were behaving poorly. I wanted to kill them. But instead I smiled, explained that they had taken over our space by mistake, and they apologized and repositioned. No, they didn't offer any refreshments, nor did they probably vote for the same candidate that I supported later that year in the elections. But they came out for a night of fun, so we had that in common. And, by buying tickets, they helped support keeping the Hudson River clean. So I guess the lesson learned is to keep it cool. The power of music - it's something we all have in common. 

My Personal Summer Festival (Short) List

June 21/22: Clearwater's Great Hudson River Revival - It's likely to feel a bit somber this year without Pete and Toshi Seeger, but the music lineup is excellent. Among the headliners are Richard Thompson, Lucinda Williams, Rufus Wainwright, The Mavericks, Dar Williams, Buckwheat Zydeco, Nora Jones' project Puss N Boots, David Bromberg, Tom Paxton and Holly Near. Located along the river between NYC and Woodstock, it's great for day trippers from New England to Brooklyn. 

June 28: The American Roots Music Festival - This is a one-day/night festival  just an hour north of Manhattan. On the beautifully kept grounds of the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts in Ketonah NY, it features several stages and areas to explore throughout the day. This year's performers include Bruce Molsky, Tony Trischka and Michael Daves, Kim & Reggie Harris, Joe Crookston & the Bluebird Jubilee, local favorites Spuyten Duyvil, Cricket Tell the Weather, Miss Tess & the Talkbacks and the Walkabout Clearwater Chorus. The evening performance has The Lone Bellow opening for Rosanne Cash, who has released one of the year's most outstanding albums. 

July 25/26/27: Newport Folk Festival: This will be my very first time, and if you don't already have tickets you might as well stay at home. Sold out for months, this year is another stellar lineup including Ryan Adams, Nickel Creek, Mavis Staples, Jeff Tweedy, Jimmy Cliff, Conor Oberst, Milk Carton Kids and more, more, more. To answer the question you're probably asking yourselves of "where will Ed be camping?" At a bed and breakfast is the answer. 

A word about the photos: I pulled each of these off the interwebs using Google Images for representation of the various topics,  not to infer any particular behavior or attributes to the various individuals nor to demean or ridicule. (Alright...maybe just a little.)

Views: 695

Tags: Caramoor, Clearwater, Easy Ed, Lucinda Williams, Newport Folk Festival, Pete and Toshi Seeger, Rosanne Cash, Ryan Adams, The American Roots Music Festival, summer music festivals

Comment by Kim Ruehl on May 13, 2014 at 8:53am

You are in for it at Newport. It's really one of the best festivals in the land, and the lineup this year is just starting to piss me off, it's so good. I'm sure it'll be just as amazing next year, when we have a one-year-old to take around, right? 

Comment by Ms H on May 13, 2014 at 9:12am

What a hilarious expose'!!!  People like YOU, Ed, are the reason why  I'll never make it to a ginormous music  festival in the remaining years of my life.  I'd much  rather enjoy the  performances from YouTube--no stinky people,  no vomit on my blanket, and a good-night's sleep after the show.  Thanks for the laugh!  And, good luck with your festival sojourn.  BTW--aren't you getting a little old for this shit?

Comment by Steve Ford on May 13, 2014 at 3:55pm

Great piece, Ed.

I've just done my 15th Byron Bay Bluesfest - five days, six stages, an average 20,000 people each day - and most of your advice applies. Wear comfortable clothes, keep the sun off, and go easy on the relaxants.

We depart on cell phones (or mobile phones, as we call them). Cell phones are essential for finding your friends and my advice is to take an external battery pack. I paid about $30 for one which worked well - worth every cent. Also Bluesfest has an great app with the running order for each stage, bios, and an excellent planning function. I imagine most big festivals in the US have something similar.

The best advice I could offer anyone going to a big festival is to research the music. With Spotify etc, this is much easier than it was a few years ago. There's always so much on offer that you don't want to waste your time sampling bands you've never heard. Sample the music before the festival. Google reviews of the artists. Take notes. Your effort will be rewarded. But you'll still miss some great stuff.  (Like Robben Ford and Jeff Coffin jamming with Gov't Mule this Easter. Damn.)

Comment by TenLayers on May 13, 2014 at 10:36pm
What is life without some Faux pas and foibles. I say bring them on.
Comment by Miss Holly on May 15, 2014 at 7:50am

We are dedicated festival goers - several years ago bought a small, 20-year-old RV expressly for that purpose.  It's great having your own bathroom, refrigerator, and bed!  We also have a loose rule of "Nothing larger than 10,000 people" which has also worked well.  Wooded sites are a plus!  Our favorites, so far - Albino Skunk (Greer SC,) Springfest (Live Oak FL,) Red Wing Roots (Natural Chimneys VA,) and Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion (Bristol TN/VA - larger, but with hundreds of artists & venues, & a great park - Sugar Hollow - for camping.)  And the BEST "lifestyle" festival anywhere, L.E.A.F. (Black Mountain NC.)  Looking forward to sampling more in the years to come, too.


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.