The Anxious Girl's Guide to Surviving a Music Festival

A couple of months ago, when a good friend of mine suggested we head to New York City for a music festival called the Governors Ball, I sort of let out an incredulous giggle.  I'll be 30 in a few months, and thought that I had safely passed the age where one simply gets up and  'goes to music festivals'.

Quite frankly, I thought that ship had sailed and I was perfectly okay with never having had the experience of being surrounded by a sea of under-dressed, pot-reeking young things who all have glo-in-the-dark hashtag symbols pasted to their gangly bodies.

Here's the catch though:  I desperately needed someone to go to NYC with me this summer so that I could see Hedwig and The Angry Inch, my all-time favourite musical that finally made it to Broadway!  So I caved and made a pact with my festivally-inclined friend, "Fine, I'll go with you to this three day music-thingy, but If something awful happens, it's on your head."  A little harsh of me, right?

As the time drew closer to our trip, I started freaking out a little.  A list of what-ifs the size of Manhattan itself started popping up in my head: "What if I forget to pack my hat and get sun-stroke? What if I get crushed by a mob of excitable music-lovers?  What if I have a panic attack and start flipping out while a bunch of gnarly kiddos with unwashed hair stare at the 'old lady' who is hyperventilating on the grass? What if? what if?"  To make matters worst, the festival is held on its very own island reachable by ferry (Randall's Island to be exact) so if anything bad happens, you're actually marooned on a sizable patch of grass surrounded by water until help gets there.

By the time I landed in New Jersey for the somewhat dreaded festival weekend, I was on my way.  There was no turning back.  I was determined to go to this music festival, and not only survive but thrive!  And thrive I did.  As soon I entered the gates to Gov Ball, the bulk of my apprehensions melted away.  But that doesn't mean I just kicked back and let it all go down without a second-thought.  Nah...not my style.   Even as I was in the midst of all the festival magic, I was taking mental note of all the people who seemed to be having a good time versus those who ended up in the medical tent.  All so that I could present to you a survival guide for when you're heading to a festival, whether it's you're first or 100th time:

The Anxious Girl's Guide to Surviving a Music Festival

1. Packing Essentials

Don't try to be a fashionista. There is no place for high heels or anything that you wouldn't want to get grass stains on at a music fest.  We were lucky that we got three day of complete sun, but it's worth packing rain boots and a disposable rain poncho just in case the weather gods take a leak.

Footwear:  Birkenstocks on your puppies.  Yes, they are about as sexy as a bingo table crowd, but they are hands-down the most comfortable shoes for an outdoor venue.  Flats are second best, but even the most comfortable slip-ons will give you blisters by the end of the day if you're walking from stage to stage in them.

Head Gear:  Don't think of yourself as invincible! Wear a friggin' hat.  Hands down everyone I saw passing out or dehydrated was NOT wearing one.  You can go all Costello on the crowd and wear a fedora, or just rock an old baseball cap.  Anything your father wore in the '80's is not only acceptable, but welcomed.  

Other Essentials:

-A light scarf can double as a blanket if you're squeamish about sitting down on peoples' cigarette butts, and also a cape if want to protect your shoulders from UV rays without overdressing.

-Breezy clothes such as light cotton tops, flowy dresses that are the right length (you don't want to be tripping on them if you're hammered) and skirts will all do the trick.  Please do humanity a favor and say no to short-shorts for practical reasons such as bending down.  I saw so many cheeks over a weekend that even the flashbacks give me shivers.

-Sunscreen y'all, and water while you're at it (they generally have free refill stations). Also, think of modern festivals more as Tweetstock then Woodstock, so don't think you're special enough to smell like daisies when you go 'au naturel' and pack some deodorant. Your fellow festival-goers' noses will thank you. 

2. Good Eats and Libations  

Modern music festivals seem to have clued in to the fact that today's festival goers want to entertain their taste buds as much as they want to take in some good tunes.  I could write a love sonnet about the things I ate at Gov Ball.

Grub: Lobster rolls, corn dogs, spiced nuggets...and I was trying to restrain myself.  They even had Momofuku Milk Bar treats at the festival for all the novelty lovers who thought that cookies went well with beer. But buying all of your food at the fest is going to drain your wallet quickly.  Soon you'll be asking your parents to wire you money, which is embarrassing if you are closer to 30 than 20.  So try to pick up some cheapo snacks en route to the festival to bring with.

Learn from our food mistakes. While heavenly, macarons are a bit too dainty for an outdoor festival and melt in your hands, not in your mouth.  If I had to do it again, I'd pack something more heat durable, like sesame snacks or wasabi peas.

Guzzles: Meanwhile, one thing worth investing in AT the festival was the booze. The portable stack wine that they were selling was genius and didn't rob me of all my green.  I was able to drink Chardonnay all weekend, and treat myself to an occasional overpriced Tequila cocktail at the Mixology Tent!  Meanwhile,  try saying the words Mixology Tent five times fast without sounding like a douche bag.  

Freebies: Pay attention to all the freebies that are being handed out, and get on them sooner rather than later.  Free icecream goes fast.  What you need to do is stand in line solo and say you're picking one up for your friend, and then get your friend to do the same.  Two scoops each for the price of none.  Also, as mentioned earlier, water refill stations are generally everywhere so bring a refillable bottle.  Perrier is not really a festival staple.  

3. Entertainment

Of course music is the big draw for crowds, but when you're spending almost all weekend at a venue, you need to find a few other ways to let loose in between.  Luckily most venues anticipate the fickle attention spans of our generation and make sure there are ample distractions to keep deep, existential thoughts at bay.

Festival-Provided Fun:  Bean bag lawn games, face painting (cause nothing says I'm a badass adult like a face fulla paint) and silent discos, which essentially are dance parties where everyone is wearing head-phones.

DIY:  Woodstock might have had acid and bare-breasted ladies, but we are the low-calorie beer generation and we have selfies with redonk backgrounds and impromptu flash mobs instead.  Make sure to bring some sort of device that takes decent enough photos and charge it well.  Heck, if you really want to show the festival how social-media savvy you are you can tweet at 'em, and they might flash your smug mug on one of their jumbotrons.  I think Jerry Garcia would roll over in his grave.

 4.  Festival Hacks & Words to Live By

I hate using the word hack, and yet here I am, about to use the word because it's a brave new world out there and either you adapt or get swallowed by it. So here are some useful hacks my friend and I devised for making the most of your music festival.

-Screw flower bandanas.  Just use the extra garnish from your drink as hair decor.  You'll see a lot of nouveau-hippie/hipster hair accessories out there but don't spend your last $20 on buying something that's going to wilt in a few hours.  Just order a breakfast mojito before heading to the festival, and put that fresh mint to use.  Yep, it wilts too, but you can always chew on it afterwards if you run out of tic tacs.


-Wear sunglasses for when you finally see your musical idol in person and don't want to appear like a sobbing lunatic.  Below is a picture of me listening to the awe-inspiring Neko Case for the first time.  I'm crying like a baby under those shades but you couldn't tell from my cat-eyed-eyeball-covers. I looooooooove youuuuuuu Neko.

-When listening to a really popular band you're going to want to get right up to the stage to take in the view and possible have Julian Casablancas' sweaty sweat all over you, but BE WARNED, the front row mob is a viscous breed.  I learned that lesson the hard way when I almost got flattened like a pancake by Casablancas Fanatics!  That was my worst experience at the festival and I'm not even really a JC fan (my friend is).  This is what I looked like when I thought my days were numbered...don't let it happen to you.

The next day when JC played with his original band, The Strokes, we played it safe and figured out how to get an awesome view of the stage without having to be sardine-can close to it.  All you have to do is position yourself in front of an extremely tall person (6'7 is safe)  and behind an extremely short person (4'10 sounds good).  The person behind you acts as a human barrier, while the person in front of you is easy to look over.  Check out my sweet view...thanks to this anonymous cutie in a cloche hat:

If you're a bit braver, like my amigo, make friends with nice gent beside you so you can snap some sweet photographs of the show.  This dude was a gem and held her up there for three full songs.

Finally, a few last wise words that my friend came up with at the festival to help me conquer my anxiety.  "Know your limits, and push them a little".  She knew going into the music festival I was a nervous wreck, and while I trusted my gut when it came to things that I knew could be dangerous (like refusing to get super close to the stage when it came to more agitated crowds)  I also did things I never thought I'd have the guts to do.  Just keeping my cool in big crowds with the sun beating down on me and feeling my hunched up shoulders suddenly loosen up as I started to dance with people was a big one.  I no longer looked at the festival as a potential disaster ground, but as an awesome place where people came together to appreciate music.

Now, whenever I'm feeling nervous in my day to day life I simply remind myself "You're the chick that survived that music festival!"


ps. I want to hear your festival stories.