My music festival survival guide

So you’re heading to a music festival soon? First time? Or just curious how other introverted festival attendees deal with the masses of people? Then congrats, you’re in the right place. Titling this post “survival guide” is being a bit dramatic but it caught your interest, right?

As mentioned at the bottom of my last post, I going to SF’s Outside Lands music festival with Tammy on Friday. This will be my second large official music festival but my fifth time heading to a multi-artist/multi-stage music thing. Previous to this, I’ve attended Warped Tour x 2, Lilith Fair (does this count?) and Coachella. All very, very different things with very different attendees. But I’ve learned from my past experiences to prepare for this one.

Here are some of my (personal) tips that I like to try to follow for music festivals in no particular order:

1. Wear closed toe shoes.

This obviously really depends on where the festival is located. If you’re going to one in the UK, from what I’ve read and seen, wear your wellies if you don’t want to be drenched in mud and whatever bodily fluids that may find its way onto the ground. If you’re heading to Coachella, I don’t care how hot it is, I’m not wearing sandals nor am I wearing stank boots. It’s the desert. Dust and dirt and sweat everywhere. Came back to our hotel room covered in a few millimeters of grime. Ick.

My preference? Converse/Keds or enclosed espadrilles it up. Wear shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty that cover your feet but are made of breathable fabric like cotton canvas. Again, this is based on my personal experiences. As a 5’2″ tall girl of average weight, I was the one to get lost in the crowd of people rushing at the stage trying to get a better view of the xx (I clearly did not have VIP tickets). People don’t realize I’m right behind them, and I just get stepped on and bumped around. Not fun, but it was a whole lot better getting stepped on while wearing Converse rather than flip-flops.

But if you want to wear sandals, go for it. It’s totally a personal preference.

2. Plan what acts you want to see ahead of time.

There are often so many artists and stages, it’s really easy to get overwhelmed and lost on the day(s) of the event, and you might accidentally miss an act you really wanted to see. So plan ahead.

Pretty much every festival I know of lists all their artists ahead of time, so at least go into the festival grounds with a list of artists in mind or written down. If there’s a festival app (e.g. Coachella), download it and use it. If there’s an online timetable (e.g. Outside Lands- apparently they have an app too), go through it and pick out the acts you desperately want to see, as well as artists you might want to check out between the sets you desperately want to see. Then store that timetable on your phone or print it out. Festivals are about listening to music you already like as well as exploring and finding new music to listen to. You already paid for your expensive ticket, so get your money’s worth.

3. Bring (unopened) bottled water.

Bottled water at festivals can cost outrageous amounts. I’ve seen anywhere from $3 (back in the old days) to $8. If you’re bringing a backpack or purse, they’ll very likely check it at the gate. From my experiences, opened bottles of water aren’t usually allowed in (it obviously depends on the security person) because they assume it’s vodka or other “clear” alcohol. I got away with it the first time I went to a festival because I was 16 and looked like I was 10, and I suggested the security person to take a sip if he wanted, and he just laughed and let me in. From then on, I always brought an unopened bottled of water (or an empty water bottle to fill up if there are water fountains on the grounds) to festivals because I just absolutely refuse to pay those prices; they make me so angry.

Unfortunately, SF has proposed a water bottle ban on future events: “The proposed legislation from Supervisor David Chiu would gradually phase in a ban on the sale of bottled water of 21 fluid ounces or less on all city properties with leases signed after 2014 and at concerts, large events, parks and food trucks.” So I’m not sure how my advice will work after 2014, but that’s in the future, and I’m moving away at the end of August, so I dodged a bullet this time 😀

4. If you’re thinking about bringing a DSLR and don’t have a press badge, either check the camera policy with the venue and/or event ahead of time multiple times, or don’t bring it at all.

I find most big events are pretty strict about this rule, but depending on how strict the event and venue are, you might not be able to get your camera into the festival without a press badge, so you’ll have to put it in your car or hotel if you can. If you’re someone who doesn’t have a place to put it, you can try asking them to keep it at the gate which risks it being stolen, but you might not have better options. So check and double check with both the venue and the event because they can have different policies and see which policy “wins.”

5. Wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty or stinky.

This is my most flexible tip. It really depends on which festival and where. But I personally try not to wear my favorite and/or best shirt or pants to these things because they get kind of gross pretty quickly.

For example, Warped Tour aftermath: all my clothes reeked of pot and had to be washed immediately. Yes, the smell comes out easily, but erg I’ve never felt the same way about that shirt again. For Coachella, I wore shirts and shorts I didn’t mind getting wet, spit on, smelly, etc. and things you don’t mind wearing for a whole day with sweat and smells. I’m going to rewear what I’ve coined “my rich hipster tank” (it’s an APC tank top with a parrot graphic lol) for Outside Lands and wear it with a plaid shirt or something.

6. Dress appropriate for the weather/prepare for different types of weather.

Check a few days ahead of time if you can, especially if you know the weather is temperamental. SF usually means sweater weather year round, but sweater thickness might vary. I’ll be checking for rain, fog, winds, sun, etc. this week. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get away tanks/t-shirts under button up shirts or a light sweater plus ankle length pants and Converse. We’ll see.

And in general, just wear layers. You never know when that extra layer will come in handy.

7. Bring something to sit on.

Especially if you know you’ll be sitting on the ground chilling for a while. As someone who’s easily overwhelmed by large masses of people, it’s really nice to be able to find a spot away from people and just relax on the ground with friends for a little while. But sitting on the ground will almost always result in something I like to call “damp butt.” No bueno, especially if you’re wearing bottoms that will show the dampness. Even at Coachella, in the desert, where it was so hot (they keep watering the grounds down), at night, my butt still got damp while I sat on the grass.

You don’t have to sit on anything fancy. Heck, if you’re not me and don’t care, sit on the sweater or shirt tied around your waist. Last time, I just sat on my friend’s huge but lightweight and packable scarf that we had to fold several times to make it small enough for two people. Any separation from the ground will help with the butt situation.

8. Bring some cash. Bring your ID.

In case you want to buy things. I’m clearly a bit paranoid so I figure it’s better to lose some cash rather than your credit card. I also figure the fewer people who’ve touched my credit card, the less chance of the card number getting stolen. No idea if this is true, but eh whatever makes me sleep better at night.

Also, I’m not entirely sure all vendors will accept credit card. For merch, I usually always like to buy stuff with cash because again, it’s just fewer people seeing your credit card number and merch areas are always a bit hectic.

Bring an ID if you want to drink. Even if you think you look old enough to be over 21. Because if some wild forest fire spreads across the festival grounds and you perish, and your ID somehow doesn’t and is on your unidentifiable person, authorities will know whose dental records to start with and identify you a little bit faster than ID-less people. Just another taste of the ridiculous things I worry about.

9. Bring earplugs.

You’re thinking “what? I won’t be able to hear anything!” But I’m not talking about earplugs for blocking all sound out, I’m talking about special earplugs that reduce excess noise levels and allow you to hear the music even more clearly. And they protect your ears from developing either temporary or permanent ringing (tinnitus) and from suffering “acoustic trauma.” As someone who suffers/suffered from all of these things, please just trust me on this one. Especially if you’re bringing your kids to these things. Concerts are so bad for your unprotected ears, and in my opinion, the music really does sound better with these in your ears since they help filter out the background noise and feedback. I’ve been wearing earplugs to concerts for about 4 years now, and I have never regretted it.

If the musicians are protecting their ears, why shouldn’t you?

10. Sunblock.

Just do it. I don’t care if there’s fog or cloud cover because some types of UV radiation also don’t care. I don’t want you to become case study number 2 in future cancer biology classes. So slather it on and even bring a bottle into the festival with you.

11. Bring your ticket/wristband/what-have-you.


Some rules are meant to broken and others not so much. But that’s all I can think of for now, so I wish you all a happy festival experience!


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