As a several year veteran of Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival (which, for those in the know, is the dubious lovechild of Burning Man and Coachella), I now feel able to offer advice on that fraught annual conundrum: should I go to _____ music festival? Your friends are probably going. Kirsten Stewart is probably going. And above all things, a newly reunited OutKast might be going – and if anything in this world is worth braving foul weather, crowds, noise, grime, and a consistent druggy-buggy haze for...it's probably OutKast.
But lots of these big celebrations are expensive! And most of them take place in dry, upsetting climates! So as you compare line-ups and scour your sofas and checking accounts for spare change, ask yourselves these crucial things:
1. Is the festival Coachella?
Because if so, you can't get tickets anymore. So...no, you shouldn't go.
2. Has the line-up been released?
It's not a great idea to shell out $400.00 for a festival when you don't even know who will be there – unless you've got some deep, spiritual connection to the earth around (say) Manchester, Tennessee. Yet-to-announce their line-ups are Lollapalooza (Chicago, August), Bonnaroo (Tennessee), and touring parties like Warped Tour and Rock the Bells – though many of these shin-digs make a habit of dropping headliner clues on their websites throughout the year. Though you often can buy advance tickets, refrain: sometimes those “clues” are merely ruses, meant to draw your attention towards the bigger bands. Act only on certainty! You don't want to be stuck with “surprise guest Ted Nugent.”
3. How many days long is it? More than two?
Well then, you better like being dirty. Though some festivals – like Sasquatch – take place in cool wooded frontier space, all paloozas happen in the summertime. There will be thousands of people. It will be ninety degrees. Showers will cost eight dollars, unless there are NO SHOWERS. Newbs should consider the quality-of-life factor carefully – 'cause if you're not honestly up to braving the elements, you won't have a great time no matter WHO'S playing.
4. Can I come and go of my own free will, or is this a live-in-a-tent situation?
Know your limits, manage your expectations. Consider this question ESPECIALLY in context with three, five and twelve. Be mindful also that commuting time to and from a satellite festival can be riddled with unforeseen transpo costs, and can infringe on your daily timeline.
5. Do I have a place to stay?
Lollapalooza, SXSW, Austin City Limits...all of these tangly engagements make no promises re: guaranteed crash pads. Before you buy, look into the cost of hotels/prevalence of friends-of-friends in the area. Here's where hidden costs crop up.
6. Am I only interested in one or two of the headliners? As opposed to four to five?
I refer you back to question two: large groups on tour (this year think OutKast, Arcade Fire, Jack White...) and even reconciliation tours (Neutral Milk Hotel, anyone?) are ALREADY ON TOUR. This means that it's their prerogative to surprise you at local-er venues, on smaller bills. Groups with recent releases will presumably be around for awhile. A festival isn't necessarily the best way to see your all-time favorite band and phooey-on-everyone-else, anyways. The commitment's so draining, you should want to attend a fest in hope of discovering new groups.
7. Do I like to dance? A lot, and for what feels like forever?
Great! You, kid, are gonna be fine.
8. How much do I hate getting kicked in the face? Scale of 1-10?
Obviously, no one likes getting kicked in the face – but if you're bound for a hardcore show, prepare for the worst case scenario. Crowdsurfers are no joke.
9. Be honest: am I really going because I'm worried _____ will give up rock n' roll/ never come back to the U.S.A./die anytime soon?
Remember: splashy reunion tours are wonderful, but don't necessarily buy in to the whole “I'll never get to see them again!” thing. They want you to think that. That's why these tickets are so expensive. There's a judgment call involved in these cases – if Sir Paul McCartney's on tour, maybe splurge; if the Stones are “back in the USA!” and you've already seen them thrice...refrain. Recall that if you live in a metropolitan area, chances are in your favor that you'll get to see this rare-once-in-a-lifetime band play again, and in a smaller, better suited venue. Recall also that not every group ages like good wine. I say this because I've been burned before, you guys. Turns out Hall and Oates was to have a glorious return. See also: Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan...though Led Zeppelin still won't answer my letters.
10. Have I been to a festival before?
If yes, you know the full deal: contact highs, rubbing sweaty sweaty arms with other sweaty sweaty arms, popped ear-drums, etc. And while you can emotionally prepare yourself for any manner of commune-living, it might be best to ease your way into the world if you're not used to roughing it with strangers. Newbs to the festival might try the cooler climates and days (like Firefly Festival in Delaware), or look for smaller line-ups. Or one to two day local-shin-digs, like Riot Fest in Chicago.
11. Can I volunteer for a discounted ticket?
Both Firefly and Bonnaroo enlist festival volunteers, who work for some of the weekend but get free or discounted tickets. If you're interested in the fest experience as a whole, this is a good way to see an op from the inside – but keep in mind that volunteer commitments can be very taxing, and may prohibit you from seeing certain favorite shows.
12. Can I use a Port-o-Potty? Like, really?
This cannot be stressed enough: if you cannot compromise on boudoir quality, do not go to a music festival.
13. What's my team look like?
Because that will affect your fun, too! Ideally, you'll want to pair up with a buddy who knows the area, or has even been to a festival before – these are the folks who'll be hip to crowd-navigation techniques. Barring this, you want a nice mix of Responsible Friends (buddies who make sure everyone's actually on the bus, as you peel yourselves off Randall's Island at dawn) and Zany Friends (buddies who won't be afraid to barrel to the front of the best shows). Also keep in mind that smaller groups are more manageable. You'll be able to see more shows as a unit, and look out for one another better. I think three-to-four is a good size.
Godspeed! Now, some highlights:
Firefly Festival (July 19-22nd, The Woodlands of Dover, Delaware)
Image courtesy of thenervousbreakdown.com
Headliners include Foo Fighters, OutKast, Jack Johnson, Weezer, Beck, Arctic Monkeys
Tickets fall between $279.00 -$299.00
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (Two weekends: April 25, 26, 27 and May 1, 2, 3, 4)
Image courtesy of Nola.livemusicblog.com
Headliners include Arcade Fire, Vampire Weekend, Robin Thicke, Eric Clapton, Phish, Alabama Shakes, Christina Aguilera, Bruce Springsteen.
Remember to be take note of who's playing which days! Single day tickets start at $55.00 in advance, $70.00 at the door
Governors Ball Music Festival (July 6, 7, 8, Randall's Island, New York City)
Image courtesy of Billboard.com.
Headliners include OutKast, Jack White, Vampire Weekend, The Strokes
Three day passes start at $230.00, NOT INCLUDING transport to and from the island. Payment plans are available.
Sasquatch Festival (May 23-25)
Image courtesy of evilmonito.com
Headliners include: Kid Cudi, Neko Case, Foster the People, Outkast, The National, Queens of the Stone Age, Violent Femmes
(July 4-6) Frank Ocean, New Order, Spoon, Soundgarden, Neutral Milk Hotel
A combo two-weekend ticket is $550.00; a weekend by itself is $325.00.
South by Southwest (March 7-16 in Austin Texas)
Image courtesy of travelhymns.com
Headliners include thirty bands you haven't heard of yet, but will take bullets for by next year.
Refer to the first timer's guide for ticket info and tips.
And keep an eye out for...
Lollapalooza (August 1-3rd, Grant Park, Chicago, Illinois) – Tickets and line-up available in an increasingly vague "Spring 2014."
Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival (?. Manchester, Tennessee) -- Tickets and line-up available on February 19th.
Image of OutKast courtesy of eurweb.com.