A Moon's Guide to Festivals
[ As a companion, read Musical Family Tree ]
Music is legitimately my life! I think going deaf would be the most tragic personal injury I could get. There is nothing like getting lost in an album, feeling the same energy at home or in the car as you'd assume that the artist/group/band felt while making it. The sound treating the air like a canvas, audibly re-creating what I'd assume Heaven truly sounds like.
The only thing that is, in my opinion, better than sitting and enjoying a piece of music is witnessing the music played live. I've attended so many concerts that have led me to new bands and new music - I couldn't begin to tell you how many. But what I can tell you is something better than a concert. What could be better than a concert?
A Festival, of course!
The difference between a concert and a festival is the experience. At concerts, you're usually indoors, but not exclusively (The Kentucky State Fair has many outdoor concerts, for example. I saw Crossfade and Seether at one of my favorite outdoor festivals.) and there are significantly more bands at a festival. Also, you can just attend a concert. One doesn't just attend a festival. You must prepare for a festival. That's kinda why we're here today.
Today, March 9th, 2022, the lineup for Louder Than Life 2022 has just been released, promising to be one of the greatest festivals I've ever attended... and I've attended at least 13. This year, Danny Wimmer Presents (dannywimmerpresents.com) is bringing so many top-level bands to my hometown of Louisville, KY including Nine Inch Nails, Slipknot, Kiss, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, the glorious Evanescence, and last but most certainly not least, my number one favorite band, The Pretty Reckless featuring the incredible Taylor Momsen as their lead singer. Those are just the headliners! This four-day event will take place at the Kentucky Fair and Expo Center and I already can't wait until Unofficial October (that's September to everyone else.)
Now, as I said before, one does not just simply attend a festival, especially a multi-day festival. One must prepare. In light of the lineup release today, I thought that I would give you all a guide to attending a rock festival.
Let's go! (whether your name is Brandon or not! Ha! Ha! Ha!)
First thing's first - If you know you're wanting to attend a festival, you have PLENTY of options, Louder Than Life in Louisville, Ky. Sonic Temple in Columbus, Ohio. Chicago Open Air in... Chicago. That's just a couple. My suggestion would be to Lookup a festival within a range you're willing to travel to. If you live in Chicago, Louisville, or Columbus, you're good, you can just attend one that's in your town. If you live in Indianapolis, Cincinnati, or St. Louis, you'd have to travel. Keep this in mind. Why?
Because the next suggestion is to Consider the entire trip! If you're traveling to another town for your festival of choice, there is more than JUST the festival. Are you going to need a hotel room? Does the festival offer camping? Do you have friends nearby or in town? All important questions to ask! Are you traveling alone? With a large group? Are you driving? Are you flying? Is your group traveling together or separately? How are you getting around? Ride-sharing? Your car? A Rental? There are so many questions that you must consider. Ask yourself the questions long before you get a ticket.
Personally, I like to get a hotel when I'm at a festival out-of-town. RVs and tents aren't my thing. Also, consider the type of room you're getting. There's usually no reason to waste money on something fancy. You just need a place to sleep, bathe, and keep your stuff. Look for somewhere NEAR the festival site, but not necessarily CLOSE to the site. A little bit of a drive isn't a bad thing. If you follow the next tip, you might be able to walk from the hotel to the site and back, but don't be afraid of a bit of a ride.
That next tip? Do your research! Sonic Temple is usually held the weekend before Memorial Day Weekend, the third weekend in May. If the festival you're attending doesn't have a pattern or set timeframe, research the last few festivals and guess. If that seems risky, consider this: Most festivals release their dates long before their lineup. If you're going to travel to a festival, signup for email, text, and/or social media updates. Once you have the dates, book your hotel directly from the hotel's website!!! Listen, I get it - one of the travel sites has a sweet-looking coupon code, but it's been my experience that the "saving" is small if even present. The real difference comes if there is a complication. Trust me, if there's an issue with a reservation, you're going to want to have made the arrangements with the hotel and not a third-party site.
Also, to this point, most hotels allow you to book a room in advance with no money down. So get your room booked and if the dates are wrong? Change the reservation. If you're not going, cancel the room. Most of the time as long as you cancel before the day before your reservation, you incur no penalty or fee. Double-check your hotel's policy BEFORE booking.
When picking your room, consider what's around your hotel. Is there a gas station really close? (There should be!) Is there a store like Meijer or Walmart where you can get last-minute items close by? (There REALLY should be!) Are there restaurants close by that are open late, like after midnight? (There should be... I'll mention this later.)
Bonus Tip: Book a travel day on either side of your trip. Avoid coming into town the day of the festival or leaving immediately afterward if you're driving more than two hours back home. I know, each night is a cost and if you can't afford it, do what you got to do, but if you can, add those days to your travel. You'll be tired and it's just safer to come in and get out after you've rested.
So, you found yourself a festival to attend and you have your room booked. How are you getting there? My suggestion: If it's close enough, within a six-hour drive, just take your car. If you're leasing your car and are limited on your mileage or your daily driving is a gas hog or not in good drive shape, consider riding with a friend or renting a car. Having your own vehicle is such an advantage - more on why later. There's nothing wrong with flying or greyhound-ing it, but having that freedom to come and go at will is such a big deal. Again, more on that later. If you can, just drive.
You've picked your spot, booked your room, and you're driving yourself and/or your friends (and they're helping with gas money!), what's next? the tickets! This tip is A or B style - either A, buy your ticket outright or B, take advantage of lay-a-way ticket pricing. Much like the dates, the tickets will typically go on sale before the lineup of whose actually playing is released. If you got the cash, buy the tickets outright as soon as possible. If a band you wanna see cancels or an emergency prevents you from going later on, you can always cancel or resell your ticket. (Sidenote: If you're reselling your ticket, don't be a dick and sell it for what you paid or MAYBE a little more than you paid. Don't spend $150 and resell for $500. If you do, you're an asshole. Point Blank). If you are a little strapped for cash and need to make payments over 4 or 5 months, shit, do that! No shame in that. As long as you pay it off by the agreed-upon time, you're good!
With tickets, there are a couple of things to consider. You usually have two categories of tickets: VIP or GA. VIP, "Very Important Person" usually has a few perks to it that I, myself, don't think I'd really use. There may be an exclusive section or lounge area you'd have access to, but if you look at older festival layout maps, can you see the stage from there? Do you NEED the exclusive bar versus the regular bar? Are the perks actually improving the experience? If not, don't waste the money. If you have health issues or you want those "fancy perks", well, shit, go for it! It's your experience! Just remember, if you're going with friends and they're NOT getting VIP tickets, is THAT worth it?
GA stands for General Admission. This is the regular ticket that gets you through the gate and around most of the festival. If attending the festival and hearing the music is your reason, GA is just fine. Some festivals may do things slightly different. Sonic Temple, for example, has GA Stadium, GA Field, and VIP. The event takes place in a soccer stadium and the GA Stadium tickets allow you access to all three stages and 90% of the grounds including the seats of the stands. GA Field gives you access to where the soccer field would otherwise be and you get closer to the bands. Downside: no seats on the field. VIP gives you full access to the field and exclusive areas. My wife won VIP tickets one year and we didn't use too many of the VIP perks. We sat down once in the VIP area and saw some friends on the field, but I wouldn't personally buy the VIP tickets.
With that research you're doing, consider how you plan to spend the weekend and buy your tickets accordingly.
You got your fest, you've booked your room, you're driving there, you got your tickets purchased... now what?
SAVE ALL THE MONEY YOU CAN!!!!!!!!!!
My God, festival life is expensive! Gas, tickets, hotel stays, food, drinks, souvenirs, "cool things" you find at a shop, emergency cash, Coffee in the morning, "things you forgot" money - it adds up QUICK! You can EASILY spend a grand or two going out of town for a festival. Tip: Be financially honest with yourself. Look, I want to see The Pretty Reckless so so bad, To hear Taylor belt out "25" from their newest album, Death By Rock n Roll" is something I have been waiting a couple of years for. But, if I'm going to have to sell my car or a kidney to do it, it's not worth it. If you can't afford the hotel you WANT, book a cheaper one (in a safe area. Web searches and hotel reviews are your friends!) Save with friends that are going and share the costs! Traveling with a group is the best way to save money. You can pack food and eat before and after each day instead of AT the festival. If there are 24-hour spots near your hotel or late-night eat-in diners or even bars with late kitchens, you could save a lot of money that way. Me, I love pizza, and if your room has a fridge and a microwave, you could order pizza on Day 1 and stretch it out.
Fest picked, hotel booked, car packed... Wait? Car Packed? What do you pack in the car?! If you've ever traveled by car, you know there are things you should just have with you. A gas can, jumper cables (or a jump box) towels, blankets, bottles of water, etc should be a part of your daily car stash. Make sure you have ALL OF THOSE! Also, have your vehicle inspected or at the very least, get your oil changed. This should be a part of your regular maintenance AND should be a thing you do if you EVER travel by car. The benefit to you driving YOUR car is that you can ensure that these checks are done. Make sure your insurance has roadside assistance and know the limits with you being out of town. A simple call to customer service or a web search can handle this.
Bonus Tip: Call your bank and let them know that you're leaving town. This will make it less likely that you will have a fraud alert while you're out of town. I'm from Louisville. I was in Columbus buying goods from a shop originally from Chicago. The bank was convinced it was fraudulent. Also, if you remember, use your PIN as often as you can. It's less likely your PIN is stolen so using it signals the bank that YOU are the one using your card, even if you're not where you typically are. These are tips from my bank.
Are we there yet? Are we at the festival yet?
Yes. Yes, we are!
You're there! You're at your hotel room a day before, you've got your things packed, and you've slept. You've woken up and now you're heading out!
Get there early! Find out what time the parking lot/area opens and get there early! Logically, the earlier you get there, the better parking spot you're likely to get. PARKING COSTS ARE SEPARATE! If, while buying your tickets, you get the option to get a parking pass, go ahead. If you don't, it's likely not a big deal, just be prepared, and be prepared with cash. You're likely paying a person standing in a lot. Cash is easiest and in some cases, your only option. If your festival is at a dedicated location versus a random field (Louder Than Life is at the KY Fairgrounds and Sonic Temple is at MAPFRE Stadium) there is likely a ticket booth. Just keep it in mind. Research!
One of the best reasons to get there early is tailgating! One of the best things about a festival is spending time with your friends and making friends out of complete strangers! At Louder Than Life 2021, our group made all kinds of friends! We collectively packed: A canopy, folding chairs, jello shots (LOTS OF JELLO SHOTS), drinks for yourself (and some to share) snack foods, a portable grill, and foods for the grill. While it's not required to bring any of these things (hence why I didn't include it in the "pack your car" part of this blog, it is a thing done and it's a fun way to prepare your mind for the festival festivities inside the gates. Try it! Or don't.
So now you're going to the festival itself! There are likely no rows of chairs awaiting your arrival. The festival will post to its website and/or send you via email information about what is and is not allowed inside the gates, for security reasons. I'll tell you right now, don't try to sneak in weapons. Just don't. Guns and knives, just keep them in your car. If you're THAT concerned for safety, just don't bother going. Trust me. Not worth it. Beyond that, things like food and drinks are usually not allowed unless you have a medical requirement. Blankets, towels, jackets, and hats are usually allowed. Make sure you're bringing in your things in the approved bag type. Bonus Tip: Pack a drawstring bag. Easier than other types of bags to carry. Also, PACK SUNSCREEN. Black or White. Long hair or short hair. Summer festival or fall. Pack Sunscreen! If the festival is mostly outdoors, have it with you. Again, if you have it, share it. With friends or strangers, share.
Festivals are all about community. Being willing to share and help is valid.
To touch on the security things again real quick, I travel light. If I'm bringing a jacket, I wear it in. I have my keys, wallet, phone, and watch (if you're the type, wear one. Easier to manage time for sets without worrying about cell phone battery.) I typically wear a hat (you'll want to wear one for sun protection) and as I'm going through security, I place everything in my hat, walk through security, and I'm good. A power cell for cell phone recharging isn't a bad idea either.
Once inside, take a tour of the grounds. Learn where the Medical Tent is, where the bathrooms/portable toilets are, where the food is, and where the stages are. Be familiar and if you're in a group, a central meetup spot is a good idea to establish.
At this point, you're just ready to enjoy the show! Find the setlist with start times and plan your day. Sometimes, it's easier not to enter the gates early if you're not planning to see the opening bands, however, I encourage you, if you just don't know the band, give them a listen. It's why they're here. It's why you're here. Plan your stages and have fun with your friends. Make new friends.
While with your friends, Look out for them! This includes making sure they eat and stay hydrated, making sure they're not being harassed, and equally as important, making sure they aren't the dickheads harassing other people! Look, it might seem uncool, but people are there to have a good time, you included. If people in your party are being dicks, stop them. It's just better this way. Trust me. Banter is fine. Hell, flirting is fine, but there are lines and if they are crossed, SPEAK UP!
At the end of the night, gather your buddies and head out to your cars as a group. Come together, leave together. If you're not into the final act, leave early. Traffic is easier that way, but if you're staying for the whole set, be patient. Everyone wants to leave as badly as you do. Forcing it only makes it worse. Just be patient and everyone will leave reasonably and safely.
If you follow this much longer-than-originally-planned guide, you'll have a great time, buy cool stuff, meet cool people, and carry with you once-in-a-lifetime memories to treasure.
I hope this helps you as you plan for whatever festival you decide to attend in the future.
Oh, and if you're attending Louder Than Life 2022, make sure you look out for me and my friends and say hi!
- The Moon