I’ve made a fair set of mistakes as a seasoned festival attendee — one of the biggest being last year, when dehydration got the best of me and my friend had to pull over to the side of the road so I could dry-heave along the highway. I asked myself, “Why the heck did you think not drinking water to skip the bathroom line was a good idea?”
Later, as I held a package of gas station Tums, I thought back to all of the festivals I’d been to. I’ve attended BottleRock, Riot Fest Chicago, Life Is Beautiful in downtown Las Vegas and other notable music gigs. With festival season in full swing, I’ve decided to create a survival guide with five tips and tricks to keep you from making the same mistakes I had to learn the hard way. Pay close attention because, as I learned, you can never heed too many warnings when it comes to festivals.
1. Stay Hydrated.
I’ve already mentioned why it’s important to stay hydrated but I have suggestions on how to go about it. With 16-ounce plastic water bottles selling for $3 a bottle at festivals, staying hydrated gets expensive without bringing a reusable water bottle. Don’t worry, I get it, no one wants to carry around a cumbersome metal canteen. Luckily, you can get collapsible water bottles on Amazon for less than $10. Most clip onto belt loops or backpack straps so you can keep your hands free and fold them to fit in your pocket after they’re empty.
I’ve also made it a habit to get to festivals early. This allows me to take a loop around the festival grounds, scope out where the water fountains are and make note of which was the hardest to find. This means that usually, that particular water fountain or water station will be less crowded and you can skip a long line later. Speaking of getting there early, that leads me to my next tip.
2. Don’t leave too late.
Nothing is worse than being stuck in traffic. I’ve often decided to sleep in when the first band I want to see doesn’t start until the late afternoon. This has gotten me into bumper-to-bumper traffic — you know, the type where it seems faster to crawl to the festival than to drive there. A late start also generally means that by the time I finally get to the festival, there’s nowhere left to park or I’m out in the parking desert. The lines to enter the festival are more congested later in the day too. I’ve missed seeing bands I love because it takes so much longer to enter the festival once it’s already in full swing. Not to mention, you miss out on discovering a new artist. I’ve looked over past festival lineups and realized I could have discovered some of my favorite musicians sooner had I just left the house earlier. But, before you take off, let’s back it up a bit and chat about something you shouldn’t leave the house without.
3. Eat a big breakfast.
Ten-hour festivals are a long time to go without eating properly, and although most festivals offer some of the most delicious food around, the lines often take forever. Save your friends from hanging out with a hangry (hungry and angry) you and grab a bite before the event. Not to mention, the cost of food at these types of events can get expensive. If you’re running late or aren’t hungry before you leave, grab something you can bring with you, like a breakfast sandwich or burrito. Prices for those likely will be lower and have a shorter line. You can always buy lunch and snacks at the venue, but don’t start out with an empty stomach.
If You Go
What: Kate Wolf Music Festival
Who: Indigo Girls, Joan Osborne, Keb Mo, Los Lobos and more
When: June 28 to July 1
Where: Black Oak Ranch, Laytonville
Single-day tickets: $85 Thursday; $125 Friday, Saturday or Sunday; two-day pass $245; three days $285; four days $355. Multiday passes include camping
More Information: katewolfmusicfestival.com
Cloud Moss, who launched the Kate Wolf Festival in 1996 and continues to produce it, shares his top picks for this year’s event:
— A Celebration of Harry Chapin, the folksinger (“Cat’s in the Cradle”) who died in 1981, with members of his family and band. 8:30 p.m. Thursday, June 28.
— A celebration of Utah Phillips, a troubadour whom Kate Wolf considered a mentor and who died 10 years ago, 4:45 p.m. Saturday, June 30.
Nina Gerber returns after eight years and will appear during several sets throughout the weekend.
Tom Paxton, the folksinger who turned 80 last fall, 6:30 p.m. Saturday, June 30.
— Martha Reeves and the Vandellas bring R&B to the festival. 8 p.m. Saturday, June 30.