Ah, the post-festival rush of endorphins and fond memories. Nothing of the stinky weather, the terrifying sanitary situation and the horrible, horrible people remains in your memory, no, it’s like a blackout for all the negative experience but in contrast to the repressed memories of teenage traumata (when Johnny didn’t invite you to the ball) it’s not a self-preserving means of your brain to keep you from turning into an alcoholic. No, it causes you to forget all the “next year I am definitely better prepared because I will remember not to eat Mexican food on a festival”-ideas so you can make the same stupid mistakes all over again and have another festival experience that – in your memory – is awesome but – in experience – actually was torture.
So, with all that in mind I forced myself to write everything down right after I arrived home, still smelling like you would imagine Jabba the hut smells like and so sleep deprived that I probably hallucinated a couple of those tips.
The Great Festival Guide
You really shouldn’t forget your tent and most people don’t but what people tend to do is not checking the tent before they head off. If it’s not newly bought (and even then) you should check whether it’s complete. Without tent poles you will end up with a slightly larger sleeping bag and without tent pegs you might end up in a tree after a stormy night.
As “practical” as those instant tents seem to be (the ones that you just flap to build them), usually, they are not very stable under rain and wind and therefore will leak like a new, not yet released Arcade Fire album. Check for a waterproof tent, because apparently there are festivals where it rains now and then.
If it’s old and tattered, you can buy impregnation spray (to not cause confusion at the store you can also call it waterproofing spray) that might also be useful for rain jackets and bags.
A big, bulgy and difficult to build tent with double-tent walls will be the king of the camping site, if you taut it enough, it will also hold back rain better than Adele (get it? because she set fire to the…never mind).
If you suspect that your tent will do anything to get you soggy and ill, you can also bring a plastic canvas (a big plastic canvas) to put between the tent walls (for those who want it to look pretty) or just over the tent. Obviously, the canvas needs to be fastened so it doesn’t blow away.
So, you got your tent, the sleeping bag and a mattress. That’s all great and at least was enough for my first festival. But only because everyone I was with was a lot more prepared than I was.
First of all: get a proper mattress, if you go by car take a sleeping pad as well and make sure that you get a really good sleeping bag, no cheap crap because for some reason it’s always freezing during the night at any festival. From my experience, military sleeping bags (thrift store style) are incredibly warm and also more cosy than the usual camping sleeping bags.
You might also need a camping cooker, a tin opener, a flashlight, a bottle opener (in Europe, you do because our beer brewers want us to work for our delicious beer), at least one lighter, and cutlery. I know, I know, you can eat your steak as a sandwich between two slices of bread, but a plate, a knife and a fork won’t turn you into a little princess, only into a very organised camper (and there is nothing bad about that, you want to enjoy the festival, not do some weird Bear Grylls crap that is gross and horrifying).
For very organized people: a BBQ, camping chairs (you’ll love them, get the ones with beer/cup holders and you’ll be in heaven) and a pavilion. Especially, when you’re a larger group of people, a pavilion will be your official club house.
Also, if it rains when you arrive (which sucks for building up the tents), you can build the pavilion first, then build each tent under it and then carry the tent to the desired camping spot and fasten it there.
A water canister is always good for brushing teeth in the morning, making coffee and washing your hands without always having to circle the whole camping site to find the one water supply within miles.
also very useful:
– a towel, duh
– mosquito spray/candles
– tooth brush
– tooth paste
– toilet paper
– a mirror (it’s not for vanity, the dust will fuck with your skin and you want to at least know about the gigantic zit on your forehead before you leave your tent)
– cleansing wipes (there are really fancy ones that foam once they come in contact with water you feel so much cleaner afterwards)
– first aid kit
– nail file (yeah, I am such a girl but your fingernails will look like you dug out a corpse within hours, believe me – girls – it’s cheating but colourful nail polish solves that problem…kind of)
– shampoo and showering gel (be clever, get one of those that is both or get some sample packages to save room in your bag for another bottle of tequila)
– a pillow
– mini fan (and if you are a funny dude or dudette, a copy of Kotzwinkle’s “fan man” just for laughs)
Bin bags and duct tape
Don’t laugh, ask any festival veteran, they will nod gravely and tell you an anecdote about how duct tape and bin bags saved their life this one time a bear got lost on the camp site.
You can make wine carton bags with duct tape, tend to holes in your tent and other things (I can’t count the number of jeans I’ve seen, that were only hold together by duct tape and all our prayers). Broken tent pole? Duct Tape. Your shoes have a hole? Duct Tape. You have to escape a lake of laser-sharks? Duct Tape.
You can also design fancy clothes and hats with it but that’s only for the creative types amongst us.
Bin bags are just as useful, first of all, you can use them as bin bags, so you don’t leave the all-knowing trash heap (what the Fraggles never showed: it killed people!). Most festivals already award the most clean and sensible campers with freebies and even festival tickets for the following year but even if they don’t – come on, don’t be a pig.
Bin bags also can be used to sit on them on the festival site when the ground is muddy (after six hours cheering at the greatest bands you really need to sit down and relax to this smooth Chill wave artist from Latvia), you can wear them between your socks and your shoes if your shoes are not waterproof, you can put your clothes and sleeping bag in them during the day if it rains (they get damp, otherwise), you can turn them into a rain cape and together with duct tape, the possibilities are endless just like your imagination.
Why doesn’t anyone offer them as festival survival kits? No one knows.
There are two types of people on every festival: very chic people who always seem to have just stumbled out a hip thrift store, who never wear dirty clothes and seem to change them at least 3 times a day. And then there are those (me included) who have the one pair of jeans, three t-shirts, enough “delicates” (of course, I am not an animal!) and a couple of thick sweaters for the nighttimes.
It all depends how much you can afford to carry with you. If you go by car and don’t have four people in that car (I am talking a normal car here, no pimp my ride caravan) then you can bring your whole closet but if you have to carry most of it and go by train or squeeze into the tiniest car with four other people than just enough clothes will do. It’s not a fashion show, the rain and dust will make sure of that.
Just make sure that you cover rain and sun, wind and snow, storm and tornado, whirlwind to Oz and rain of frogs.
Oh, and bring warm socks and even more warm socks. If your feet are cold, it’s over, you are freezing as warm as all your woollen Christmas sweaters may be.
Take proper shoes with you. No sandals, no light canvas shoes, no sneakers with holes. Take shoes that are waterproof, comfortable (you will walk and stand so much that you can’t afford any gorgeous shoes that are a size to small) and have no heel. If you don’t care about dry and/or warm feet, take at least the dirtiest shoes you can find, so you don’t have to cry too much once the festival is over and you see their sad remains dangling on your feet.
Duh, Juliane, of course we are taking a bag, we are not stupid.
I do know that, honey, you are the smartestest of all. But I am talking about the bag you carry on the festival site because most of you will spend most of their day in front of stages. Remember that you can’t take everything with you on the festival site, I actually had to hand in a pen this one year (although I still think that security just hated me).
Think of money, chewing gum, your mobile, a rain cape, maybe cigarettes, sun glasses, tissues, whatever. Some are minimalist and don’t need much, others carry a whole MacGyver survival pack with them. Just think that you have to carry it around for a very long time, so don’t overdo it.
Fanny packs are the best in this case as unflattering as they look.
– camping showers (they are weird and not very practical – and please keep on your shorts – but some really like them)
– a music device (please, don’t turn it on too loud, the festival is loud enough, the camping site is kind of for sleeping and a subwoofer really shouldn’t be next to a camping tent anyways)
– mobile dynamo (it’s such a great invention, just in case you have to make a call home to tell mom that you are not sharing a tent with three hulky dudes who will strip-poker with you and your mobile battery is low)
– if you happen to have a gas cooker, you could bring a hot water bottle. Sounds insane but before you go to bed you can put this at the end of your sleeping bag (where your feet go) – it will be heaven to fall asleep with warm feet.
– that’s just a personal thing but usually, some people wake up earlier than others. In one of my festival groups, some dudes had an audio book with them which they heard while they waited for us to wake up. It’s actually quite soothing to wake up to it (because you also could sleep throughout) and also keeps you entertained in the early – and often boring – morning hours without harrassing other people.
2. Arriving at the festival
It starts and ends with the question what you’ve forgot. The answer: something. Unless it is the tent or the festival ticket, you probably will be ok, especially, if you travel with people who are more organized than you are (I once forgot my tent poles and a former army guy actually managed to get my tent up nevertheless). Actually, having those people with you is worth a kingdom.
If you go by train, make sure that there is a shuttle to the festival site. Usually, there is but if you arrive late at night or very early in the morning, it might get difficult (especially, if the festival is not as big).
Other festival folk usually are quite helpful but make sure you’re not jumping into any rape van (make sure, it’s a nice rape van, at least).
If you go by car try to be early and get a good parking space. There are festivals like Roskilde (Denmark) where you can be literally hours away from the next camping site if you are too late. Always follow the orders of the staff if they don’t want you to drive a certain way, don’t argue and hassle them, just don’t drive that way.
The first things to do at a festival:
– get your tent and your ticket
– check in
– don’t complain if check-in takes time, it just does, there are a lot of people, alright?
– look for a camping site
– build your camp
– get the rest of the baggage
– figure out where the showers, the toilets, the entrance to the festival site and (worst case scenario) the first aid tent is
– sit down and relax to the first beer/beverage of your choice of a long row of beers/beverages of your choice
On the Camping Site
The early bird catches the worm but only if it’s not a really stupid bird. I’ve seen people that clearly were the first at the festival site and thought it would be the greatest idea to camp right next to the toilets. Really? That’s where you want to sleep next to, the complete dump of everyone around you? It will always be loud (the doors of portables will sound like Poe’s tell-tale heart except that the things lying beneath them are far worse than a boring old corpse) and – it’s the toilets, man, just don’t go there. ok?
Also – if you do have a choice, try not to camp on dry earth, it will be dusty like hell when the weather is good and muddy when it rains. It’s what people call a “zero-zero” situation. Always opt for a place that’s grassy.
Oh, and – just as a reminder – water runs downwards so if the area is hilly (that’s a proper word? Oh dear), camp as high as the sun to escape the lakes of death that appear after three days of rainy weather.
3. During the Festival
Will be your best friend. Well, not your “best” best friend, more the one that’s always around and causes trouble, reminds everyone of your awkward phase and lends money without ever giving it back. But you will be stuck with that friend, just as you are stuck with rain.
So pack your Wellingtons, a proper rain cape (those small plastic ponchos are very practical for festivals as you can crumble them up and put them in a bag as soon as the rain stops).
And for goodness sakes, don’t bring an umbrella. What are you, Douchy McDoucherton? This is a festival, people are usually here to gather and see bands so if you stand amidst everyone with this huge shielding device that blocks at least 10-20 people from seeing their favourite band you can not expect that no one will “accidentally” pee on your tent.
This is your second best friend, the one that always needs to be centre of attention and thinks he/she is more funny than they actually are. Quite possibly, rain and sun will take turns as fast as possible so you will be freeze-sweating your way through the festival.
Take your sun lotion (and take it serious), sunglasses (shutter glasses are not only stupid, they also don’t protect your eyes from the sun) and something for your head. Especially those fair creatures that have skin as pale as Edward Cullen’s emotional variety, need a hat or their skin (despite hair) will turn into something out of a Cronenberg movie.
Believe me, I once forgot my sun lotion and developed – honest to…god, I guess – a blister, yes, a blister in the sun. It was horrible, it hurt and two days after the festival, I had a photo taken for the student’s body pin wall and I looked like a meth head. Don’t make my mistake, use sun lotion.
AND DRINK! Water, I mean. Dehydration sounds like something for American Idol contestants but it actually is a big deal on a festival where most people live on steak and beer for three days. Drink some goddamn water if you don’t want to pass out in the first row during a show of your favourite band. They will not take you backstage and the band won’t tend to you, they will take you to a medics tent with a lot of drunken people puking.
Most festivals need space, so they usually take place on some rural farm ground near Gaitlin or something similarly sinister. With or without grass, rain will turn every field into mudville (again, Wellingtons can safe lives here).
DON’T take sandals or airy canvas shoes. Yes, they look oh so stylish and you’re such a free spirit but here is the ugly truth: guys will not pee in porter toilets during a festival. They will pee at fences, at trees and some devious assholes will pee at tents. This pee will – if it rains enough – find its way into the earth and create mud that is a nasty mixture of earth, rain, pee, beer and vomit. You really don’t want to wear sandals, really, you don’t.
There are things you only appreciate when they’re gone. Toilets and showers are amongst safety, health and our loved ones and during a festival they will be more important than all of these.
Festival toilets aka portables are the worst and nothing will prepare you for them but here are some tips to make the experience as easy as possible.
– always take toilet paper and cleaning tissues with you. Usually they are offered by the toilet-company but because everyone uses at least 50 meters of toilet paper to cover the seat it will be gone in a second.
– go in the morning (not during the night, I repeat, not during the night because at that point, every single person on the festival has used them). On larger festivals, the cleaning crew will clean the toilets in the very early morning hours and leave the toilets clean and with toilet paper. If you happen to notice that they do this during the night (I know that they do at Roskilde) then wait till they’re done and take that opportunity
– on the festival site, they sometimes have proper toilets, like in the real world. If you can wait long enough, use those
– don’t touch anything while you’re on the toilet. You might feel like Monk but it’s ok to take disinfectant with you
– wash your hand or I will personally hunt you down
– I’ve heard of people that took coal-tablets (yeah, that’s a thing) to, ahem, get constipation, so they can avoid pooping throughout the festival. I for one think that’s a very bad idea because I am quite sure it can result in damaged intestines.
– there are pee-tubes for girls which I find suspicious and hopefully never have to use. Just wanted to inform you gals, because we are at a disadvantage, as we don’t have a pee-chute also known as penis.
Is pretty much everything you can put on a BBQ grill during the festival. To buy something on festival ground is only for those who are willing to pay a fortune for something unhealthy and sanitarily questionable.
A gas cooker (if it is allowed, check the festival info for that) is pretty nifty at that because you can actually cook things. Don’t overdo it, though. A can of ravioli or ramen noodles will do.
As much as I avoid them in real life, I very much like apples during a festival because they are high in vitamins, water and they make you feel as if you are not killing your body for three days.
Think practical, everything that is dry and can survive heat without melting (no cheese!) or developing alien cell cultures, is good festival food. Everything that doesn’t need to be prepared as much is good festival food. And for everyone who actually cares: everything that does not consist of more packaging than actual food is good and conscious festival food.
So yeah, it’s no secret that you kind of get drunk during a festival. I admit it, and I am quite ashamed of it: I don’t and I get mocked every single year for it.
Glass bottles and (beer)cans are forbidden on festivals, at least European festivals allow cartons but some have the weird rule that those have to be open (just hide the lid).
If you brought your beverages in glass bottles, just bring some empty cartons (or bring full ones and empty them) and then fill whatever you want to drink into those. A funnel helps but isn’t necessary. As unhealthy as they are, Capri sun packages are allowed pretty much everywhere and can be attached to your body, so you can carry litres of them around with you. Hell, make a Capri sun vest if you like and you will be the fashionista-est of them all.
If you are in possession of duct tape (which you should be) then you can actually design a sort of shoulder bag out of your wine carton.
! Ok, so you want to know why I don’t drink on festivals? Because the risk to get severely drunk and miss bands because I am lying in my vomit somewhere is too high and I prefer experiencing all bands with all my senses clear and not in the haze of alcohol that also tends to overwrite the best songs on the next hangover-morning.
So, be responsible is all I am saying and if you are but your friends never really are, take care of them. In the heat of a festival, people can pass out very fast and it can get dangerous and for once, I am not joking about this.
Duh, obviously you don’t have to shower every day on a festival, come on, it’s a festival. Ok, so some people actually manage to look like newborn supermodels every single day but they are probably pod people so don’t mind them.
However, after two, maybe even three days you will feel kind of gross and might consider a shower. Beware my words: bring flip-flops (for the shower only, don’t even think of wearing them outside), because the floors of festival showers are the grossest thing, there is an eerie amount of hair that you won’t believe. It’s like the sanitary version of a Japanese horror movie.
– Be fast, many showers work time-operated, so you have to push a button (sometimes delightfully high, so the smaller people have to awkwardly reach for it) and then you have 60 seconds until you have to push the button again (it’s like the Chemical Brothers song, only not fun).
– very often, festival showers are cold. some offer hot showers for a fee, usually those are the unbearable sort of mass showers as in school and will remind you of everything that was horrible about being an awkward teenager not being accustomed to their own body yet.
– I am actually not that paranoid but even I wouldn’t take my wallet, phone or anything else valuable to the showers unless I have them in a sealed plastic bag taped to my body the whole time
– if you have a very good deo and only want to get rid of the stringy Severus Snape hair, then use the normal water taps for washing your hair (with a friend nearby to hold the towel)
– there is also something like dry-shampoo. It’s a weird powder that you put on your hair and apparently it looks alright afterwards. I haven’t tried it, but you are welcome to do so and tell me about it
– Apart from that: brush your teeth, do your skin a favour and wash your face now and then and for heaven’s sake, wash your hands (just keep the cleansing tissues with you all the time), and don’t forget your feet, seriously, don’t, they have so much to do, give them some love at the end of the day.
I don’t mean the bands, we’ll come to them – eventually. I mean the music that you bring with you. The following are no survival tips just me asking you to be respectful of your camping neighbours:
– a music player is ok, if you don’t turn up the volume at 4am in the morning because obviously everyone who wants to catch a little sleep is a big ass pussy. Some people actually sleep because they want to see the first bands and the last, so they need to sleep to get through 10 to 12 hours and more of musical program. Don’t ruin it for them.
– Someone in your group will bring a guitar. Cracked writer Dan O’Brian has mentioned why no one should but still, there is always someone who thinks it’s actually a good idea. If you bring a guitar and sing along (and you will), please mind this: if you can only play three songs, play them once and be done with it. No one wants to hear the same three songs over and over and over again from 3am to 7am, I am so sick of Oasis, Nirvana and the Beatles interpreted by guitar players with no talent and no vocal abilities who – despite all that – sing and play the same shitty songs.
I actually spent one nightmarish year next to a group like this and I hated them with all my heart. The following year – at one of the biggest festivals of all Europe – I actually managed to camp directly next to them AGAIN! After that, I never visited that festival again. So there you go, guitar players: you ruin festivals for people who are there to listen to real musicians, not to hear your sorry attempt at “Imagine” for the twentieth time in a row (and dude, it’s the wrong key you’re singing it in!).
Oh yeah, for everyone who is a victim of those people: earplugs (you should take them for the concerts as well, at least, that’s what I heard back in the days when I still heard something).
Because falling asleep during the noise of festival camping grounds is next to impossible, it also helps to bring an mp3 player (or walkman, whatever) with an audio book or relaxing music to fall asleep to. I personally found that the insufferable beats of Electro artists get drown out by Heavy Metal and Postcore quite well. Find your own music!
There is not much.
If you don’t want to feel like shit when you wake up, try to change from festival clothes to your pyjamas. It’s nice not to take all the dirt to bed.
Obviously we have to hate them, after all, they are “The Man”, they oppress us, they don’t want us to enter the festival site with a bowie knife and a canister of gas, those Nazis.
But before you go all “dude, you’re not my father, dude” on them, remember this: your safety is their job. Some rules might appear stupid to you but they actually serve a purpose because some idiot in the past ruined everything for us by doing something stupid. It’s that idiot’s fault, not theirs.
They have to heave out hyperventilating girls out of the masses and take care of that idiot that thinks it’s funny to mosh in a tightly packed front row.
Sure, some securities might be rude or aggressive but they are under a lot of pressure because if something happens to us, they have to stand for it.
So, be nice, greet them, say thank you if they give you some water, apologize if you did something stupid. They might not look like it but they appreciate it.
Bands and concerts
Ah yeah, there was a reason why we went through all this, right?
Ok, the following tips are mainly for people who really want to see ALL THE BANDS and curse every time, two bands play during the same time-slot.
Well, in that case, always think very hard: which band do you like more? If you like both equally, always go with the one on the smaller stage. Chances to hear and see them better are bigger and the front row can be actually realistic.
But before you even arrive at the festival site, make a timetable, so you know which band plays when so you don’t miss one. Pretty much all festivals hand out plans if you are worried that they don’t, print it out before you leave your home.
If you don’t want to find out years later, that a now favourite band has played and you have missed them because you couldn’t be bothered to hear an unknown band – listen to all bands before you head off to the festival. Spend one evening in the depths of youtube, don’t get distracted by puppy and Japanese octopus videos and just go through the bands.
Not only will you not miss a potentially awesome band but your friends will also think you are the biggest music nerd ever which – for once – is a good thing during a festival.
The first bands are usually not the biggest but some of them can be huge surprises. Because Germany is very much behind, I got to see Elbow first row a couple of years ago at 1pm. The bands before and after where horrendous but I was there, front row, right in front of the god-like being that is Guy Garvey.
The first row on big festivals can be a game of patience and is only for people who don’t panic when they are surrounded by the sweaty bodies of hundreds of other fans. Sometimes, the wait for the first row/front area of the main stages can be very stressful and take a long time. Since I nearly got squashed before the Incubus gig (and missed Modest Mouse because of that…) I rather watch two good bands from the distance than spending an hour in hell.
Most festivals have better safety regulations now, the best I experienced was the squiggly line you have at post offices or airports. It looks like hell but lets everyone in faster and it is safe.
! Sometimes there is a huge mass of people waiting to enter the front area on one side of the stage, whereas the other side is completely deserted. Not every stage has two entrances but sometimes you might be lucky.
If you are a nice person, you don’t clutter up the front area for 10 concerts straight only to see the one act you actually like. I have only two words for people who stand in the front row (taking the space from a fan) of 10 bands without enjoying them, only to go hog wild for the 11th act:
If you are indeed far away from the band, you can still have a nice musical experience if you get as close to the sound guys tent as possible. Even if you might not see everything as stellar from there, the sound will be the best.
Keep a good one.
4. Departure from the festival
Weirdly enough, you will always have problems packing because apparently you carry 30pound of mud with you and therefore can’t close your bag. The tent will also never fit as it did when you bought it, the sooner you realize that, the more you will be at peace.
One small tip for this dilemma though: if you wrap your tent like a dorrito instead of trying to pack the outer and inner tent separately, it will more likely fit into the now ridiculously small tent bag.
If you can afford it, take at least a day off after the festival because you will need a lot of sleep. If you depart late, you will have it a lot easier to access your car and might even have the chance to drive it closer to the camping site.
! It’s super gross but it happened: When you get to the car during or after the festival, be very careful where you tread because some people think that it is less horrible to poop between the cars (words fail me to describe what I think of those people) than to use the porter toilets.
If you can hold it (and haven’t pooped between the cars), don’t use the toilets on the last day, usually the cleaning crew doesn’t bother this last morning and – it’s not worth it. You might also want to skip the following two or three rest stop toilets because 80% of the other festival goers will have used them before you.
If I have left something out or – worse – have given false advise just let me know in the comment section. I also would like to apologize for all the ambiguous wording, while I was writing I was well aware how many sexual innuendos festivals, camping and more actually carry.