Top tips for music festivals
Let's get this show on the road
Music festivals make for amazing memories, and whether you're trying to fit in seeing as many bands as you can in a short space of time or lazily drifting from stage to stage, they're also great value for money. You get to see headliners for less than the total cost of their individual tickets, and discover many new and interesting bands while you're at it.
That being said, there are many things you can do to make your time more enjoyable and easy-going. Trust me, the last thing you want is the unbearable heat, heavy rain, overpriced food or nightmarish port-a-loos to ruin an otherwise brilliant time (I should know, I've been to 13 festivals in the past 6 years, and around half of them were as a steward).
Whilst not all necessary, a lot of the tips in this article will ensure you're better prepared for the most common issues you'll face, so you can spend less time worrying about the what if's and just enjoy yourself.
A great idea before going to any festival is to look up any of the bands on the lineup that you don't know of, and listen to one or two of their songs. After all, that's what is so great about festivals - you usually find a few hidden gems you'd never heard of! So by checking them out beforehand you might find a couple you love and some you know you'll avoid, which helps you plan your day around the bands' set times. It also scores you a few brownie points if you're the first of your friends to discover this really cool band they just have to see! It's worth noting too, that most festivals have smaller 'introducing...' stages with set lists full of up and coming bands who're fresh on the scene.
Come rain or shine
The weather will do as it pleases and forecasts aren't always correct, so it's best to prepare for both outcomes. Here in England you are guaranteed to ruin your trainers at a festival if it rains, I can't speak for much hotter climates though I had the same experience in France and I was grateful I had my doc martens with me.
- ALWAYS take a pair of wellies or high-ankle, sturdy boots you don't mind getting covered in mud. You'll be unpleasantly surprised at how deep the mud can be.
- Even if its forecast as glorious sun, pack a raincoat or poncho just in case.
- Take some plastic bags to put your boots in so you don't muddy your tent!
- Its handy to take a ground sheet to lay your tent on, or even to put on the inside of your tent.
- When it comes to sun - you'll need plenty of sunscreen, after-sun, a cap or hat, and sunglasses.
- You don't need a new vest top and clean pair of shorts for every day of the festival, save space in your bag by wearing the same pair twice - its not a fashion show, you have to be practical here.
Speaking of hot weather, make sure you're sufficiently hydrated! Alcohol is great but dehydration ain't fun so plan ahead for this one.
- Take bottled water - stored in a cooler box/bag will be even better.
- The water provided at festivals is usually chlorinated or treated some other way, though I take a water filter anyway just to be safe.
- Be aware that some festivals don't let you take drinks (and sometimes food) into the arena.
- Food at festivals is usually overpriced, don't rely too heavily on it if you want to save your money.
- Take non-perishable food, or something that will at least last a few days in a hot tent.
- Eat something before you go see the first band as its easy to get carried away and forget or delay eating until later in the day.
Like I got carried away at Hellfest...
The toilets at festivals can be the stuff of nightmares and horror scenes, however don't be discouraged.
- The urinals are usually fine - but take your own hand sanitiser as the ones provided run out quickly, and will be covered in thousands of people's, well, yeah...
- ALWAYS take toilet roll or even those small packs of pocket tissues you can buy. Otherwise queuing up for a port-a-loo with no toilet roll will be annoying.
- Baby wipes are a God-send if you can't hover above a toilet seat, and especially for washing yourself down after a long day.
- Even if there are showers, they'll be busy in the mornings and evenings, so time it right - and wear sandals.
- If you fall in the mud then wash your hands & sanitise them - you don't know what's been there before you but generally its farm animals of some description...
- Clean hands are a MUST - most illnesses at a festival are stomach bugs of some kind due to poor hygiene, even though most people blame the festival food, it was probably their own fault.
- Finally, if you're still put off by the prospect of the toilets, at most festivals now they provide 'premium' paid-for, well-maintained toilets for the clean-freaks among you.
Eat, drink, dance, sleep, repeat
I've already mentioned planning a few times but to reiterate - look at the band lineup and make a list of who you want to see and when. Then you can plan ahead when you'll get food, beer, take a break or go for a shower etc. Great tools for this are 'clash finders'. Often you'll find them online or as mobile apps, but they list all of the bands' start times & duration so if there's two bands you want to see on different stages, you can time it just right to see the first half of one and last half of another.
When it comes to sleep, don't expect much consideration from your neighbours. It's a loud atmosphere all night long, settling down at around 5 or 6 am if you're lucky. Take earplugs and it'll be easier to drift off to sleep, sometimes an eye mask will help too if it's quite brightly lit in your area of the campsite.
Talk and make friends
Stalls and merchandise
- Unless you're only drinking at the campsite, you'll need to buy beer at the stalls in the arena. They will be expensive, and won't have a massive choice of brands, but they're at least of decent quality usually.
- Merchandise sells out fast, so unless you're an XXL or a Small, check the merch stalls asap.
- Don't expect to pay by card, very few stalls accept card payments. There's usually cash machines at the festival but they generally charge a fee.
- In relation to the above point, take some cash with you but keep it safe. Buy a locker if it makes you feel better (some festivals offer lockers as a service).
- Check your pockets often - pickpockets often target festival-goers.
What to pack
I'm going to cover this in detail in a later article, however I'll mention the essentials here:
- A mallet to hammer in tent pegs - you'll be Mr/Mrs Popular with the neighbours too but make sure you get it back!
- Tent and sleeping bags are obvious as it a roll-up sleeping mat/yoga mat. No need to take a pillow though - too bulky. Instead take a pillowcase and put your clothes inside.
- ID & festival ticket
- Enough clothes
- Sun glasses, lotion, after sun & hat
- Dry shampoo
- Toilet roll & wet wipes
- Toothbrush & toothpaste
- Food & drink
Location, location, location
- Pitch your tent in the best spot possible. The quicker you get into the festival the better spots you'll find
- Don't pitch at the bottom of a hill or slope - if it rains it's all coming down on you.
- Try to pitch away from a generator hooked up to the floodlights, they'll keep you awake all night
- If you pitch too close to the arena you'll be kept awake by the noise of after-hours DJ's and rides
- Be mindful of where you're located - look for landmarks close to you - flags, gazebos, crossroads in the paths etc.
- Try not to pitch right on the edge of a path, or you might have a a drunk neighbour fall through the roof of your tent.
- It should go without saying, but don't pitch too close to the urinals/toilets. Self explanatory really.
As already mentioned, some festivals have lockers you can pay for, though its generally a good idea to minimise how many valuables you're taking. As much as we'd all love to think otherwise, festivals are great places for thieves to make a quick profit. Pickpockets aren't your only worry, people also search through tents for valuables. Yes, CCTV and security are on the lookout for this but they can't catch everything/everyone. Be cautious and you'll be fine.
- Laptops just aren't necessary, leave them at home.
- Don't bring professional camera equipment, your smartphone should be enough.
- Even smartphones aren't a great idea - only bring things you wouldn't be too saddened at losing in the festival. A cheap pay as you go phone is ideal.
- Your wallet should be kept on you at all times and please check your pockets regularly, preferably keeping it in a zipped pocket that isn't easily accessible.
- Do take a portable powerbank/phone charger though as if you use your phone a lot the battery just won't last. At the very least, take a spare battery you know is fully charged.
Take beautiful photos
At some point you're going to want to split up, so setting a meeting point is helpful. Choose something easily found by everyone like a food stall or a specific relay speaker on a certain side of the stage. Something that isn't going to move like a flag someone is carrying around, cause saying "oh I'll see you by the skull and cross bones" when it suddenly moves across the other side of the arena just isn't helpful. This is also a great help if your phone dies so you all have a place to check if someone doesn't turn up.
One other tip, when you're wanting to get close to the stage then move around the side of the crowd to the absolute left or right of the stage. It's a lot less crowded and you can get closer a lot quicker than moving through the middle of the crowd - THEN you can move closer to the centre once you've gotten near the stage.
When it comes to the end of the festival you have a number of options:
- You can leave immediately after the last headliners if you've already packed or if you can pack up fast, and then you avoid the major traffic jams in the morning.
- You can leave in the middle of the night if you're not too tired but you should take care driving.
- You can leave in the morning with everyone else and spend a few hours going no more than a couple hundred feet.
- You can leave in the afternoon after the majority of the campers have already left and spent hours in traffic. The roads will have cleared up a lot and you can get home in reasonable time after avoiding all the traffic.
- I personally choose the last option as I'm never in a hurry to get home and I still miss all the traffic but whichever option you choose just make sure you're not too tired to drive - just take care.
I can not recommend Hellfest enough
My sincere apologies for the wordplay above, I just couldn't help myself. A quick note on the above Youtube video too - if you like your rock and heavy metal, I cannot recommend Hellfest in Clisson, France, enough. It is an amazing festival with a very pleasant, fun loving crowd and extremely welcoming locals. Such good fun.
To summarise then:
- Research the bands before you go.
- Make sure you have plenty of food and water.
- Be hygienic, pack hand sanitiser and you NEED toilet paper.
- Get your merchandise early!
- Take a flashlight and make sure you have essential toiletries.
- Pitch your tent in as ideal a location as you can find.
- Only take electronics and other valuables that you actually need.
- Set a meeting point with your friends/family.
- Leave the festival early or leave late. Don't follow the crowd in the morning.
Thank you for reading this article, I hope it helped you at least a little. Please leave your feedback as it is much appreciated and I will be updating this quite regularly to reflect any suggestions you make. Now go forth and enjoy your festivals!