In my late teens and twenties I looked forward to hearing the line-up for the summer festival of the day. I would run to my nearest indie record store to get tickets as soon as they went on sale (only costing around $80). I remember my first festival: The Big Day Out on the Gold Coast in 1997. Allegedly the last BDO ever. I moshed, drank, yelled and crowd surfed with little regard for my wellbeing, and I loved it!
As I relinquished my youth and headed into my thirties, the two festivals on offer a year became 70. I started to favour smaller gigs in more intimate arenas. Occasionally though a festival can tempt me out of retirement with the right mix of old and new. When this happens I’ve learnt how to do things a little differently than I used to. Most of it is common sense, but it appears I didn’t have that when I was 18. Here are my tips for going to a festival in your thirties (and perhaps beyond):
I know having this first makes me sound like a mother, but is the killer of all festival days. When I was a teen I would ignore sunscreen and water. I would sweat whatever coloured hairspray I chose down my face until I looked like a budget clown. My worst offence was some hideous 15cm wide sunburn on my legs. This was due to the narrow gap between the top of my Doc Martens and my baggy shorts (ah the 90’s). This horror could have easily been avoided.
Free sunscreen is everywhere at festivals now, so go for it. This one applies to me especially. I am so pale you can nearly see my internal organs. So I opt for sunscreen all over rather than the week of pain to follow. Of course I double up my sun protection with sunglasses and a hat. I go for a cap, because as much as I love my big straw hat other people at festivals don’t. Right next to the free sunscreen is the free water. I love beer and it is a great to enjoy some with friends at a festival or gig. In the middle of summer though it can take its toll. Without proper hydration the next day will be horrible, or you might not make it to the headliners. Gulp down the water and enjoy the day and the one after.
Funnily enough as much as the sun can ruin your day, so too can the rain. I remember being soaked to the bone with shoes muddied beyond repair. Checking the forecast is the obvious way out. If it’s going to rain, be prepared. I have a pair of gumboots for the mud that make the path between stages worry-free and comfortable. I always have a rain poncho that folds up to almost wallet size. I have this regardless of forecast, just in case of a freak storm (it’s happened). If I want to be super cautious I’ll even have a zip lock bag for my phone, and if I’m super-keen (slightly nerdy?) a laminated setlist/map.
The Angry Old Guy
As I get older, I may be getting a little more irritable. Things that people do, which may be silly or may not, get on my nerves. I have to leave this at the gate at a festival. That volume of people is bound to annoy. Get over it. Moshing is fun, but you will get knocked over, kicked in the head and covered in other people’s sweat. I wore a bruise across my chest from a safety barrier as a badge of pride in my younger days. Now I realise I’m not such a fan of bruises and hang back a bit. Main stages have big screens and you can see and hear everything just fine. You can even have a little dance if the mood strikes you. Bottom line, if you jump in to the crowd it may hurt. Stay back or grin and bear it. Don’t be an angry tool.
Food, Bar and Amenities
At some stage you will need to eat and go to the bathroom, and you may want to have a drink. Maps for festivals are online weeks ahead as are the set lists. Figure out where they will be in relation to who you want to see. This means deciding who you want to see before the day but also means you might not have to nearly wet your pants while waiting in line for the toilet. Some festivals will even offer VIP areas for an extra cost. This usually means real toilets, not portable ones and food and bar options without big lines. The cost will sting, but I will live with that if I can rather than missing half a set in a toilet line.
Don’t. Anything you can buy at a festival you can buy at a market or online. The only exception would be festival merch (which most thirty-somethings probably wouldn’t wear). Why waste time shopping at a place that has at least 5 bands you’d already paid good money for playing at the same time. Simple choice.
Ultimately you can still have a great time at a festival. You just need to plan ahead a little. An hour online before the festival and some common sense mean you can see those new bands you like or the old acts that the organisers have thrown money at to come out of retirement without pain, anger or illness. Rock on you old geezers!