Give Bill Murray credit. Not only did he arrive on the set of Jimmy Kimmel Live riding a horse, wearing a dress, purse, and cowboy boots but he confessed to alternating liquor with water and seeking a gentle mosh pit at South by Southwest.
So was I, Bill. So was I.
If you were born before the music festival was invented on Yasgur’s Farm in 1969, you have probably wondered “Am I too old to rock and roll?”
I love live music and refuse to give it up. And festivals are the best way to get your fix. But festivals are for the young. Or, at least that’s what I thought, so I was terrified as I prepared to attend SxSW, Austin’s annual gathering of the hip.
What I found was a city brimming with extremely nice people of all ages looking to enjoy the music, the food, and each other. I came back with new artists to add to my Spotify playlists, a couple of documentaries to recommend to friends, and all of my stereotypes about Texans shattered. Rock on!
Ten Tips for Music Festival Survival
1. Choose wisely. There are hundreds of festivals and gatherings planned throughout the world. Pick one that offers a variety of music. Bethel Woods, the Woodstock site, is close to my home and hosts Mysteryland in May, a renowned celebration of electronic music. But it just ain’t my thing. Seek festivals with a variety of artists to ensure your listening pleasure.
2. Don’t try camping for the first time. Camping options are offered at most multi-day music festivals. But if you’re not an experienced camper, don’t start now. You’re sure to be frustrated by the weather, public showers, and noise. The fests will also offer discounted hotel rooms. And they usually provide a free shuttle service to the venue. Choose Plan B.
3. Abandon FOMO. Because of the nature of festivals, there will always be overlapping events, leaving you debating whether to attend this screening or try to get into that club. Make a decision and live with it. Don’t continually scroll through the schedule of events, wondering “What if…?”
4. See the sights. Balance your festival activities with traditional sightseeing for a complete experience. For example, if you’re going to Bonnaroo, take the hour drive into Nashville and tour iconic country music sights like the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry.
5. Wear ’em if you brought ’em. There is no shame in wearing ear plugs. Alright. Maybe just a little. But, if you’re already suffering from hearing loss or would like to put it off for a bit longer, plug up. You’ll see plenty of kids on stage and in the mosh pit wearing them as well.
6. Try something new. If you hear strains of music that vibrate your antennae, step up and give a listen, even if you’re afraid to be mistaken for the drummer’s dad. Alternatively, enjoy something old. A rollicking tribute to the late Doug Sahm (Sir Douglas Quintet and the Texas Tornados) was a highlight of SxSW, classic Tex-Mex with lots of accordion and steel guitar.
7. Embrace the tech. Your festival will have an app. Download it. Use it. You’ll know what’s happening, when, and where. I also relieved heavily on Austin’s bus app and the food truck locator Roaming Hunger.
8. Work your connections. One of the benefits older festival attendees enjoy is a network of contacts. If you know people in the industry or who live and work in the festival location, give them a call and tell them you’re coming to town. We were able to score tickets to a taping of Jimmy Kimmel Live and arranged a fabulous tasting dinner at The Driskill Hotel thanks to some business connections.
9. Enjoy the subsidiary events. The bigger festivals will offer a variety of things to do in addition to the music. Be sure to check out one of the films or art exhibits. You can bring home a souvenir tee and a year’s worth of current culture.
10. Hydrate. Bill Murray was on point with his advice. It’s probably been awhile since you partied from dusk till dawn. Alternate your beers with water and slip in a coffee from time to time.
Here are 3 classic multi-day, music festivals to consider that offer a variety of events in destination locations:
Bottle Rock Napa Valley, May 29-31: Balloon rides and wine in Northern California with a soundtrack. What’s not to like? Lineup includes The Avett Brothers, Robert Plant, and Public Enemy.
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, April 24-May 3: Grab an Abita in one hand and a po’ boy in the other and get ready to mix up a musical gumbo featuring legendary headliners The Who and Elton John and perennial fest favorites like Dr. John and Galactic.
Solid Sound, June 26-28. Founded by Wilco, Solid Sound is held in the Berkshires at MASS MoCA, an historic industrial space converted into an outstanding contemporary arts museum. This fest is family-friendly and offers a variety of activities and performances.