They are the skeleton of a big music festival and they are typically how we plan out our day or night. For some people the schedule might be perfect with no conflicts and to others, it might be hell on earth. But whether or not you’re conflict free, the fact remains, that far too often the whole of our music festival experience revolves completely around the set times. But I’m here to tell you that a large-scale music festival typically has much more to offer than the music, and if we become slaves to the set times, we potentially miss out on unique experiences that might change our minds or our worlds. The music is great, but it’s not everything.
1. Don’t Be Afraid to Explore First
Right when you enter, instead of heading straight to your first act, why don’t you take a look around at all the stages and the festival layout. My favorite memory from my first Coachella last year was the big trip around the polo fields that me and my rave family took when we first got inside. I wanted to go see Trippy Turtle who was playing at that time at the Sahara, but I followed my friends and I was mesmerized with the Coachella community. The food, the art installations, the people tanning by the beer garden, the caterpillar shining in the Friday sun. I would’ve missed that original magic if I went straight to the music. This trip was also one of the only times I visited all areas of the festival because I was victim to set time slavery once the sun went down and never once got back to the DoLab. Exploring the festival before you start partying is also a great way to get a feel for festival layout including water stations, bathrooms, merchandise tents, and the closest exits. There is nothing worse than being stuck in the middle of the crowd, thirsty and needing to pee, only to have no clue where to go for either problem. Explore first, then dance.
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Eat and Shop
Festival food trucks are the best. Now maybe you’re saying to yourself, I’d rather go see my favorite act than spending time in line for a stupid sandwich. However, at these big music festivals, Coachella especially, the food is five-star quality. I had a barbecue rib grilled cheese sandwich last year in the beer gardens and it was far superior than any of the early day sets I saw on Saturday and it didn’t bother me that my chowing down was during the beginning of Oliver Heldens. I was in food bliss and no music could make me release my grip. Later in the day, I took a break from the evening sets to go and buy a lineup t-shirt when the merchandise tent was empty and when I saw it flooded with people as we were leaving for the night, I knew I made the right choice.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Meet New People
On many occasions I have struck up wonderful conversations with strangers in passing, that turn into festival friendships, and before I know it we hung out all through a set I wanted to see. But instead of getting upset about it, I embraced the fact that a music festival experience is about more than just the music and how it is really about the people that attend it. Tag along with a group if they let you, or invite somebody you meet back to your friends. The music will always be there. The friends you have yet to make, will not.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Stand in the Back
Too often we run from stage to stage just to hear the opening riffs of the next DJ on our schedule even when there’s thousands of people in our way. We bob and weave through the crowd to the back of the next stage, then push and pull our way forward for the next twenty minutes, never truly enjoying the music until we stop in a suitable place. My suggestion is to embrace the back of the crowd. If you’ve taken the tips I’ve given you so far, maybe you arrive a little late for the next stop on your schedule, but that’s fine. It is far more enjoyable to dance with room in the back than to get as close as possible just to watch the DJ pump their fist in the air. I always say the feels from the front are great, but so is the view from the back. After years of attending these things, I’ve found it far more satisfying dancing with much more room in the back and connecting with the people back there than pushing your way forward and annoying your fellow ravers in the process. It’s fine if you’re late. It might even be better.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Get Lost
One of my colleagues on this website wrote a piece awhile back about how getting lost at a festival is the best thing that can happen, and I completely agree. Getting lost encapsulates everything I’ve mentioned so far. You have complete freedom to do what you want, see who you want, eat what you want, and even leave when you want. You grow as a person and truly appreciate the community that the festival has brought together. If you’re only there for one specific set, you miss the big picture and story that the promoting company is trying to tell. Festivals likes Ultra or EDC Las Vegas are trying to bring us together on another level. A level that cannot be reached unless we realize that the EDM community is only half about the music. The other half is the people that listen to it.
And sure, you can have a great time at a festival without doing any of these things, simply by standing in the same spot all night, but trust me when I tell you that being a slave to set times can turn you into a music monster. You’ll miss the wonderful performance pieces, beautiful art installations, and group activities. I know we all wait patiently for the set times to come out for our next festival, but if that’s the only thing you’re looking forward to, that’s the only thing you’re going to get out of it.