How To Choose a Music Festival
Coachella was this weekend, which means all around the US people were making use of that flower headress filter on Snapchat. Besides being known for it’s headresses, Coachella can be seen as the kick-off of festival season and with so many options out there, it can be hard to choose a good one. Which begs the question, what constitutes a good music festival? Now I’ve been to Osheaga in Montreal, Lollapalooza in Berlin, Governor’s Ball in NYC, Made in America in Philadelphia, along with a ton more, so after a few years and a few options, here are the things I consider when choosing a music festival.
Age of the festival
We’ve entered an era where pretty much every major city now has some sort of festival nearby. While there are certain oldies like Coachella or Bonnaroo, most of these festivals have been around 1–3 years. Initially that sounds awesome, cuz you’re like hey, I get to be one of the pioneers: the elite, the few, the proud, the brave, but news alert: similar to humans, festivals get better with age. The event throwers get to confront more problems each year, which they can now put in the old knowledge pack when crap goes wrong. New festivals seem to always have problems. Problems can be anywhere from not getting people in fast enough, to not having enough water, to not knowing how to handle drainage issues. And while some of these problems are forgivable, when you lose your shoe in a very suspicious mud/poop/quicksand mixture due to their inability to handle rain, you might get a little upset.
And no, I don’t mean the size. See I live in the northeast, so a lot of the festivals I’ve attended have been on this side. I don’t know what you’ve heard about Northeasterners but we aren’t exactly known for our hospitality. And no offense to you Philadelphians, but none of it was more evident than at Made in America. The crowd was very hostile whenever someone tried to make it closer to the front, even if their friends were clearly calling them. That’s the complete opposite of Osheaga, which I keep going to because of the crowd. Canadians are as friendly as the media makes them out to be. They’re always willing to give you directions, talk to you while you’re waiting in the crowd, and just good at keeping up the positive vibes. And whilst hostility is my big factor, there are other things to consider, like what the attendees the festival are known for. Firefly skews very young. Coachella’s executives on Spring Break. Electric Forest are a bunch of happy hippies. You gotta do good research to find the crowd for you.
Good food is important but cheap food is better! There are so many food trucks nowadays that the they’re better be more than hotdogs at your festival.
Most festivals serve alcohol but since there aren’t usually age limits on these things the throwers have to be careful. Afropunk was the first festival I went to that had designated areas for drinking. One of these areas was no way near the acts. It was also the place with the smallest line. So I sat in line for an hour and a half- missing some serious acts because I couldn’t leave the area even when I had my drink. On a positive note I did get to see Sza in the area because of this, but overall it was a major bummer, so yeah if you’re thinking of drinking find out how the festival handles its alcohol consumption.
When the music’s good, standing in a back alley next to smelly Jim the Hobo can end up being okay, but when you’re paying $2–300 to go see a bunch of people, they better put a little effort into the decorating. Even if you’re not hoolahoop girl, you’ll still appreciate great lights when the suns setting. Also don’t forget that the actual location can be a big factor in the scenery. Hangout in Alabama is on a beach so even if they only drop $12 on streamers you’ll probably still dig the scene. Definitely hop on the gram and check out the how much effort the put in the scene.
Are major headliners going to be battling each other? Are they going back to back? Are there 30 minute breaks in between each act? Will you have to sacrifice seeing someone else in order to get a close seat? These are all valid questions when it come to stage timing. Also any show that has on late headliners gets a bad rating in my book. Come on, these dudes are getting paid millions for an hour- show up on time.
Time of Year
So every year there’s this little thing called the high sun. It’s the the one day of the year when the sun is out for the longest amount of time. It is also when Firefly holds it Festival. Now for some of those Vitamin D deficient folk this might seem great, but when your functioning on very little water and have been up for hours the sun can be draining.
Something that can effect the stage timing is the layout of the festival. If it takes you 30 minutes to get between the two main stages then your probably going to end up missing out on a lot of the the major acts. If you’re late to a show are you going to have to stand on someone shoulders to see or is there a nice hill in the back that can give you good views no matter what time?
Camping Vs Not
The most established festivals are usually camping ones and I’ve found it’s usually because it builds community. When you’re sitting there wandering if you’ll ever be clean again, it’s nice to bond with Tim from Iowa in the next camp. The well planned and seasoned festies come with ping pong and cornhole, along with contraptions that make it easier to shower. These festivals usually go on until later in the night to keep up the party atmosphere. Non-camping festivals tend to end earlier due to city rules. Honestly though, I love festivals where I can go back to a hotel and get clean at the end of the day, even if it means I’ll have to rely more heavily on the people I came with to keep me company.
Yes, the basic human need stuff should probably be the highest on your list. You’ll be standing in the hot sun for hours at some point your going to have to use the bathroom and it’ll either be a war story reminiscent of ‘Nam or it would be an unmemorable experience. You want it to be unmemorable. Outhouses aren’t pleasant for anyone so my best advice is to use em early when they’re still clean. And hopefully you go to a festival that actually cleans their outhouses each day. At Lollapalooza Berlin they had toilets that flush! Flush! Man, those Germans figured stuff out. And don’t forget in order to fill those toilets you’re probably going to need some water.These festivals are in summer during 70 degree + days. There’s always someone that passes out due to de-hydration and you want it to be because they forgot and not cuz they couldn’t get to a water spigot fast enough.
I’ve got music, I don’t need no attractions! While I would normally agree, spending 3–4 days listening to 12 hours of music usually gives you some gaps to wander. Festivals have looked to attractions to keep the non-music folks happy. The silent disco has become one of the standards you but I’ve seen everything from ferris wheels, to hot air balloons, to simple stuff like hammocks to keep attendees happy.
Ultra is known as the fest for electronic goers and it’s named for that for a reason. It gets and signs the best and biggest EDM acts year after year. Whilst some people might like to take the road less traveled and go to an indie-r fest. These festivals are well known for a reason whether it be execution or booking.
The event company
Right now in New York we’re seeing a major battle between two major event companies. Governor’s Ball is the city’s festival and has been for a few years. The runners came here and built something special. The guys who ran Coachella took notice and are bringing Panorama to Queens to battle Governor’s Ball this summer. Now Governor’s Ball is now run by Live Nation, who ended up buying it from the original owners, and Panorama is run by AEG Live. When it comes to music these 2 are very well respected, and will more than likely execute 2 very well run shows so in this case I guess it’s just a matter of loyalty when it comes to who you’re choosing.
Well this should be obvious but yeah, the Acts. Are the headliners someone who hasn’t toured in years? Is it that hot button person that other festivals couldn’t book? Do they have very few small acts but incredible major ones? Or do they have incredibly strong medium acts and okay headliners? What are the chances of surprise guests? At the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival a couple years ago, it was it’s tenth anniversary, so obviously they were going to something special. And that ended up being bringing out J. Cole, Mos Def and Jay-Z. It was insane all for a twenty something dollar ticket.
These are all the major things I consider when attending a festival. Obviously I look at all these collectively. Like this year my festival of choice is Electric Forest because it is well respected in the festival community. They spend a lot of time decorating the forest and the attendees are supposed to be amazing. On another note, it is also a 3 day String Cheese Incident festival, so for a hip-hop/R&B head like myself, that isn’t ideal, but the other stuff is so important I’m willing o take a hit on the acts.
Hopefully this list was somewhat helpful, and I’ve got to be honest even when I had a “bad” experience it was still pretty good so I highly recommend anyone who hasn’t, to take a stab at going to a festival this year.