What no one tells you about music festivals

Photo of Coachella
Shawn Ahmed/Creative Commons

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Summer is in full swing and that means one thing: festival season. Music festivals are an unforgettable experience that bring together communities for a full weekend of music, food, drink and tons of dancing. These past few weeks, I’ve been seeing an upsurge in festivalgoers on social media after two years of being totally deprived of these kinds of events. You might also have a festival or two booked for the summer, and for many of you, it may be your very first one. Well, let me tell you that festivals aren’t always what they seem on social media as here are some things no one tells you about music festivals.

You’re going to have to make compromises 

Unless you’re attending a festival alone, you’ll probably be going with a group of people that have different tastes and preferences. That means occasionally having to make sacrifices when it comes to the acts you’ll be going to see, the times you’ll be leaving and where you’ll be standing. It’s probably a good idea to discuss the artists you’d like to see before attending the festival, in order to avoid any uncomfortable disagreements or bad moods. 

People will probably not be sober

Let me tell you a little story of what happened to me at the Bilbao Music Festival in 2019. Although I’ve only been to three music festivals, I have a pretty strong feeling that European festivals are generally wilder than American ones. During The Strokes’ concert, not only was I practically being flung from side to side by the crowd, but I also had a wide range of liquids thrown on me, many of which I can’t even identify to this day. If you go to a music festival, especially one in Europe, be prepared for the crazy living-like-there’s-no-tomorrow spirit, the drinks in your hair and the borderline annoying drunkards.

The toilet situation

I don’t think I need to explain this one to you. You probably know that the bathroom situation at music festivals can be diabolical. A pro tip is to try going at the beginning of the day when the bathrooms are still manageable and to keep some hand sanitizer by your side. As the day progresses, the festival will only get more crowded, the lines will get longer, and the well-used portable toilets will get smellier. 

It can be a scary place

The crowds at some festivals can feel claustrophobic  sometimes. I remember feeling slightly overwhelmed towards the end of the day at Coachella. As the place got progressively more packed, it became much harder to navigate our way around the open field where the festival is held. I was constantly worried about losing my little sister, but also generally freaked out by the inundating crowds surrounded by loud stages.  

Everything is overpriced 

Buying a ticket to a music festival isn’t cheap, so be aware that it actually only ends up being a fraction of the overall cost of the trip when considering accommodation, transportation, food and drink. I’m not even 21, so I can’t imagine the wallet-damage that would fall upon those deciding to also purchase alcohol. All I know is that every time my sister and I would get a lemonade at Coachella, we’d pay $15. That’s right, $15 for a glass of squeezed lemons, sugar and water. 

Your feet are going to hurt

Standing around all day and walking from artist to artist can get really exhausting. And most of the time, you’re not going to find a place to sit and chill out. People are usually walking around everywhere, and the grass is often wet or littered. Definitely forgo the stylish heels and put on comfortable shoes. And, of course, you sacrifice missing some of the performances every time you decide to sit down on a patch of grass that’s most likely a good distance away from the stages. 

Getting out of there is an even bigger nightmare

After the headliner plays their final song, the parking lot will likely become a hotbed for thousands of people trying to get back home. Unless you decide to leave early, be ready to confront endless queues, restless crowds and crammed public transportation. I’ve only ever taken a car to music festivals, but getting to the parking lot, as well as out of it, has never been a straightforward process. You have to make a sacrifice: either leave early, or forfeit yourself to a very long nuisance that is the festival parking lot.

Although there is a hidden not-so-glamorous side to music festivals, they are ultimately an unforgettable experience, especially with close friends and family. I think I speak for my entire family when I say that  we’ve made some of our greatest memories while dancing around to our favorite musicians at these three-day wonderlands.

Contact Salma Sarkis at [email protected].