With so many festivals out there it can be hard to decide which one is going to blow your brains out. Not all of us are lucky enough to follow the festival scene all season, so a lot of people have to pick the one or two that fit them best. These suggestions should help you narrow down your search.
A good place to start obviously is with the line-up. Everyone can check the line-up and see what bands attract them the most, but this is also important because it tells you what kind of vibe to expect. Is it largely electronic, rock, jam, funk, or eclectic? This will give you an idea of what sort of people, costumes, drugs, etc. you can expect to find roaming the campgrounds.
For instance, the Bear Creek Festival in Live Oak began as largely bluegrass but has evolved into a mostly funk festival now. The vibe was fun with bluegrass but since I prefer funk I knew that this year’s line-up was going to make an already awesome festival super badass.
Or take a bigger festival like Bonnaroo. You see the line-up and there may be like 200 bands listed and you like most of them. Great! But just bear in mind that you will not be able to see all the bands listed because it is physically impossible.
The festival grounds in Manchester are huge and it can take up to 30 minutes to walk from one stage to the other if you don’t wait in line for beer, food, or bathrooms. This isn’t a bad thing, just something to keep in mind. Personally, I have felt overwhelmed in the past at bigger festivals because I always felt like I was on a schedule, always checking the clock and checking the schedule to see where I needed to be at all times to see the show I wanted.
Often there were heartbreaking decisions to make because I couldn’t see one band because they were playing at the same time as another. If you thrive off of chaos then this is perfect for you, but if you don’t want to have to pick one band over another you may want to check out a festival like All Good where there are only two stages and no overlapping shows.
Another thing to keep in mind is how long the festival has been around. Just because you have never heard of a festival doesn’t mean it isn’t good. On the contrary that could totally work to your benefit.
Sometimes the first three years of a festival’s existence can be the best years because they often have just as good a line-up but word hasn’t spread enough for it to be over-crowded and tickets are often cheaper.
For example, when the Eco Project popped up in Fairburn Georgia the line-up was awesome and the grounds were spacious and beautiful. Promotion for the event didn’t hit a home run and an event that was expected to host about 80,000 people only housed around 10,000.
This clearly sucks for the event holders but rocked for those in attendance. You could see every show as close as you wanted, there were no lines for the bathrooms, and camping space was easy to come by. All in all, it was a spectacular weekend, and even though it may never return because of the poor ticket sales, it goes on my list of best festivals I have attended to date.
It is also a good idea to check a festival’s website to see what the lodging accommodations are going to be like. For example, the Langerado festival saw many transitions in the past few years. It originally had mostly off-site-camping with an extra fee to camp on the festival grounds.
This is only a little inconvenient because someone will always have to drive back to the campsite late at night at most people do not want to have to stay sober to do this. Another year it was held on a large Indian reservation, which was great because you camped right next to the stages.
The next year it was not held on a traditional festival site but rather in a series of bars and venues in Miami. This is great for people who like to stay in hotels and use public transportation, but not everyone enjoys this kind of thing. It is a matter of taste whether or not you view camping as a part of the fun of festivals. I believe it to be, and I also like the comradery and safe haven of having festival grounds that are separate from the general public.
Getting outside my mind can be liberating in a place with judgment, standards of sobriety, or dress code. Not everyone shares this opinion but the point is to decide how you feel about this issue before you commit to the festival, and check it out on the festival’s site even if it is one you have been to before because things may have changed.
Lastly, I suggest taking into account the time of year and location. This matters because some people are very much affected by the weather. Some guys I know get awfully cranky when it’s too hot for them to get comfortable, or some ladies get chilly when it’s 70 degrees and aren’t happy. Summer festivals in the south are hot as hell during the day but really comfortable at night, and some festivals in September or November can get really cold at night but be perfect during the day. Being cold is no fun but it’s worth it to me to see an awesome show.
However, if you are aware that the weather affects your mood it’s worth looking into. Also if travel time affects your fun level then you should look around for festivals closer to home. There’s a big difference in being in a car for 14 hours as opposed to 4.
Some people view the road trip portion of the weekend as part of the fun but if you are not one of them you can look around for a closer show. A good way to do this is by looking up the line-up for a festival you are interested in and checking the personal websites for the top three bands you want to see, looking for other festivals they may be playing together in a different place. You may be able to find a line-up that interests you just as much but requires way less travel time.
This is also handy for people who can not take too much time off because with fewer hours spent traveling you won’t have to leave the show early and miss any bands in the name of getting back to work.