Survival Guide to Bay Area Festivals: 5 Essential Tips

I’ve made my fair share of mistakes as a seasoned festival attendee. One particularly foolish festival faux pas happened last year, when dehydration got the best of me and my friend had to pull over to the side of the road so I could dry-heave along the highway, while asking myself: “why the heck did you think not drinking water to skip the bathroom line was a good idea?”

Later, as I held a package of gas station Tums in my hand, I thought back on all the festivals I’d been to. I’ve attended BottleRock, Riot Fest Chicago, Life Is Beautiful in downtown Las Vegas and other notable music gigs – I really should have known better than to ditch the water bottle. With festival season in full swing, I decided to put together a survival guide with useful tips and tricks to save you from making the same mistakes that I had to learn from, the hard way.

Stay Hydrated

The anecdote above should have made it clear how important it is to stay hydrated during festivals – and I have a few suggestions on how to best go about it:

If you don’t bring a reusable water bottle, staying hydrated can get expensive – 16 ounce plastic water bottles can sell for as much as $3. But, do you really want to carry around a metal canteen the whole day? Luckily, you can get collapsible water bottles online for less than $10. Most clip onto belt loops or backpack straps, keeping your hands free, and you can fold them to fit in your pocket after they’re empty and reuse them at the next festival or concert.

I’ve also made it a habit to get to festivals early. This allows me to scope out where the water fountains are located and make note of which ones are the hardest to find. Later, when thirst hits, I make my way to the most remote water fountain or water station and skip the long lines.

Speaking of getting there early…

Don’t Leave Too Late

Nothing is worse than being stuck in traffic – especially when you’re on your way to see some of your favorite bands. In my amateur festival-goer days, I’d sleep in when the first band I wanted to see didn’t start playing until late in the afternoon. This got me into bumper-to-bumper traffic, you know, the kind of jam where it seems faster to crawl to the destination than to drive there.

A late start also meant that, by the time I finally got to the festival, there would be nowhere to park – and I was out in the parking desert desperately looking for a spot.

Finally, the lines to enter the festival are more congested later in the day. I’ve actually missed seeing bands I love because it takes so much longer to enter the festival once it’s in full swing. Not to mention, you miss out on discovering new artists. Looking over past festival lineups, I realized that I could have discovered some of my favorite musicians much sooner had I just left the house earlier.

But, before you take off, let’s back up a bit and chat about something you shouldn’t leave the house without…

Eat a Big Breakfast

Although many festivals offer some of the most delicious food around, the lines often take forever and, when you finally reach the booth, you usually have to shell out a lot of cash. But, as anyone who’s decided to skip the lines and the expense can tell you, ten hours seems an eternity on an empty stomach.

So, save your friends from hanging out with a hangry you and eat a meal fit for an Olympic athlete before the event – bacon, eggs, porridge, pizza, you name it. If you’re in a rush to get there, bring something you can easily snack on, like a breakfast sandwich or a burrito. Just, whatever you do, do not start out on an empty stomach, especially if you’re planning on having a drink, or two…

Don’t go too heavy on the booze.

While great music and great wine/beer/booze may sound like a match made in heaven, I’d advice you to go easy on the alcohol. Trust me, nothing is worse than being hungover at a multi-day music fest with a super advanced sound system.

Festival hangovers are not pretty and going too hard on the first or second day could mean missing your favorite band while you spend the day curled up on the grass begging the hangover gods to make your pounding headache go away.

Alright, so you’ve made it this far and I just have one final tip for you. It might sound kind of crazy, but stay with me…

Embrace the fanny pack

I’ll admit, when my best friend told me years ago that she had bought a fanny pack for our first festival, I laughed in her face. A fanny pack?! You mean, that tacky thing that goes over a pair of Dockers and a t-shirt that you’d never be caught dead in? At the time, I thought I was too cool to show up at Live 105’s BDF wearing one. Now, several festivals down the line, I am a proud owner of not just one, but several, fanny packs – a few of which I’ve even bedazzled.

Among the benefits of a fanny pack is that it offers a secure place to keep your phone and wallet – as opposed to your pocket. I learned this lesson the hard way when my phone slipped out on the ground while crowdsurfing at Riot Fest Chicago.

Although a fanny pack may not seem the most fashionable accessory, they do work wonders for keeping your personal belongings close to your body, and safe. Plus: think of all the dancing you can do without a backpack hitting you – or someone else – every time you bounce along with your favorite song!

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