Festival survival guide

Jude Rogers

Journalist and music critic

Who’s afraid of a little mud? Not us. Nor should you be after checking out our expert advice for getting the best (and avoiding the worst) of the world’s many, magical music festivals

Let’s hear it for the rich, varied tapestry of the summer music festival season! Once a reliably alternative ritual involving three days of washing with wet wipes, hungover, eating cold noodles, it now involves… Comfort! Great food! Hey, toilets that flush! Even the music sounds better. What’s wrong with that?

With the music festival scene more varied and vast than ever before, though, it can be intimidating knowing how to navigate it. Never fear: our survival guide is here…

So... which festival?

So which festival

Decide what experience you want. Traditional three-days-in-a-tent affair featuring cider round a campfire plus some great indie and rock bands? If you missed tickets for the big guns like Glastonbury or Coachella, don’t fret: smaller, wonderful weekends like Cloudspotting and September’s End Of The Road offer intimate fun in the UK; Ohio’s Nelsonville offers a just-right, down-home indie-folk-rock experience; and Iceland’s Secret Solstice festival is reassuringly boutique, with a killer line up – all under the gaze of a 24-hour sun. For dance music on a manageable scale (in glorious sun and scenery), try Worldwide in the pretty French town of Sète or Croatia’s seaside Soundwave. These continental options can be even more fun: you often see huge bands more cheaply, and soak up some culture to boot.

Want on-site swank? Try Cornwall’s Port Eliot for accommodation in luxury Airstream trailers and Oxford’s Wilderness for hot tubs, gorgeous gypsy caravans and fish and chips from J Sheekey. Or, if you’re planning to set up camp at Tennessee’s Bonnaroo, Le Bon Tents offer four tiers of smart camping options, going up to the seriously luxe cabanas.

If you’d rather B&B it, lose the guilt; everyone does it these days. Put several cab numbers on your phone, note pick-ups on your arm in indelible ink, and book them when you have 4G. Or even better: go to a boutique city festival where you HAVE to stay under a roof. Old UK faithfuls include Brighton’s Great Escape and Portmeirion’s Festival No 6, while Barcelona’s Primavera and Sonar both look brilliant this year, as does northern Spain’s Bilbao BKK. Across the pond, Chicago’s Lollapalooza does a fine line on hotel packages, and Canadian favourite Oshaega’s accommodation passes hook you up with easy post-festival crash pads.

Before the festival

Before the festival

Camping? Buy or borrow the best tent you can, plus a tarp or rain shelter and sunglasses (you never know). Add some basic cooking gear and the wherewithal for breakfast on your first morning (no-one likes being hungry when their head feels it’s about to fall off). Also take 3,000 plastic bags for rubbish, wet wipes, and if you’re in the UK, YES OF COURSE YOU NEED WELLIES (read: rubber boots) – don’t let anyone tell you any different.

Going with kids? Pack a few puddle suits, MORE WELLIES, more wet wipes, and more snacks than Homer Simpson could sink. And don’t panic; children are more resilient than you think.

If good weather is guaranteed, keep the tarp to create a shady place to sit and protect your tent from the sun, then shift the focus to sun cream, closed-toe sandals (for stomping) and swimwear (a morning swim cures all).

Finally, whoever you are, whatever you’re doing, pre-load a portable phone charger. Your festival photo collection and lost friends will thank you.

At the festival

At the festival

Planning: Admit to yourself on day one that you won’t see all the acts you’re planning to. Festivals aren’t meant to be work. Instead, catch your new favourite band on the Random Stage while mooching around with your nth pint.

However… showers are at their quietest around mid-afternoon (or, of course, just before dawn). Plot one in and you’ll feel superhuman after.

Festival food is brilliant these days, but it isn’t cheap. Plan to spend pub prices and your tummy’ll be happy.

Wander to areas that look less organised and structured, and you’ll find magical things, like tiny bookshops and grottoes, light-up dance floors and pianos, bonfires and sculptures, or if you’re old-school and lucky, an impromptu rave… that’s where the festival magic lies.

After the festival

After the festival

When you get home, have three showers – even if you’ve been staying in a RV with your butler. Then start planning the next one…

And you don’t have far to go for inspiration; keep the festival feeling going all year long with our editor’s pick of the world’s best party destinations

Images, from top: Glastonbury; End of the Road; Wilderness; Secret Solstice, Brynjar Snær; Bonnaroo, Tom Tomkinson

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