Let's face it: Arizona isn't exactly prime real estate for music festivals. Yes, we have the party-hard atmosphere of Country Thunder and the locally beloved McDowell Mountain Music Fest, the EDM-drenched Soundwave and some killer jazz fests. But our fair desert doesn't yet have the appeal or pull of such festivals as Lollapalooza, Orion, Coachella, South by Southwest, Austin City Limits, Electric Daisy, Bonnaroo, Outside Lands--the list goes on.
For the avid music fan on a tight budget and unforgiving economy, deciding which festivals (if any) to travel to can be a frustrating experience. I myself encountered this same conundrum for 2013. Which music festivals was I going to budget for? How many days would I forgo the grocery store and live off canned soup and well whiskey? And sometimes, even if you do budget well for a festival, it's difficult to take into account unforeseen costs once you are already there: Cabs and rental cars, food, drinks, even water on-site.
Take SXSW, for example. The difficult-to-book flights to Austin, hundreds of dollars a night hotel rooms (even for the dinky ones), and days' worth of food and drinks. Ditto for Coachella and Lollapalooza. Thus I decided to compile some tips and tricks to survive festivals on a budget for all you other awesome music lovers out there--so read on and then book away.
This past weekend I hit up my first out-of-town music festival of the season, Rock on the Range in Columbus, Ohio. The sold-out festival's lineup included more than 50 bands at the Columbus Crew Stadium: Soundgarden, Cheap Trick, Alice in Chains, Bush, Smashing Pumpkins, Korn (reunited with Brian "Head" Welch), Oleander, Buckcherry, Ghost, Red Line Chemistry, Sevendust, Volbeat, Ghost B.C., In This Moment, Lamb of God, and Steel Panther, just to name few. Clearly it was a good pick for a hard rock fan and metalhead.
As a music journalist, I can usually bypass the bulk of costs for traveling to festivals, via press passes and writing off plane tickets and hotel costs. Then again, as a music journalist, I still must pay the immediate costs for travel, food, hotels and drinks, since the tax write-offs for that work aren't seen until a year later. Which sucks, since, most writers are usually broke b*tches.
Here, then, are 11 ways to stay less broke:
1. Decide which artists you want to see the most at a festival, and see when they are coming to a town near you next. For example: Want to see Metallica at Orion Fest in Detroit? Well, if you're on the west coast, you could've seen Metallica (including Stone Sour, Rob Zombie, Halestorm, Misfits, Anthrax and more) perform a more intimate show at the Golden Gods Awards in Los Angeles for a mere $100. Chances are the headliner you want to see most at the festival is coming to your town sometime in the next year; if that's the main reason you wish to go, just be patient.
2. Play around with your travel options. You can save a ton on airfare by flying into a nearby city and catching a Greyhound or Megabus. Also, splitting a rental car with friends for a weekend can really lower your costs.
3. Remember that you're there for the music, not the accommodations... and likely not a good night's sleep. Traveling in groups that range from 4-8 people can help cut your hotel and camping costs way down. If your group is large enough you can rent a nearby house and end up paying as little as $50 for your accommodations.
Hard mode: Cramming into a hotel room and sleeping on a couch or floor for a couple nights, where you can walk to the festival, or renting bicycles from a local shop if there's a place to lock them up at the venue. If you can camp on-site and don't mind roughing it, make a list of the supplies you need (sleeping bag, tent, water and bulk snacks), and purchase them as a group when you get into town--bonus if you hunt down a local army surplus store where such supplies are super cheap. Avoid the big name sporting goods stores. If camping isn't available at the festival, check into the options for a nearby campground.
4. Couchsurf if you're rolling solo or it's just you and one other person. The Web site Couchsurfing provides a wealth of free accommodations in nearly every city in the country (and country in the world), which is great if you're interested in exploring the city your festival is in.
Users are rated on the site, have testimonials, can be searched by gender, and will boot out anyone who provided an unsafe "couch" experience once it is reported. Trust me, it works. I have a female friend who has utilized this service for years and loves it for meeting new friends and learning about cultures and cities.
5. Get by with a little help from the festival's, and it's sponsors, social media. Follow the fest's Twitter or Facebook accounts and hashtags to see what gatherings, free events and parties, and promotions are going on at the festival or nearby. Weeks prior to the festivals, tweets and posts begin to flood in, and local music scene Web sites tend to promote them.
Follow the sponsors of these events as well. For example, at SXSW, most locals don't pay a dollar to partake in food, booze and dozens of shows by big-name acts. Such sponsors as Converse, Spotify and several others throw parties to give away free stuff, including tickets, food and drinks. On top of it, days prior to the festival, many of these companies give away free tickets to those who retweet or repost their announcements and contests. Win some, and you can hawk yours on sites like StubHub, since the events tend to sell out and prices tend to rise. Sell yours for face value, and they're bound to get snatched up quickly.
6. Talk to people at the festival, and seek out locals. They tend to go to these events every year as die-hard fans, and know the ins and outs. Veterans of the scene will know the best deals and the most interesting, unofficial parties around town.
7. Consider volunteering in order to snag a free festival ticket, and perks like free parking, camping and meals. Many festivals desperately need volunteers (but apply early on), and half the time you will only be working a couple hours a day. Even if you are working the majority of the day, you will still hear the music and experience the festival once you're done.
8. Choose your meals wisely, and stick to beer instead of mixed drinks. Eat your largest meal at lunch, since dinner entrees tend to cost more. Remember that carb-loaded dishes (like noodle stir-fries and pizzas) will leave you hungry again a few hours later. Another little-known secret? Some vendors may let you wash some dishes or bring back a big group to purchase food in order for a free meal.
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9. Find a water source. A lot of festivals with actual restrooms, especially the ones in parks, have drinking fountains nearby. Purchase a bottle of water and continue to refill it there. Plus, in most U.S. states, the producers of festivals are legally required to provide a source of free water. Figure out where it is and you'll have free water all weekend long.
10. Bring a set amount of cash. Be realistic about what you will need in terms of food and drinks, and leave the debit card at home so you don't have the temptation to use it.
11. And of course, first and foremost: PLAN AHEAD. Most festivals sell tickets for next year shortly after that year's event, and many have early bird prices that can almost cut your bill in half. These may sell out quickly (and before the following year's line-up is announced), but a lot of the festivals are guaranteed to have a wealth of popular acts in your favorite genre that are worth the reduced ticket cost. On top of that, you'll have time to sign up for airline notifications for deals to those cities, to plan carpools, to rent a house near the venue for cheap, or even to try out couchsurfing. The more time you have, the more money you'll be able to save.