Music festivals have been around for decades, and they're only becoming more popular. Each year, millions of fans fly around the world to attend more than 270 fests of various genres in the United States alone. They aren't a cheap experience, either: between festival tickets, travel, hotels and basics like food and water, you end up dropping anywhere from $500 to $1000, and beyond (ahem: This might be a good time to check out our list of 11 Ways to Attend a Music Festival on a Budget.)
Which raises one inevitable question: is it really worth going to festivals out of town?
The act of actually getting to a festival out of the Phoenix area can be a love/hate relationship... or at least it is for me. (Please, PR friends--don't revoke my press applications! You can't see this, but I'm batting eyelashes that aren't nearly as convincing after a peace-treaty whiskey shot.)
I'm always intensely excited prior to the festival, as well as afterward, when I'm writing up a storm with all the notes I took. The end result usually consists of the luscious sound of the music, the bands that killed and the ones that disappointed, and the body count of people passed out--still holding glinting aluminum beers in one hand with devil horns up on the other--throughout the day.
You know, a typical review.
But when I'm actually at the festival, on my feet for 12 hours and running from stage to stage to stage in hopes of grabbing a great spot to see the next band... somewhere between hours nine and 11, I start to wear out. Somewhere between the hot sun or pouring rain (because that's just always how it goes), I get grouchy. And somewhere between the gourmet cupcake vendor and the heroin junkies, I snap.
As a music journalist, I'm sure I'll get a lot of crap for saying these things. But you know you've all felt it at one point: You're sick of sweaty hillbillies stumbling against you in the crowd, only to use you had a human wall, smearing booze-laden sweat across your side. You're hot or cold, sick of the $8 waters and funnel cakes and terrible tattoos staring you in the face. And as much as you're enjoying the music, at some point the thought crosses your mind: "I can't wait to get home and out of these crowds." Sometimes the crowd is well controlled, but with multiple bands on multiple stages, with alcohol and some non-legal elements thrown in, it can often be overpowering.
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But people do love music festivals, and traveling far for one can make you appreciate it that much more. I mean, it's true I feel waaaay less prepared for a full day of music at say, the Phoenix Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival than I do at Bonnaroo.
Take, for example, a young woman I met at Rock on the Range. She was 23-years-old, had flown to Columbus, Ohio from Miami, Florida, and spent the bulk of about six paychecks to get there.
"It's humid. It's expensive. And it's crowded," she said slowly, sipping a lukewarm Bud Light. "But I love the energy. And being able to see like, 50 bands in three days? I can pretty much save money on all those concerts I'd go to at home, paying for individual tickets."
For some, it could be the opposite. A bulk of the bands at Rock on the Range are coming though Phoenix at one point or another in 2013, and you can see them close to home for a price ranging from $5 to $50--and not have to worry about Port-A-Pottys that have already been sitting ducks for several days.
But for some people the excitement of the crowd, and for multiple huge headliners--like Rock on the Range's Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, Alice in Chains, Korn and Bush--have huge appeal. Plus there's the chance to experience a new city at the same time, and maybe even plan a trip for friends around the country to meet for the weekend.
When it comes to festivals, it's important to learn to appreciate the atmosphere. A pretty basic requirement at festivals is being laid back, since half of the time you're there you'll be smooshed together with thousands of smelly, loopy music enthusiasts. But it's important to have weekends like that--where you forget about your e-mail, your social media, your job or lack of one, and any other personal problems. Accept the different cultures and people, and enjoy the bass drum pounding in your own heart along with everyone else's.
Plus, they help the local economy. Take the Hangout Music Fest in Gulf Shores, Alabama, which sold 35,000 tickets each day for three days, and won the 2011 Pollstar Music Festival of the Year Award. And that festival debuted during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill!
It's true that music festivals take a certain type of person, and I'm learning to think more like that person every time I attend a festival. Granted, it really does make a difference whether you're camping on a 700-acre farm in the middle of nowhere, like Bonnaroo or Electric Forest, or attending the festival and going back to your hotel, like Lollapalooza or Coachella.
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But whether you love them or hate them, if you don't go... you may just miss out on some killer Port-A-Potty line tales.