Going to a festival for the first time is an amazing experience; for many people it’s the first time they’re allowed to drink their body weight in alcohol, fuck strangers, and stay up all night devouring drugs without getting in trouble. They’re palaces of freedom—free from parents, rules, and homework.
The first few festivals involve reckless abandon: you turn up with one spare t-shirt, a holdall packed with nothing but booze and Dairylea Dunkers, and attempt to finish all the beer within five hours of arriving. You throw up, you don’t brush your teeth, and the fun-train expressway runs all weekend. This works for a few years but as you get older it becomes apparent that this approach has flaws. You’ve been alive for two decades and just going for a spritzer after work is exhausting—let alone carting your decomposing corpse around a field for five days.
This is a strange place. You’re not old enough to spend the entire weekend sat on a fold-up chair, 500 yards from the main stage, drinking elderflower water. But you’re also not young enough to slide in the mud and drink beers through a funnel without feeling like a wanker.
With that in mind—we’ve created a guide to going to a festival in your twenties. A handbook, if you will, to being a semi-responsible adult that understands how to take drugs, fuck strangers, and get messed up in a field without having a two-week long comedown. Here is that guide:
Learn the two types of festival
OK, so the first type of festival is the one you don’t just want to “visit” but one you want to get involved with; you want to be tangled in its limbs in post-headliner bliss. Bonnaroo or Burning Man are the sort of events that you want to finish inside—leaving five days later with your body covered in a residue called experience (alongside all the normal stuff like sweat, dirty fingers, and a smelly butthole). At these festivals you should arrive early on the Thursday—ease yourself in with a few gin and tonics out of a melamine mug and book a few days off work the following week. You should dress up like an infant and stay up until 7 AM dancing to psytrance with the son of an Archbishop. Go to a talk about mulching. Get some fucking reiki. These festivals are like a relationship; you get out of them what you put in. And if you spend the whole weekend with a degree of reserved cynicism you’re won’t have a great time.
However, there are other festivals where a degree of reserved cynicism is entirely necessary for your enjoyment. They include Reading and Leeds, V Festival, and literally any event that’s within an hour’s drive from your house. You should arrive at these on a Friday afternoon and make sure you’re long gone by Sunday night’s Antiques Roadshow. The whole point of a city festival is it’s entirely acceptable to nip out for a decent lunch or to watch the World Cup and come back for the headliners. If you insist on staying the night, don’t hang out in the campsite and start doing midday jelly shots with Dave and his marketing friends. Just watch some bands, have some drinks, and consider it a better weekend than propping up the bar in your local. These festivals are like going to a sex club—they can be a fun, novel experience as long as you keep it to an annual thing but, like going to a sex club, you want to have a well-planned exit strategy should things turn ugly.
Festivals make you horny. The combination of alcohol, molly and the dense population of attractive people not wearing many clothes means even when you’re really enjoying a Fleet Foxes set, you’re also thinking—that guy from Fleet Foxes would probably get it. Go with this. Different things are acceptable at festivals. Sleeping with your best friends, ugly nutters, people in bands and people you dislike so much you can barely hold a conversation with: all fine.
Saying that, there are a few restrictions. First of all you are now in your twenties—so don't even fucking think about sleeping with someone who isn't either in their twenties or has already lived through them. I don't care how messy you get, if someone starts telling you what they got in their SATs, turn around, walk away. Second, festivals require a certain suspension of hygienic norms. This is something you're just going to have deal with—just try not to think about the fact one of your genitles has probably slipped in some diarrhea on the long drop as you grind away at each other. If there’s finger banging going on (a lot more acceptable in tents than the fifth row of Warpaint’s mid-afternoon set) make sure they’ve cleaned under their fingernails. No one wants to have morsels of lunchtime’s cheesy chips prodded inside them. Mouths, it should go without saying, have no place in Sunday night tent sex.
Brushing your teeth…
…is still something you have to do.
Sixteen-year-olds can survive on a diet that consists solely of cereal bars and prawn cocktail crisps—they’re running on a unique energy form called puberty. But you’re at an age where just staring a computer screen is exhausting; if you don’t eat anything you’ll be a shivering wreck. Yes, eating is cheating. But eating nothing for three days is being a dickhead.
You’ve got two options for food. Bringing everything from home is the boring, difficult, and long option. But if you do it right—acting like a schoolchild’s Mother and snapping up all the buy-one-get-one-free deals—then you’ll save a lot of money which can be spent on the fun stuff. Plus cooking over a campfire is a total baller move and you become especially popular when your mates who went out in a T-shirt and Harem pants start freezing to death. The two bucks you save getting a cheaper burger isn’t worth the 45 minutes you’ll spend on the toilet shitting it out after you drop. Food is the most important thing in the world. If you haven’t saved up enough to eat then re-think your life… you’ve only had, like, ten months to prepare.
Drug admin is the worst. Engaging in it, even just calling up your old friend to find out if he still deals, makes you immediately come across like an asshole who only wants one thing. It would be much nicer if we could all let drugs just happen; you buy some pills off someone in the crowd at The Chemical Brothers and spend the next five hours swimming toward fantasia—that kind of dream.
Unfortunately, most drugs are full of dishwasher powder and not only can they waste your money, you can also feel really fucking terrible and potentially ruin your weekend. So unfortunately you're going to have to be a bit of an asshole. Start planning a few weeks before—find out who's got decent stuff and where it came from. Do a test run. Obviously nothing is foolproof, but you're always better buying from someone you know than a bald headed 40-year-old that also works in the burger van.
Once you're on site, you need to pace yourself. Molly is obviously the festival drug of choice but there's no point taking three pills every night. Your body will run out of serotonin, but you'll still "come up". By Saturday you'll just be a gurning, miserable mess. Pick two nights to do MDMA and on the other night stick to other stuff. Oh and don’t do any balloons; they’re for Phish-heads.
If you struggle with sleeping after a big night, you should probably get something to help with that. But be careful—dosages vary loads from pill to pill so don't start necking a bunch like you're recently single.
Drink it. Lots. It’ll help get rid of all the toxins, keep you hydrated, and it’s free. What could be better? Make sure you have a full bottle with you before you go to bed, because waking up with that camping dry mouth is nasty. If you have a friend that “doesn’t drink water” because they “don’t like the taste” tell them to expand their taste buds or to grow the fuck up.
For festivals where camping isn't part of the experience (basically any festival which has a separate arena and campsite), it's seriously worth thinking about getting an Air Bnb slightly offsite. They’re dirt cheap if you're sharing with five other friends and you save money by being able to eat your own food and pre-drink at home. An Air BnB provides a pleasant environment in which to shower, take drugs, and shit. Best of all—if it starts pouring down and you get soaked, you can run home, change your clothes, have a cup of coffee, and go back smelling of Herbal Essences.
A word of warning though, while it's OK for equally filthy people to abandon all principles of hygiene for a weekend of dewey sex, if you've gone home each night for a shave and a douche, then it's no longer acceptable to climb into a trustafarians tent and go to town on them. If you're going to pickup someone, bring them back to yours and make them clean-up first, even if that makes you feel like a prostitute.
If you do choose to camp then make sure you have twice as much space as you need. They call it a four-man tent but they lied.
Using cute nicknames like "Festies" and "Rooers"
No. No. No.
Tear up the itinerary
Lots of people get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of bands on offer and draw up little plans that they carry around on a piece of paper forcing everyone to keep to a strict time schedule. Don’t do this: you’re not a school teacher in a museum, you’re a young, hip, groovy guy or gal in their twenties.
The trick to having fun is to not organize it. That way, you not only avoid disappointment, but you also don’t spend half the time worrying that lunchtime may overrun into band time. I’m not saying don’t make a rough plan about who you want to see and when you want to see them but that doesn’t mean you need to allot time slots for 32 bands and a“sit-down.” Besides, if you a miss a daytiime band it pretty much doesn’t matter anyway—they’ll all be playing to a hundred people at a shit bar in your town the week after.
If you only take one thing away from reading this—let it be this. Never, ever, ever go to a festival without baby powder. It is the elixir of great times, a one-stop solution to almost every festival problem. Your hair has turned into a greasy fur ball that’s giving your scalp a rash? Baby powder. You can't walk anymore because of the agonizing chafe that comes from trudging for miles each day while your pants fill with sweat and mud? Baby Powder. You run out of cash and you need to quickly make $100 by selling a few school-leavers some "cocaine"? Baby powder.