I’ve been hooked on live music since my first smoldering summer Warped Tour in 2003. Decked in my favorite Anti-Flag T-shirt and black chucks, I absorbed the energy of the festival like a sponge. Joining in singing, crowd surfing, mingling with other festival-goers. It was one of the best experiences, and I went back every year of high school.
I’ve since caught plenty of live shows at local venues, but nothing could prepare me for my first real festival. Four electric days of music in one of the most breathtaking amphitheaters in the country, the Gorge. As a regular type-A chick, I did all my research ahead of time. What kind of soap to bring, shoes to wear… but there were a few things that could only be gleaned from experience. Hopefully they will help you, too.
1. You can stay clean without a shower
“Only noobs shower,” my friend told me as I expressed concern about not washing my hair for four days. I didn’t want to be the only one in our group to surrender to the shower, so I brought everything I could think of to keep myself fresh. Wet Ones are my MVP of the fest. Keep a pack in your tent and wipe yourself down in the porta potty every morning. It’s the closest thing you’ll get to a shower.
Dry shampoo and makeup wipes are also essential to get the dust off your skin and out of your hair.
2. Upgrading to a nicer campsite is worth it
I can’t speak for all festivals, but the regular campground, or District 9 as our neighbors so aptly named it, was pretty gross. After driving through, we opted to upgrade to Gold for an extra $175, and it was so worth it. Not only did we have more space in our campsite, we had nicer bathrooms and were really close to the actual festival grounds. If we wanted to come back in between shows for lunch or beer, we didn’t have to make a long trek like the residents of District 9.
3. Temps can be erratic
While temps at the Gorge were in the high 70s during the day, they dropped rapidly as soon as the sun fell. Make sure you bring socks and pants to sleep in at night, and shorts for the morning when the sun comes up. It goes from bone-chillingly cold to hot and muggy pretty quickly.
4. Eye drops are a lifesaver
Clouds of cigarette and weed smoke will follow you everywhere you go, and your eyeballs don’t like that. Toss some Visine in your purse or backpack to relieve itchy red eyes.
5. Pack like you’re going to the beach
When’s the last time you spent an entire weekend exposed to sunlight? I don’t care if you “don’t burn,” for the love of God, bring sunscreen. The last thing you want is a gnarly burn halfway through the festival. Also good to have: hats, aloe vera and ChapStick.
6. Bagels and cream cheese are a godsend
Thanks be to bagels. The carbs ward off evil hangovers and they’re the easiest meal to prepare. Just make sure you load your cooler with enough cream cheese to hold you over. No one likes a dry bagel.
7. Bring snacks into the festival
If you don’t bring something to munch on during the shows, you will succumb to the cheesy fries and bacon-wrapped hot dogs. We must have gone through 10 pounds of white cheddar popcorn over the weekend. It’s the perfect snack because it’s light in weight and calories.
8. Smuggling booze in is pretty easy
If you’re not a rule breaker, jump to #9.
Let’s be real, $13 for a beer is not going to cut it all weekend. While you’re technically not allowed to bring booze into the festival, it’s incredibly easy to do and everyone does.
The worst thing that can happen is they find your alcohol in your white cheddar popcorn bag (yeah, that happened) and they’ll make you pour it out.
9. Bring a blanket to stake your claim in the grass
Festival-goers are pretty easygoing people. If you leave your blanket in the grass to see another show and then come back later, it will probably still be there. We did this all weekend.
Note: The main stage at the Gorge has a ton of space. This may not be the best etiquette at other festivals if people are fighting for spots.
10. Don’t be intimidated by large crowds. You can work your way to the front of the stage.
There’s nothing like being at the front of the stage when your favorite band is playing. Follow other people who are trying to push their way to the front, and utilize space when others are leaving. They’re already breaking through the crowd to get out, so it’s a great time to get in. “Excuse me” goes a really long way, too.
11. Screaming leads to a sore throat
This is not rocket science, but it definitely snuck up on me. A few days of belting your favorite song lyrics or rapping along to Kendrick Lamar can leave you with a dry throat. Bring some cough drops to alleviate the pain so you’re not “that friend” who complains all day. Aka me.
12. Dry ice will save you trips to the store
Guys, ice melts quickly.
Those bags of ice are only going to keep your beer cold for about a day before the sun liquefies them like Frosty the Snowman. Opt for dry ice, and your food and drinks will stay cold all weekend.
13. Games, games, games
Hanging out at the campground can be a ton of fun, but you’ll notice quickly that there’s not a lot to do. We made do with a soccer ball and deck of cards, but Apples to Apples would have been marvelous.
14. Your favorite artists might pop up in the crowds at other shows. Don’t be afraid to say “hi”
Musicians can often be seen walking around the festival and enjoying shows. They are regular people like you and me, after all. We spotted Shakey Graves several times throughout the weekend. He was more than happy to chat with fans and take photos.
15. Bring a lot of water and Gatorade
Just stay hydrated, people. Your body will thank you for it.
16. There is no festival “style”
Don’t be afraid to push the boundaries of fashion. No one is going to judge you for it. I saw everything from your typical flowery headbands and cutoff shorts to ponchos and even a few Snuggies.
17. You’re going to get a hell of a calf workout
On the third day I woke up with the most intense leg cramps. Turns out, jumping up and down all weekend is working your muscles more than you realize. Makes you feel a little better about eating that bacon-wrapped hot dog, though.
18. Talk to your neighbors!
The campground is the place to make friends. The people around you probably brought things that you didn’t and will likely be willing to barter. Many a beautiful friendship has sprouted through trading of hot dogs and beer.
Our friendly neighbors tipped us off to an awesome place to swim in the river. We would have never known about it otherwise.
19. See some smaller shows
Of course you want to see all of the big acts perform their hits, but there’s nothing like standing at the front row of a more intimate show.
20. Prepare to be hooked
I spent the three-hour drive back from the Gorge to Seattle looking up other festivals this summer. Once you’ve experienced four days of music, camping and making new friends, it’s impossible to not want to go back.
More on music festivals
What Coachella and 6 other music festival lineups would look like without men (PHOTOS)
12 Coachella outfits that are more cute than ridiculous
Coachella-inspired wishlist: 5 Festivals that need their own fashion lines