It’s 8 p.m., the sun is setting, and my stomach has been rumbling for what feels like a long time. For the past hour, I’ve been herded through a disorganized line of equally hungry people as I wait to order a $12 burrito. I grit my teeth when the guys who were definitely behind me five minutes ago become dangerously close to cutting my spot in line, pass thankful glances to the brave girl who yells at them not to, and pray that when my order is up, none of the hands in the unruly crowd reach up to snatch my hard-fought meal before I can enjoy it.
Though this reads like an experience unique to someone living in a bleak dystopian society, it’s not. In fact, I paid to be here. I’m at a music festival, buying into the global phenomenon that has become a rite of passage for my generation.
Music festivals are awesome, in theory. Who wouldn’t want to spend a day or two in their most carefully-curated party attire, frolicking among people of similar interests and bearing no responsibilities but to dance to favorite music and document the experience on snapchat? That is the dream being sold to hopeful festival-goers everywhere, who save their money and pack their bags and haul their cookies to festivals (on a Greyhound bus, in my case) every season. And is the dream realized?
For some, probably. But I have a hard time imagining the picture-perfect, chilling-on-a-blanket, seeing-all-the-bands-you-wanted-to-see experience is everyone’s music festival reality (unfortunately). Here are some aspects of festivals that, summed up, make me want to rethink buying passes next time around.
I did, eventually, get my burrito. It was pretty good. But the burrito struggle was a tipping point that made me start to wonder why I paid for this. Fellow festival-goers shared in my frustration. At one point, a girl next to me answered her phone to tell her friend hurriedly, “I’ll be there in a minute; I’m in a taco battle!!!” before hanging up and rejoining the clamoring crowd.
I realized then that you can’t expect the cushy (or even relaxed) culinary experience that is often advertised via promotional foodstagrams for weeks prior to the event. Sometimes, you just end up cross-legged on the ground in the dark, in as secluded of an area as possible, quietly eating your plantain burrito.
Pricey food and drink are a given of any gathering we plebeians have paid to attend — you know, due to capitalism and The Man and what not. But ridiculous prices feel like a betrayal of what festivals are historically supposed to represent. I mean, aren’t festivals synonymous with freedom from societal pressures? A rejection of capitalism in favor of coming together to unite, and stuff like that?
In any case, it feels like a crime when the price for a single cup of Barefoot wine at one of these events is nearing double digits. I mean, considering there were bean bags everywhere on the premises with the brand’s logo emblazoned on them, did I really need to pay $9 for what was the equivalent of maybe two Dixie cups of rosé? Surely not!
(I still did. But I wasn’t happy about it.)
The bad thing about seeing an artist you love is seeing them from a crowd of thousands of other people who love them just as much as you do. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always happy to be in the company of anyone who could potentially be my musical soulmate. But the laissez-faire setup of festivals is a breeding ground for animosity among fans. With no assigned seating (duh), it’s hard to stake out and claim any prime viewing territory without feeling aggressive, cheated, or uncomfortable. You’re likely to become the object of unsolicited attention from drunk guys, or judge the girls weaving past you to the front of the crowd — when, in any other situation, you could have been friends.
The fact that music festivals bring together so many artists in one convenient park/desert/beach location is one of the main selling points of getting a pass. But when your favorite artists’ set times overlap, you’re forced to make tough — even regrettable — decisions. My best friend and I forgoed the experience to watch Spoon (one of her favorite bands) finish their set, in favor of seeing MGMT, a band we were obsessed with in high school. We hustled to the main stage to be greeted by a less-than-enthused MGMT. The band we had obsessed over for so many years barely said a word to the crowd beyond “Music festivals!”… We felt how Lola in Confessions of A Teenage Drama Queen must have felt when she realized her idol Stu Wolf wasn’t all she’d made him out to be.
But, I digress.
At the end of the day, I will admit that complaining about any music festival experience errs on the side of obnoxious, and that I wouldn’t have traded the opportunity to go. I will also admit that I bought a t-shirt.
I just don’t share the popularized festival sentiment that you’re totally missing out if you don’t go.
Though I still relish the opportunity to see my favorite artists perform, I think I’ll wait for their solo shows before attending a festival to see them.
And I’ll probably pack a snack.