How to Survive an Outdoor Music Festival


Summertime means that everything that normal, rational people would usually do inside – eating, drinking, watching a movie, live music – is thrust out-of-doors, squinting at the sunlight and frowning at the sudden appearance of tiny ants marching up the side of the flimsy paper cup holding my sangria.  You might have already guessed that nature and I do not get along so well.

In Chicago, where people start busting out shorts and tank tops the moment it gets above 50 degrees, we have so many outdoor music/street festivals, it’s impossible to keep track of them all.  But next weekend is the whopper of them all – Lollapalooza.  Last year, an estimated 300,000 people packed themselves into Grant Park to see 150 bands play on 7 stages.  That is – and excuse my language – a frakton of people.


It might surprise you then to hear that a mostly introverted and slightly misanthropic person such as myself will be joining that enormous, sweating mass of humanity.  For the sixth year, in fact.  And over those years, I have developed a few tried and true methods for surviving a festival without needing to pop a handful of Xanax.


1. Check the weather early and often.

This might seem obvious, but it’s pretty vital. Install a weather app on your phone and look ahead to festival weekend.  In the past six years, the weather for Lollapalooza has swung from 100 degrees (2009) and boiling to 70 degrees and perfect (2013).  That being said, there has also been days where it pissed down light rain on and off (weirdly, also 2009), days where there was a torrential downpour that turned all of Grant Park into a disgusting muddy mess (2011), and the day that 60,000 people were evacuated in the middle of the afternoon because of a potential tornado (2012).


The insane shifts in weather mean that you need to be prepared for basically anything, wardrobe-wise.

  • Do not wear your brand new, super adorable strappy sandals not only because they will get wrecked but because they haven’t been broken in and dealing with blisters when you’re going to be on your feet for the next ten hours is what hell must feel like.  Whatever shoes you choose should be comfortable and ones that you’re worried about getting a little dirty.
  • Dress in layers – if you end up getting sunburned, that thin cardigan or lightweight hoodie is going to be your best friend. That goes double time if it starts raining or if some drunk bro spills his beer all over you.
  • Fashion is not more important than comfort. If your goal is to be in one of those “Looks of Festival X” slideshows, fine, wear your vintage Dior sundress and five-inch wedge sandals. I sincerely hope you shelled out for a VIP ticket too.
  • Rest assured, no matter what you wear, the ravers that are going to spend the entire three days in the Dance/EDM/DJ tent will be dressed far weirder than you are.


2. Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate.

Water is your best friend. I cannot stress this enough. You’re going to be tempted to do nothing but drink $8 cans of really, really terrible beer and you can certainly do that (as long as you’re legally of age), but I implore you, also drink some water.




The heat and humidity will make you sweat and the alcohol – beer, wine, cocktails, whatever – will suck the life out of you.  You don’t want to be the person who is too delirious to remember the epicness of the headlining band because you shotgunned too many beers, flopped somewhere on the grass, and couldn’t sit back up.  You also don’t want to vomit in public. Because that is gross.

At Lollapalooza and at most other festivals, there are free water filling stations.  Bring your own bottle to save some money.  But you can always buy it if you need it.


PROTIP:  Going to Warped Tour/Bamboozle/Riot Fest/any pop-punk festival?  If you want to buy water, it’s going to be in a plastic bottle and the concessions staff is going to take the cap off.  They do this so jerks won’t fill the bottle back up with icky bodily fluids and fling it at the bands while they’re playing. Since I’m going to presume that no one reading this is that kind of person, bring a couple of spare caps with you so you can stash your bottle in your bag.


3. Port-a-Potties: A Necessary Evil.

I can’t explain how much I hate this part of festival going.  I have a super acute sense of smell, so having to use a Port-a-Pottie is the worst. But there’s no way you can ignore the call of nature unless you’re gunning for a ticket for indecent exposure.

  • Find the ones that are primarily in the shade.  These are going to smell sliiiiightly less horrible.
  • DO NOT EVER USE THE ONES NEAR THE DANCE/DJ TENT. The possibility of drug induced vomit is far higher.
  • As cliché as this is: ladies, take a friend with you.  You do not want to have to deal with figuring out how to hold your purse and phone while you’re in there.
  • Tie your long skirt up into a knot.  You do not want anything from the floor coming with you.
  • Bring a pack of wet wipes.  Tuck those babies into your bra because there’s a good chance there’s not going to be any toilet paper in there.
  • Have the hand sanitizer at the ready. You’re gonna need it when you’re done.


4. Other Things

  • Sunscreen – apply and reapply. Don’t forget about the weird places that you wouldn’t normally have exposed to that much sun: back of your neck, behind your ears, the tops of your ears, the tops of your feet, the part of your hair, the backs of your knees.
  • Earplugs. These will save your hearing and your sanity. Trying to sleep with ringing ears is the worst.
  • Bring a bandana that you’re not attached to.  These are pretty multi-purpose: napkin, damp neckerchief, seat, headband.
  • Plastic sandwich bags.  If it starts to rain, you can protect your cell phone and still use it.
  • Hairties/bobby pins. For getting your hair off your face, holding your bag together, whatever.
  • Need medical attention? Head toward the Dance/EDM/DJ tent.


Here’s a peek inside my bag for Lollapalooza 2014.

I’ve had this Timbuk2 messenger bag for almost a decade and it’s my go to bag for festivals.  It’s lightweight, big enough to carry everything I need without being too bulky, and best of all, it has a waterproof lining.


Reuseable water bottle, sandwich bags, wallet, Luna Bar, sunscreen, cell phone battery pack, lip balm with sunscreen, blister band-aids, tissue, mini deodorant, wet wipes, sunglasses.

Not pictured: mini umbrella, ibuprofen, gum, glow bracelets.  (Just because I don’t hang out in the dance tent doesn’t mean I don’t like neon accessories.)


The most important thing to remember is to have fun.  You’re going to see amazing bands, hang out with friends, eat weird and hilarious food, and celebrate the fact that you get to do this at all.


Are you attending any outdoor concerts or music festivals this summer? If so, leave a comment below and share some of your essential concert-going-gear. Be sure to hit the subscribe button for more awesomeness, especially because we are kicking off our Music week in three weeks! 

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