South by Southwest is not just for millennials. (Photo: Cathy Bennett Kopf/The Open Suitcase)
You’ve gotta give Bill Murray credit. In late March, he arrived on the set of Jimmy Kimmel Live riding a horse and wearing a dress, purse, and cowboy boots. But what was perhaps even braver than his outfit was the fact that he confessed that he couldn’t quite rage with the kids anymore at South by Southwest. He revealed that he’d been alternating liquor with water, and wanted a “gentle mosh pit” at the festival.
I can relate. I was also at SXSW this year, guzzling water between my drinks and hoping to see the softer side of moshing.
And I’m not alone. I was born before Woodstock in 1969, and many people my age find ourselves wondering the same thing: “Are we too old to rock-and-roll?”
I love live music, and I refuse to give it up. That said, I was somewhat terrified last month as I was preparing to head to SXSW, i.e. the annual gathering in Austin, Texas, of the young and hip. Music festivals are the best ways to get a healthy dose of live music, but I’ve been avoiding them for some time now, as they seem to be a young person’s game.
But it turns out that I shouldn’t have been so quick to judge. What I found at SXSW was a city brimming with extremely nice people of all ages, simply looking to enjoy the music, the food, and each other. I came back with new artists to add to my Spotify playlists, a couple of documentaries to recommend to friends, and all of my stereotypes about Texans shattered.
Most importantly, though, I came back with the knowledge that there are plenty of ways to attend all music festivals, not just SXSW, as a Generation Xer. Follow my tips below — and rock on!
1. Choose your festival wisely. March was the unofficial beginning of festival season, kicked off by SXSW. But there are hundreds more festivals and gatherings to come this season, and they’re located throughout the world. My advice is to pick one that offers a variety of music that’s also in a cool location. Not sure where to look? Festival Searcher is a great resource. Otherwise, here are three recommendations from my end:
Bottle Rock Napa Valley, May 29-31. In addition to a killer lineup, including The Avett Brothers, Robert Plant, and Public Enemy, this Northern California festival also offers balloon rides and wine. What’s not to like?
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, April 24-May 3. With an Abita in one hand and a po’boy in the other, get ready to mix up a musical gumbo. This year’s festival features legendary headliners The Who and Elton John, as well as perennial festival favorites like Dr. John and Galactic.
Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews performs during the 2014 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival at Fair Grounds Race Course. (Photo: Douglas Mason/Getty Images)
Solid Sound, June 26-28. Founded by the rock band Wilco, Solid Sound is held in the Berkshires in Massachusetts at MASS MoCA, a historic industrial space that has been converted into an outstanding contemporary arts museum. This fest is family-friendly and offers a variety of activities and performances.
2. Don’t try camping for the first time. Camping options are offered at most multiday music festivals. But if you’re not an experienced camper, don’t start now. You’re sure to be frustrated by the weather, public showers, and noise. Try camping on a campground first, and opt for regular lodging at the festival. Most accommodations will offer discounted hotel rooms, and they usually provide free shuttle service to the festival venue. No matter what, do not feel pressured to “do it right” and camp: Plenty of people choose to sleep in real beds.
Festival camping can be fun, but it’s not for everyone. (Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
3. Abandon FOMO. You know, “fear of missing out.” Because of the nature of festivals, there will always be overlapping events, leaving you debating whether you should attend this screening or try to get into that club. Make a decision, and live with it. Don’t continually scroll through the schedule of events, wondering, “What if…?”
4. Do some sightseeing. Music festivals, of course, are mostly about the music. But the dirty little secret is that you can blend in some traditional sightseeing in your location of choice, too, for a truly complete experience. For example, if you’re going to Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tenn., make the hour drive into Nashville and tour iconic country music sights, like Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry.
Ditch the Bonnaroo festival grounds for an afternoon and take a tour of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. (Photo: iStock)
5. Plug it in. No, not your laptop: I’m talking about earplugs. There is no shame in wearing them. OK, maybe just a little shame, but still. If you’re already suffering from hearing loss or would like to put it off for a bit longer, plug up. You’ll see plenty of kids on stage and in the mosh pit wearing them as well, if it makes you feel any better.
6. Embrace the tech. Your festival will have an app. Download it. Use it. You’ll know what’s happening, when it’s happening, and where. For example, I relied heavily on Austin’s bus app as well as the food truck locator Roaming Hunger. They were so helpful!
Apps definitely improve the festival experience. (Photo: Martin Ruetschi/Keystone/Corbis)
7. Work your connections. One of the benefits older festival attendees enjoy is having a network of contacts who younger folks may not have quite yet. If you know people in the industry, or people who live and work in the festival location, give them a call and tell them you’re coming to town. In Austin, I was able to score tickets to a taping of Jimmy Kimmel Live as well as a fabulous tasting dinner at The Driskill hotel, thanks to some business connections.
The variety of food options in Austin was staggering — food truck by day, five-star tasting menu by night. (Photo: The Open Suitcase)
8. Enjoy the subsidiary events. Again, while most festivals are mainly about the music, the bigger ones also offer a variety of things to do in addition to the tunes. Bonnaroo, for example, has lots of cool activity tents, many of which feature art displays and performances. Lots of other festivals show films and have art exhibits, too. You can also bring home a souvenir tee and a year’s worth of current culture.
9. Hydrate. Bill Murray was on point with his advice. It’s probably been awhile since you partied from dusk till dawn. Alternate your beers with water, and slip in a coffee from time to time.
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