Music Festivals: Survive + Thrive with Kids
Let’s get one thing straight: I am not a cool parent. I’m not interested in recapturing my lost youth — I just like to take my kids to fun things. I’ve been to music festivals with kids and I’ve been to music festivals with just my friends and truly, I love both. As was readily apparent at Field Trip a few weeks ago, many parents don’t need this guide. But many parents were also willing to share tips with me. If you’ve been considering bringing the kidditos with you while you rock out, key strategies will help you have the best time.
Make a list of the acts you really, really want to see. Then take one off. This doesn’t have to feel like a bad thing; you will cherish what you manage to see so much more. If there is an act you can’t bear to miss, consider getting babysitting for the day, or be sure a member of your adult team is cool with taking them somewhere during that set.
2. Kid Ear Protection
Your kids need good quality isolation headphones: Buy them from an expert rock mom and get some great advice while you’re at it. Sure, it’s an investment, but earplugs from the drugstore won’t work — and most kids will wear headphones if you sell them properly as something fun.
Let them pick out their own headphones and embellish with stickers as required.
3. Prep for Adventure
Pack as you would for any outdoor day, with snacks and water and small toys. Your kids will probably eat something sold there — but don’t count on it. The event’s website should say if they allow sealed snacks and/or full meals; if it doesn’t, ask questions. You’ll usually find food vendors and menus listed on the site, which will help gauge how much money you’ll need to fuel your monsters through the day.
4. Bring Backup
Enlist grown-up help. If there are two of you and you’re both into the music, so much the better. But if you’re flying solo, definitely enlist a cool friend to run around with you and your delightful progeny. Obviously, be sure they’re really into hanging with your kid(s) and all its attendant joys. It’s not impossible to do a festival alone when your child is older but when they’re little, a second sheriff is a must.
When You’re There
1. Arrive Early
The cool kids (ie: the childless) always arrive late, so take advantage of this: aim to be there before gates open. This lofty goal allows you time for unscheduled bathroom stops, finding a parking spot, and schlepping all your stuff and your kids. You’ll also be fully set-up and have time to chat with friends before the first act starts.
2. Stake Your Spot
The moment you walk in, scan for a quiet shady spot and establish Home Base. You don’t need to keep your stuff there (though I do) but you do need a recognizable place to meet-up and retreat to when kids need quiet time or a snack. It’s key to have this as a meeting spot if you’re separated from the other adult or, god forbid, one of your kids. And though nap time and bedtimes can be delayed, they can never be ignored, so it’s good to have a quiet area for sleepy time.
3. Bring Your Own Shade
Don’t count on finding that perfect shady spot: everyone else has this idea too. The PeaPod pop-up tent is amazing for travel with babies and toddlers, and it’s a dream at a music fest. You can make shade anywhere, and it establishes a bit of a ‘safety zone’ for people stepping their way through a crowd.
Larger shade tents include a new one from Coleman that’s widely available, and if you think you want a Sport-Brella this summer, pick one up now as they are impossible to find by mid-July. MEC has added a new shelter by Easton to their sun shade options this year. The OzTrail family-size pop-up tent looks like a dream and is made by Australians, who know a thing or two about sun. (If you find anywhere in North America that carries it, please let us know?!) The Genji pop-up tent works on a similar principle as the Pea Pod and the OzTrail tent, and folds flat — you can order online now in Canada. Of course don’t forget hats, for yourself and your children. Bring an extra because baby will lose hers.
4. Don’t Bring Too Much
Pack light. This seems to run counter to other advice given here but you want to pack smart, not for every eventuality. There are two schools of thought when it comes to strollers: they can be a great place for a nap, and to stash your stuff — or they can be the source of nightmares when you’re trying to figure out where to put it. An overloaded but under-attended to stroller can also be a target for thieves. Don’t leave your wallet there.
The new rule of partying at a music festival when kids come along: friends trump bands. And you can get the best of both when you wave to rock star babies. Your kids will run into their friends there — and you’ll reconnect with people you haven’t seen in ages. That’s so important when you’re a parent, so don’t stress about what you’re missing. The musicians you’re there to see will also have their own kids running around, which means you’ll bump into awesome parent musicians like Amy Millan and Evan Cranley chilling with friends and their kids. This is supercool, because you can connect as parents and not just geek out over their music. You’ll also discover fun facts about Canadian rock stars, for example: Charles Spearin is solid on the hula hoop.
6. Pay Attention
At the very beginning of the day, take note of exactly what your kids are wearing and write your cell number somewhere on their bodies with a sharpie. If one of your kids gets lost, don’t panic. The important thing to remember is to get Security involved as soon as you feel that sinking feeling. They are trained in how to deal with this, and you will get your kids back. Remember: You will find them.
7. Be Chill and Have A Good Time
This is fundamental to fun. You don’t need to be super-prepared for everything, but you do need to be flexible. Having kids along makes me happier, more relaxed and more willing to take care of myself; a vast improvement over gruelling festivals of my youth. I may miss Saturday late-night sets, but I’m more than content watching my son in the bouncy castle while Lowell sings about tying your shoes. Your kids will surprise you. There is nothing more gratifying than seeing them rock out in that completely unselfconscious way they have. I once watched my son wake up from a deep sleep during an evening Sloan set, dance wildly to his favourite song, then lie down and fall back asleep. When you bring your kids into the crowd, young people will react in one of two ways: by giving you stinkeye because you’re harshing their festival buzz, or telling you that you’re the coolest parent ever. Neither is accurate, so don’t be sad — or too proud. Your coolness doesn’t hinge on being at this rock show. Thank god. * * *
2014 Bunch Picks for Summer Music Festivals
compiled by Helen Spitzer with Aleta Fera
Every festival worth its salt has something appealing for kids, because who likes fun more than kids?
June 18-22 — Sled Island (Calgary)
June 20-22 — Tottenham Bluegrass Festival (Tottenham)
A great ‘starter’ festival and different from the obvious indie rock and folk fest choices. There is a Bluegrass Kids stage with programming made for kids, all day Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
July 4-6 — Toronto Urban Roots Festival (Toronto)
An idyllic location right in downtown Toronto: Fort York’s Garrison Common, which is a green, enclosed area — and full of shade. (There are even great views of passing Go trains for your train-obsessed toddler.) Kids under 10 are free! A well-thought out Kids Area, Giant Jenga game, and super kid friendly. Did we mention the music line-up is incredible? Neutral Milk Hotel, Gogol Bordello, Jeff Tweedy, Jenny Lewis, Man Man, Hollerado, Violent Femmes, Sam Roberts, Andrew Bird, Beirut, Black Joe Lewis, Tift Merritt, Gaslight Anthem, Hey Rosetta, about 40 acts in all.
July 25-27 — Hillside Festival (Guelph)
July 4-6 — Stan Rogers Folk Fest (Canso, NS)
July 4-6 — Mariposa Folk Festival (Orillia)
July 9-13 — Winnipeg Folk Festival (Winnipeg, MN)
August 1-3 — Sappy Fest (Sackville, NB)
A plucky little festival founded by Julie Doiron and friends, with attendance capped at 2000 — so by the end of the first day, you’ve gotten to know a small town’s worth of good people. Drive or fly (both WestJet and Porter fly to Moncton) or caravan — but be there: this year the reunited Constantines headline, as they did the first festival in 2007. Also: Basia Bulat, Cousins, Mike Feuerstack, Julie Doiron, Rae Spoon, Shotgun & Jaybird, The Weather Station.