Camping isn't for everyone. In reality, festivals aren't always for everyone. If done right though, the combination can be magical. The perfect summer adventure; setting up your little home turf under the trees, grilling with a beer in one hand and then building a quick s'more before heading over to catch the music. You are blissfully relaxed, free to sip away as many craft cocktails as your heart desires. There are no concerns about the crush to exit; traffic, long lines entering and exiting the festival grounds. Only to head back over to your campground and decide whether you'd rather go hang the hammock by the river's edge or join a campfire sing-along. What is your preference? Would you camp at a festival? Or is a hotel more your style?
In my festival-ing career, I've had the chance to try out both. In some instances, I'm thankful to have a warm, cozy hotel bed waiting for me at the end of the day. The inner-city festivals with a less-than-desirable afterthought campground would be a great example. Sketch. There are others that struck melancholy as I cruised past those coveted campground spots, wishing I didn't need to leave at the end of the night. Some of my most memorable summer festival camping experiences happened in the most unassuming of places. At Float Fest, on a muggy, dusty ranch in San Marcos, TX, I nabbed the perfect shady, treed spot halfway between the stages and the edge of the river. That campground was the perfect respite from the unwieldy crowds and muggy heat. We gathered every morning for a communal breakfast. Two or three of us had a guitar or ukulele, and the rest of us hung in our hammocks, swinging, sipping a coffee and soaking in the morning sun. We took a dip in the river and a nap on the banks before grilling our lunch and hitting the early-afternoon sets.
I've also seen the dustiest, grimiest, tiniest squares of an excuse for camping and found myself wholly thankful for having dodged that mess. Or situations where the sheer volume of campers just wanting a cheap place to crash and a lack of general organization was enough of a deterrent (*cough* Coachella *cough*) to warrant a nice quiet hotel or AirBnB away from the scene. Where the best thing I did was allow myself the time out to rest, recover and recuperate for the next day.
So... when both options are available, what do you choose? Camping? Yay or nay?
There are many obvious benefits of festival camping; the avoidance of daily travel, traffic, parking and lines. The freedom to partake in that open bar or craft beer tasting responsibly; to have as many drinks as your heart desires, knowing you only need to stumble (or crawl?) back to your tent that night. Safety first. The simplicity and ease. The cost, or lack thereof - it's certainly more affordable than a hotel. Most of all, the unparalleled camaraderie and sense of community to be found. The new friends you'll make and the incredible experiences you'll take home. There's nothing quite like it. Expect many variations of the following to ensue: "ha, remember that one guy at <insert festival name> dressed up as <insert crazy costume here>, who started a Congo line of fifty people, singing and dancing through the campgrounds?".
On the flipside, there's also the comfort and cleanliness of our hotel option; it's reliable and safe. Having a steamy shower and clean sheets awaiting at the end of a very long day is also a nice reprieve. A sit-down restaurant for a hearty breakfast and the conveniences of modern hospitality available for every whim and whimsy suits some people. In many cases, I would agree - having the separation and space from the chaos of the festival scene can be welcome. If you pick a hotel nearby, you might also run into the talent. Those bands gotta stay somewhere, right? (yes, this has happened on more than one occasion)
In my mind, picking the right festival for camping is essential. They're not all the same. This year, Team dRiFFt has selected three unique festivals to test out the camping experience and report back to you, of course. These three vary greatly in the type and size of festival, as well as location. All three were selected for their unique offerings. They each have an almost cult-following for their unique campout experience. Yes, we're going to be the guinea pigs. I can't wait.
Our first of the year will be Camp Anarchy, a three-day punk rock celebration hosted in Legend Valley, just outside of Thornville, OH. Featuring The Offspring, Rancid, NoFX, Bad Religion, Pennywise and others, activities include a dodgeball arena, where you can witness (or partake in) Fans against the Bands. Once you're suitably bruised, head over to play life-sized games of beer pong, cornhole and jenga while tasting from a list of 150+ craft beer offerings. Will this one be rowdy, ridiculous and bro-tastic? Absolutely. Once you're suitably toasty, visit the Flea Market Vendor Village; described as "full of stuff you probably don't need but know you'll want," grab a s'more and then jump on a scavenger hunt before rocking your retro butt off to The Offspring. When you're really toasty, all you need to do is crawl back to the campground to witness further debauchery and get some rest, only to do it all over again the next day. Exhausting? Yeah... Ridiculously, amazingly, awesome? No doubt. Worth the dodgeball bruises? Entirely. Camping is a no-brainer here.
Then we hop over to Firefly Festival, held in the enchanting forests of Dover, DE. Dubbed the "The Great Atlantic Campout," it's an Immersive experience with camping hubs featuring daily yoga, silent discos, farmer's markets, 'Spruce Up Stations' (I'll need to be mighty spruced-up before the Panic at the Disco set), beach parties and volleyball, firefly CHATS, intramural sports, communal grills and even a water slide. It's the ultimate in camping communities. The forests are GORGEOUS. Prepare for your insta-worthy camping moments, folks, because those will happen every minute of every hour spent in this magical spot. When you're not immersed in the incredible forest experience, the 2019 lineup is spot-on, screamingly incredible. And screaming in the crowd, we sure will be.
Our third camping adventure will happen at the world-famous Bonnaroo Music & Arts festival, held on a 700 acre farm near Machester, TN. This Woodstock-esque festival is known not only for incredible music, but for a focus on art, creativity, community and sustainability. Described as "an endless adventure of discovery and human connection with your fellow Bonnaroovians... expect crazy surprises, unique experiences and stories you'll tell for a lifetime." Sounds anything but boring, huh? It's the original colorful, weird, creative festival experience and camping here brings the entire experience full-circle. Campgrounds are divided into ten Plazas, each with their own theme, activities, parties and community. They're curated by celebrities such as Hayley Williams of Paramore and Cage the Elephant front man, Matt Shultz. Each plaza features an exclusive variety of of shows, music, activities and after parties and each has its' own unique flavor and theme. If you like art installations, head to The Villa at Plaza 7, or perhaps the House of Yes at Plaza 3 for a little cinema.
We're going to try all three, and see which we like the best. We don't expect the entire experience to be calm, quiet or relaxing, but like our friendly Bonnaroovians say: "an experience to tell stories about for a lifetime." I hope you, too, might consider a festival camping experience and share those stories with us on our social media - you could be featured here, on dRiFFt!
Before I depart, I'd like to share a few survival tips with you. If you do decide to camp:
Here you'll find archived band, festival and concert stories... plus blog entries from Team dRiFFt as they travel, photograph, interview and adventure!