Music Festivals: A List of Things No One Tells You

Music is a constant in my life. Whether I am blasting the radio on my way to work, playing something fun to wake up in the morning, or just singing to myself, music is everywhere. It has gotten to the point where my heartbeat and the way I walk match the rhythm from my headphones.

With this need for a nonstop stream of melody, it is no surprise that I fell hard for the music festival scene. As a 4-year veteran of Firefly Music Festival and long-time concert go-er, I can confidently say that everyone, no matter what age, should give it a try.

There is something so satisfying about witnessing the musicians that are trapped in your radio come to life with insane performances, showcasing their talent and showmanship in the form of a 4 day series of concerts. Not only is the music at these festivals a reason to attend. The camping experience of a festival is not for the feint of heart, but if you do it right, it can be one of the best times of your life.

As a self-proclaimed festival professional, I made a list of things I wish people had told me before going to a music festival.

1. There is a lot of dirt. A lot.

Now, I promise I am not an idiot and I did realize that camping outside meant that there would be dirt. The extent to which the dirt would invade every inch of my body, my clothes, and everything I have ever known and loved was, however, highly underestimated on my part. Dirt is not a gross thing to me, but the level of dirt that attached itself to my skin was a little nasty, I will be honest.

tanline no dirt

Is this a photo of an intense sock tan after a day of sunny concerts or a definitive line of dirt circling my ankle? The answer is always dirt.

Over the years, I figured out some hacks that kept the dirt from swallowing me whole. Baby wipes or make up wipes are dirt’s kryptonite, so it is always essential to bring at least a 50 pack of those. Bring eyedrops as well because your eyes will inevitably take some of the brunt in a dirt storm, especially if you wear contact lenses. My other solution is simply to give up the fight, embrace the filth, and just enjoy everything that comes along with the experience. A little dirt won’t kill you.

2. An unspoken system of trade will be available in most situations

Similar to the bartering system set up in Ancient Mesopotamia, you will find that people are willing to trade a lot. At my first festival ever, my cousin’s friend managed to trade a shot of Maker’s Mark whiskey for a 30 minute rinse in a neighbor’s homemade shower. Other trades I have made:

  • A hot dog for a two slices of white bread
  • A band-aid for some supplies from Wawa
  • I let someone wear my sunglasses for five minutes and they gave me a full phone charge from their portable battery

If you forget something, do not fret. People at festivals are generally extremely kind and  happy to give to those in need.

3. Everyone wakes up at 6 AM.

In my opinion, this is one of the weirdest and worst parts of festival camping. As soon as the sun comes up in the morning, people decide that it is time to crank up the music, fire up the grill for some breakfast hot dogs, and take 5-10 shots of flavored vodka. You can try to sleep through it, but no matter how valiant your effort is, the unbearable heat of the tent and the gossip filtering in from your neighbor’s conversations about their wild nights will force you to get up and get moving. Typically, the best acts do not start to come on until about 3-5 PM, so you need to find something to do in the early hours of the morning. I recommend using this time to charge phones at charging stations, hustle to the showers, read a book, or play a rowdy game of cards.

4. You will be surprised by how many songs you know (or don’t know)

Your brain has limitless powers of comprehension, often when you do not even know you are absorbing information. You will realize this when you are at one of the more obscure concerts your friend drags you to and the chords and rhythms start to sound familiar. Soon, your body will be moving to the beat and you will be singing songs you didn’t even know you knew the words to.

The reverse of this can happen, as well. Throw it back to 2015, when a much younger, more naive Kiley insisted she knew the words to every Killers song ever written. The Killers set started with “Mr. Brightside” and I nailed every word. Easy, next song, bring it on. Then, they played “Somebody Told Me,” in which I managed to confidently sing the lyrics “you had a girlfriend who looked my best friend,” before being informed that those were not the correct words. That’s alright, Ki, shake it off, redeem yourself at the next song. Before long, I was hiding my face in shame at my lack of Killers lyrical knowledge and giving the excuse that I was tired and it had been a long day, not that anyone believed me.

me me me

A photo I accidentally took after insisting I knew how to work a selfie stick and also all the lyrics to the song “How Low” by Ludacris

5. People will battle to the death for even a percentage of phone battery

There really are things you can’t appreciate until they are gone: a sunny day when it is the dead of winter, a clear breathing canal when your nose is stuffed, and an electrical outlet when you have no way to charge your phone. If you have seen the instagram account of someone who goes to a festival, you will see that it is really fun to take pictures and you will end up taking a lot.

Taking pictures and videos is a really easy way to drain phone battery, especially when those pictures are taken on snapchat. Mix snapchat, texting, instagram, and  your phone constantly in search of wifi and your battery will be dead before the second act of the day.

Luckily, there are several charging stations often scattered throughout the camping and festival ground, but they require you to bring your own charger. Which leads me to my first piece of advice: Bring your charger everywhere. You never know when there will be a quick break to sit down and charge your phone in between concerts or when you lose your friends.

Portable chargers are also a genius invention that will help in a crunch. The best course of action is to go to the charging station as soon as you wake up in the morning to get to full battery while simaltaneously filling up the juice on your portable charger, charge during breaks throughout the day, and use your portable charger battery overnight.

6. You will eat very tasty food that is extremely unhealthy

Food trucks have a mission. Their mission is to peddle food that will change your life and create delicious things that you could never think of putting together. A mac and cheesesteak? Revolutionary. Fried balls stuffed with pizza ingredients? A game-changer. The best fried chicken I have ever had in my entire life came from a little food truck called Silo at Okeechobee Music Festival and, after looking it up just now, I am thinking about heading to its base in Ovid, New York just so my taste-buds can experience that chicken once again.

Throughout life, I have learned that a lot of the best things have a catch. Food truck food is supremely unhealthy and will cost about double of what it probably costs to make. So, my advice here is to ration how often you eat from the food trucks or food stands  because they can make you feel fairly pudgy and guilty about spending so much money. My rule was once a day (but I often broke it).

7. You need to have landmarks to find things

At the camping grounds of a music festival, scenery starts to blur together. You can spend days lost in a maze of dingy cars and ramshackle tents without being able to find your home-base. An easy way to avoid this is to have a landmark or something distinguishing on or by your tent. At the end of the row there are numbers, which will tell you which row is yours at least, but those rows are typically about 50-60 cars long on both sides. A lot of people bring flags with funny phrases or pictures to mark their campsite, but if you do not feel like buying one of those then just mooch off of someone else’s like I did this year.


“Oh yeah, we are right next to the shrimp flag, you can’t miss it.”

It is much easier to get lost in the crowd of a concert, so people have created movable landmarks in the form of a totem pole. These totems have become a creative way to express yourself and make pop culture references, such as the Avo”kanye” totem seen below.


And I love you like avoKanye loves avoKanye.

8. Ice makes all the difference

At a music festival, money really adds up. Typically, I steer away from the $5 water bottles inside the festival and paying $16 to stand in an air-conditioned room. This year, when my friends asked if we should get ice for our cooler, I was wary and skeptical because the bags costed $5 each. They finally managed to convince me that we should get a couple bags and, let me tell you, that ice just about changed my life. I put it in everything: a cup of water, juice, directly down my shirt.

A simple bag of ice flipped the course for the entire day, shifting moods of everyone at the campsite from somber and hot to exhilarated and ready to party. Moral of the story: ice is something that you should splurge on.

9. Sleep with layers

Summer nights can notoriously get pretty chilly and nothing feels better than cuddling up in a cozy sweatshirt and sweatpants with a blanket up to your chin. However, nothing feels worse than waking up in a dead-sweat, hair plastered to your forehead, with blankets tangled around your body in an inescapable vice grip. Tents have this magical ability to trap heat, therefore transforming into a sweat lodge in the early hours of the morning.

The easiest way to avoid death by overheating is to layer up. Start your night with a sweatshirt and sweatpants over shorts and a tank top, then slowly strip throughout the night until you are comfortable.

10. Music brings people together

32 million people go to at least one music festival a year. Over 123,000 people attended Coachella, alone. I do not know of many peaceful things that can garner a crowd of this size together without any other motive than to listen to music. A music festival is the place to go to experience music without judgement or hate or entitlement, so you should give it a try at least once in your life.


For those of you who are music festival experts, am I missing any? Any funny stories that have happened to you? Let me know in the comments!

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