How to Survive Colorado Music Festivals

Global Dub Festival at Red Rocks on May 12.
Aaron Thackeray
Global Dub Festival at Red Rocks on May 12.
Summer music festivals: sunshine, timeless jams, good vibes, full hearts and dirty feet. Also summer music festivals: sludge pits, casual assault, blown eardrums, tachycardia and dirty feet.

While music festivals can represent the heights of warm-weather communal fun, the events are also hard-to-navigate tests of physical and mental endurance. Colorado revels in more than its fair share of summer music festivals, from urban day concerts to remote mountain camp-outs, and Westword is staffed by grumpy festival veterans with a load of advice. So here’s how to survive these summer festivals — while not being an asshole, actually enjoying the music, and with friends and brains (mostly) intact.

click to enlarge Dancing in the streets at the 2016 Juneteenth Music Festival - WESTWORD ARCHIVE
Dancing in the streets at the 2016 Juneteenth Music Festival
Westword archive

Where to Start:

Make a budget
No one can make it to all the festivals offered in one summer, and ticket prices plus travel and food/drink adds up fast. Luckily, many major festivals include overlapping acts, so you can catch your favorite touring artist at some point. Make some hard choices and book early to get better ticket prices.

Check out FREE music festivals
Denver offers several big music events that are free and open to the public, which take place in the city's central neighborhoods. This summer there's the Juneteenth festival featuring Rakim (Five Points, Denver, June 16), Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest (Fort Collins, August 10-12), and Mountain Town Music Festival with Blind Pilot (Keystone, August 18).

What to Bring:

Tickets, wallet, keys
Tickets, wallet, keys. When you get in your car to go to the festival, and when you get out of your car to go into the festival.

Hydrate, goddamnit, and not from that drainage ditch you're convinced is a mountain stream! Bring your reusable water bottle, canteen or CamelBak, and refill that bladder three to five times a day. If you're not doing that, you'll burn out faster than a ginger covered in baby oil. It's for combating the sun and also all that beer you're drinking.

If the festival allows, bring your own snacks. Trail mix, fruit and energy bars are all solid options, so you're not waiting in line for a $14 corn dog every time you need a caloric re-charge.

Sun gear
Bring sunscreen, reapply liberally, share with new friends. See also: lip balm with SPF, sunglasses with actual UV protection, hat. But not that one. Never that hat.

Avoid lines at the ATM and being S.O.L. if you lose your card in the mosh pit.

Guess what? All the musicians on stage — yes, even the DJs —  are wearing earplugs. And you've decided to stand directly in front of the mile-high speakers. Stick some plugs in your ear holes, dummy.

Probably still wearing earplugs. - WESTWORD ARCHIVES
Probably still wearing earplugs.
Westword archives
Mini medicine cabinet
Ibuprofen, TUMS, Benadryl, condom. Take care of your head and your heart (burn).

Most festivals now have charging stations for your phone/devices, but if you want to avoid stepping away from the show and standing in line, then consider a battery- or solar-powered portable charger.

Porta-potty survival kit
Hand sanitizer, baby wipes, your own supply of toilet paper (not a whole roll, just unspool a lot and fold it in a stack). At some point, you are going to have to use one of these community shit-boxes, and it's not going to be pleasant. Do what you can to maintain a shred of your dignity, and whatever you do, don't look down.

Comfort items
Consider bringing a collapsible chair, inflatable pillow and/or blanket for when you need to get off your feet and don't feel like waking up with grass stains on your face. A camping towel — especially if you're camping — is essential for making you feel human again for the second leg of your festival journey. While you're at it, toss in a small deodorant, tin of mints, and compact mirror for getting whatever that is off your face.

click to enlarge WESTWORD ARCHIVE
Westword archive
Rain gear
Sure, Colorado boasts many days of sunshine every year, but it does still rain from time to time. And storms can blow up quickly during mountain festivals such as Telluride Bluegrass Festival (June 21 to 24), Ride Fest (July 14 to 15) or Seven Peaks Music Fest (Buena Vista, August 31 to September 2), so bring a fold-up poncho.

If you're camping:
You may not be able to just sleep in your car. Most towns have ordinances against that, and you’ll get fined if they find you passed out on the side of the road. If you’re camping on the fest grounds, know that sleeping in your car is actually not the most comfortable — whether you freeze or suffocate. If nothing else, bring a sleeping bag and a headlamp.

What Not to Bring:
Outside of alcohol, don't bring expensive electronics you're going to be worried about for the duration of the fest, like drones and your goddamn selfie stick.

Westword archive
What to Wear:

NOT a Headdress.

Closed-toe shoes
You're going to be standing, walking, jumping and dancing all day and night, so make your feet as comfortable as they can be. This is mostly to avoid crowd foot-stomping catastrophes, but let us not forget about the moat of piss and shit you must wade through inside the porta-potties. Leave the pristine white Chucks at home, too.

Breathable layers
The weather in Colorado can change quickly, especially after dark. The day-glo ensemble was perfect for sweating in the sun, but as the temp drops and the beer-and-nacho bloat sets in, you may want to go crazy and throw on an entire shirt. Bring a change of undies and socks if you care about anyone other than yourself.

Fanny pack
Or some other hands-free bag situation, such as a crossbody zippered purse, messenger bag or small backpack.

Let's circle back to the headdress
Don't wear one. White girls, I'm looking at you: Don't wear cornrows, bindis, or that cut-up tank top that reads "a little hippie, a little ’hood."

Flower crowns...sigh, fine, okay, go ahead. This aesthetic is not acceptable outside Global Dub, Sonic Bloom (Hummingbird Ranch, June 14-17), Global Dance Fest (Sports Authority Field, July 20-21), ARISE (Sunrise Ranch, Loveland, August 3-5) get the idea, so YOLO or whatever.

Make a Plan:

Once you've gathered your festival crew, figure out how you're getting to and from the festival. If you're driving, carpool and figure out parking — which may involve a long walk to the actual festival grounds. For urban festivals, take your bike or public transportation: It's green, you won't worry about driving drunk, and you already know trying secure an Uber afterward is going to be a bummer, if not impossible. Check out the festival website or app for approved ride-share services or forums to coordinate rides with fellow concert-goers.

Remember where you parked
Let's not kid ourselves: You're going to forget. All of you. So just write it down — not in your phone or on your already-sweaty hand, but on an actual piece of paper.

Don't plan on your cell phone
While we're writing things down, just bring a tiny notebook or stack of Post-Its. Even if you keep your phone charged all day, coverage at festivals is notoriously bad. Write down the phone numbers of your fest squad/emergency contacts and keep it with you, in case you need to borrow a phone or someone needs to make a call on your behalf.

Meet-up spots
Once inside, immediately decide on a meet-up spot with your crew. This can be where you'll meet to get food at 7 p.m. or, if you get separated and can't call each other, where you meet up as a last-ditch effort. Meeting at one of the enormous art installations is a great idea (see below).

click to enlarge Global Dance Festival Day 2 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, on July 22, 2017. - MILES CHRISINGER
Global Dance Festival Day 2 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, on July 22, 2017.
Miles Chrisinger
Identify safe spaces
Before you dive into the crowds, do a scan for safe spaces at the festival — whether it's a medical tent, a security station, or a booth sponsored by an organization like DanceSafe. These are resources for help in a variety of situations, whether you're sick, separated from friends, threatened, hurt, or even wondering whether the drugs you have are okay to take. Identifying these locations can also be helpful if you've lost one of your friends. And sometimes, you may even find love in the Chillout Tent.

Set times
If there are certain acts that you love and will regret forever if you miss, plan ahead to be at the right stage at the right time. If there are sets you can miss, arrange with your crew to meet up to get food and recharge.