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.
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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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What to Wear:
NOT a Headdress.
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.
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.
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)...you 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.
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).
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.
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.
What NOT to Do:
This is for you, predatory assholes. Maybe you thought you would take advantage of all the "freedom" and "love" and lowered inhibitions to hook up with a stranger (or acquaintance or friend) — and that's fine, that's great. BUT just because someone — yes, even a female-bodied person! even someone smaller than you! — is wearing fewer clothes than usual does not indicate that this person wants attention from you or anybody else. Clothing (or lack thereof), dancing, crowd-surfing, drinking or using substances, or simply being at a festival — none of this is an invitation for you to cross boundaries or even to approach. Do not touch without express invitation and affirmation. Let's add to that (can't believe we have to reiterate this, but these crimes are rampant in these spaces): Don't harass, threaten, fondle, assault or rape anyone.
Be a good citizen/human
If you see shit going down or simply have a bad feeling about what you've observed, don't hesitate to say something — whether directly to the people involved to let them know you are a witness, or to security. Step in or even simply stand between a person and their harasser. Festivals are places where thousands of people party together, which makes for a lot of vulnerability, so for Based God's sake, watch out for each other.
Don't be a Wook. Slow and steady wins the festival, my friend. Microdose this marathon.
Be a good neighbor
Remember: While you might only be in that neighborhood or mountain for the festival, people do actually live there. Don't trash the place. For example, the Westword Music Showcase happens in the Golden Triangle, Underground Music Showcase takes place in Denver's Baker neighborhood, and Rocky Mountain Folks Festival goes down in Lyons. So don't piss in someone's front yard. Don't block driveways. On the flip side, come back when there's no festival and patronize businesses that have nothing to do with glow sticks.
What to Do:
Sure, buy your $15 ancient grains bowl. But look out for vendors and booths giving away free samples of their products and load up!
Wear those earplugs you brought
We swear, you can actually hear the music better. And you'll be able to rock through the ages, friend.
See your favorite artist
Prioritize the big reason you bought the ticket: the MUSIC, man. Make sure you're hydrated, fueled, crewed-up and in position for the artist you most want to see. Even if you're not in the front, making that moment special will indeed make it so.
Check out artists you haven't seen or have never heard of
That's the magic of a festival setting, after all! Discovery and surprise and mashing artists together who have nothing, really, to do with each other. Even if it's just the musicians on stage immediately before the act you really want to see, pay them some respect and listen — then cheer and applaud.
Explore non-musical elements
More and more, festivals are incorporating non-musical entertainment, whether it's art installations, silent discos, flea markets, workshops, the Yoga Sanctuary at ARISE or even rafting excursions. Take advantage and add dimension to your experience, as well as a much-needed break.
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How to Get the Hell Out of There:
Arrange for your ride well in advance and watch the final encore from the back of the crowd (which in itself is a pretty rad view). Or head back to set up your campsite before it gets dark.
Instead of fighting the parking lot traffic deadlock, pop open the pre-packed cooler in your truck. Have a late-night sandwich, chug some water, and recap the festival with your friends. Your ears may still be ringing, but that's just the sound of a good time.
No, it's not