Festivalgoers at FYF 2017
Photo: Timothy Norris/Getty Images
Music Festival Essentials: 11 Must-Haves, From Apps To Packs & More
With Coachella's two-weekend party in the desert kicking off this weekend, music festival season is officially here. No matter what you're into, it's out there — from the Olympics of dance music at EDC to the hip hop/R&B gumbo at Essence and the hard rock heaven at Aftershock to the big general festivals like Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits that seem to have something for everyone.
Before you hit the road, the train or the airport for the music celebration(s) of your choice this summer, we're here to tip you off on how to arrive in style, maximize your experience and stay safe and connected. Check out these 11 music festival essentials — don't leave home without 'em!
1. Water, Seriously
As always, safety comes first. You can be sure your festival experience will be a total drag if you get sidelined by dehydration. There are several ways to make sure you stay at 100 percent during a festival, but the easiest and most environmentally friendly way to carry the water you need is to pick up a Camelback pack (starting at $37). The distribution of weight allows you to carry more water more comfortably than in a bottle or container, and a quick sip is always easy to take when the sun starts beating down on you. Plus, Camelbak has started adding hydration stations at various festivals where they'll refill you for free! OK, water … check.
2. Never Skimp On The Sunscreen
Speaking of the sun, sunscreen is a must, otherwise your day two festival selfies will definitely pay the price. Make sure you're using at least 30 SPF, especially on your face. Also, don't forget the tops of your ears (if they're exposed) and the back of your neck. Remember: Even in overcast weather, the sun can get ya. So lather up out there. For tons of great options, check out Bustle's list of festival-friendly sunscreens (staring at $8).
3. Don't Forget Your Plugs
And please don't forget the ever-important practice of hearing protection. Even a few minutes in front of a massive speaker array at a festival can do damage, so make sure you've got a nice pair of plugs ready. For the true music connoisseur, invest the time and money to get fitted, frequency balanced ear plugs, like these by ACS (generic fit starting at $14, custom fit starting at $185). The custom mold will keep them comfortable all day long, and the frequency balance will ensure you're getting the full range sonic experience of the music, not that muffled, boomy sound with foam plugs, where all the high end disappears. As a bonus, ACS are one of the manufacturers who provide free custom ear molds for music professionals backstage at festivals around the country through MusiCares.
4. Pack A Backup Battery
This next necessity has become even more important than money in some ways — battery life. Because your phone is your other brain, and it will probably be roaming much of the day (not to mention the photos, texts, posts to social) your battery can and will die. Fortunately, there are many options for calling in some backup without resorting to a charging station retreat. The Anker Powercore 10000 ($28) scores well in size and weight. The Morphie Powerstation 5x ($42) is preferred by some for its long-term durability. Jakery also makes the affordable Mini ($13) and reliable Bar ($20) models worth picking up.
For another nifty option, consider this handy Solar Charger ($23), which charges with the sun and can also store enough power to charge most phones twice on a single charge (in case it's cloudy). In addition, this one also has a built-in LED panel on the back, which can be a handy flashlight at the campsite, or when you've dropped your phone in the dark while trying to plug it in.
5. Shazam It
People, it's 2018! If you're not ready to capture a great song and find out what it is before it's gone, you're living in the past. Not only does the Shazam app (free for the basic app, $3 for premium) allow you to discover the music you're enjoying as you hear it, but it can provide lyrics, connect to YouTube videos, notify you of new releases, and integrate with your Spotify and Apple Music accounts. Shazam also provides the data that helps shape festival trends based on what fans are digging organically, a phenomenon we covered at SXSW. So get the app, and if you hear something you like, hold up your phone up and get the deets.
6. Scheduling Apps To The Rescue
Another valuable app that can be used for festivals is Wunderlist (free). Built to organize our lives, Wunderlist can help you make sure you hit every set on your wishlist by setting up a schedule with reminders. When used in conjunction with locator apps like Find My Friends (free), and Find Your Car With AR (free), your day at a festival will run smoothly, you'll cover more ground, remember to keep your meet-up times with friends, and make sure you aren't wandering the parking field for hours looking for your buddy's jalopy at the end of the night.
7. Make It App-ficial
Another totally indispensable app you should download is the festival's official proprietary app. The big festivals have done this best, including Coachella, Ultra and Lollapalooza (all free), whose apps are shining examples of how tech can enhance the festival experience. All the stage schedules, vendor maps and real-time notifications put you a step ahead of the frenzy surrounding you. Two years ago, this came in very handy when Lollapalooza had to be evacuated due to inclement weather. Their app was able to let tens of thousands of people know immediately when it was time to move, and exactly when the coast was clear and the fun could resume.
8. Style Matters
Getting dressed to impress for a music festival should be fun. You can experiment with style in ways you can't at school, at your job or even a night out. Dig deep into your inner style child and try something you've always wanted to try — here's some inspiration from Elle. And whatever you do, don't forget to accessorize. Hats and sunglasses are very in this year. Lulus online only store offers very boho and modern, perfect for the Chella gal look (dresses starting at $20). For additional current must-have fashion ideas, including this year's freshest batch of Unicorn Dust, check out US Magazine's 2018 Coachella packing list.
9. Let's Talk Shoes
Maybe the most important decision you make while standing in front of your closet before a festival is which shoes to wear. With so many considerations — comfort, color, style, temperature — the choice isn't always easy. Here are a couple crucial keys to keep in mind. First off, your feet will most likely get stepped on, so close toes are recommended. Also, weather plays a huge roll. Will it get chilly? Will it get wet? It might be tempting to go carefree with flip-flops or sandals, but it's really best to stay basic here, with something like these platform sneakers from Steve Madden ($79) or a basic pair of low top Chucks from Converse (starting at $40). Pro tip: It's probably best to leave your newest pair of kicks at home, because they will definitely get wrecked.
10. Merch Me
Let's be honest, merch tents at festivals can be overwhelming. It's not like stopping by the T-shirt table after the encore on your way out the door of a local show — you have dozens of bands and festival branded merch to consider, and typically a huge number of people all pushing in line to buy that last medium-sized limited edition Phoenix tee at the same time. But remember, for a lot of artists — especially those still building their fanbase — merch sales and connecting with fans at festival merch booths can make a huge difference. No one's nailed this better over the past two decades than Warped Tour with their endless rows of tents where fans can pick up merch and, in many cases, meet the artists, who are usually sweaty from being fresh off the stage. Consider supporting the up-and-coming acts you love — or just discovered — at festivals. Also, if you brought the wrong clothes, forgot your sunnys or desperately need a hoodie, merch tents can be a lifesaver.
11. Open Mind For Discovery
Last, but certainly not least, it's easy to overlook the biggest upside of festivals: artist discovery. The tickets probably cost you an arm and a leg, you probably sat in traffic, parked a mile away, and waited in a long line at the gate to get in, but once you make it through the gate there are bands and artists all around you who have devoted their lives to their art. Listen to every band you can, even if just for one song. Sure, you want to make it to the main stage early to get a prime spot for your favorite artist, but remember: that artist wasn't always your jam! You had to discover them somehow.
Think of all your favorite before-they-were-cool stories of being the first of your friends to dig this band or that rapper after seeing them in a tiny club, or opening for a touring headliner no one listens to anymore, or on a festival side stage playing to nine people at 11:45 a.m. before they made it big. Slow down and give these passionate musicians a chance to blow your mind, and you might be surprised.