Guide to Camping Music Festivals
With summer fast approaching, outdoor music festival season will soon be in full swing. If you enjoy music and you haven’t done so already, you should check out a festival near you and be sure to visit our Music Festival Checklist prior to leaving the house. JamBase maintains a list with currently over 200 upcoming events. They range in size from one stage and a few thousand attendees, to mega-festivals like Bonaroo, with its 10 plus stages and 80,000 concertgoers. Bands often put together their own festivals, headlining the main nights and inviting many more like-minded artists to fill the schedule. Examples of these would be Mountain Jam, hosted by Gov’t Mule, and The Peach Festival, with The Allman Brothers Band. There are fests for a variety of musical styles, and most of these multi-day events allow camping at the venue. I’m sure you’ll be able to find an event that features several bands you already like and while you’re there, you’ll probably discover some new favorites as well.
Camping is not required to attend most music festivals, but it often includes perks. For example, here in New Jersey, one of the first festivals of the season is Michael Arnone’s CrawFishFest. This festival brings both the music and food of Louisiana to NJ. Campers can enter the site Friday morning to set up and socialize. By dinnertime, the music and food starts, For Campers Only; no day use people. And Saturday night, after the day people have left, music starts again, For Campers Only. Membership has its privileges.
I think the music, the camaraderie, and being outdoors brings out the best in everyone and helps to create a very positive vibe at these shows. And because festivals bring together so many artists, guest appearances are not uncommon. I’ve seen Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead sit in with Hot Tuna, and I saw blues guitarist Tab Benoit join The Radiators for one of their final shows.
Almost all fests have limited RV spaces, but most of the camping areas are for tents. Campgrounds range from grass lawns to mowed farmland to ski slopes. If you are going in an RV, do you need hook-ups? Check for availability, as it varies. If you’re happy in a tent, pay attention to where you’ll park your car. Some festivals allow campsite parking, while others require you to park elsewhere and lug your gear to your site. The parking location will greatly influence how much gear you can bring, and campsite parking gives you a vehicle to protect valuables. Sites with parking are usually big enough for your car, a tent, and a dining canopy. If you park elsewhere, the tent site is usually much tighter. Tip: if you have a large group coming with several tents, have everyone arrive at the same time so you can camp near each other.
Many festivals offer family accommodations, starting with camping set aside in a quieter area. Kid’s tents may have games, face painting, crafts, and kid-friendly music. At Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in the Catskills, the free Academy for Kids teaches them to play bluegrass music, which culminates with a stage appearance on the last day of the event.
Once you’ve found an interesting festival, decide which ticket is for you. Choose from tent camping, RV, and sometimes hotel package deals. Many events offer discounted Early Bird tickets, usually before any bands are announced. So you can save a few bucks if you can decide early. There are often VIP tickets available which include a variety of extras, like special viewing areas and food.
Beyond the essentials of tent, sleeping bag, and cooler, a gear list is of personal preference (see mine here), limited only by your available vehicle space and by your proximity to it when camped. If they’re new or borrowed or haven’t been used for a while, it’s a good idea to practice setting up tents and dining canopies a few weeks before you’ll need them to familiarize yourself with the process and confirm that all parts are present. I’ve seen many people struggle with tents that were new to them. For coolers, I bring one for food, which only opens infrequently, and one for beverages that sees more traffic. Food stays colder this way than it would with food and drink combined. Make some block ice beforehand and freeze your water bottles. Of course you’ll need sunscreen and extra batteries. And bring jumper cables. Because your neighbor who’s been playing his car stereo all weekend will need your help when it’s time to leave. And don’t forget earplugs if the sound of people having fun keeps you up at night.
Restricted items vary by event, but usually include glass bottles, weapons, fireworks, illegal substances, and pets. Generators, barbeques, and open flames are often prohibited in the tenting areas, but sometimes ‘Tiki’ torches are tolerated. Check your event website for specific details.
Be forewarned; outdoor music festivals are like trailer parks. If there is severe weather nearby, it will find the festival. Freestanding tents can become tumbleweeds in the strong winds if not properly secured. I lost a canopy once to a hailstorm. If bad weather is probable, lower your canopy to its lowest point and secure all loose items. Be sure to tuck your ground cloth under your tent. Exposed ground cloths collect rainwater.
You’ll need clothing appropriate for a variety of weather conditions, from hot and sunny to cold and rainy. And be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring some that can get muddy if need be. Think Woodstock.
Many regular attendees like to decorate their campsites. In a sea of tents, unique flags can help locate your site from a distance. At CFF there are lots of beads and Mardi Gras themes. Gathering of the Vibes is awash in tie-dye.
Live music is best. So go to a festival. Listen and dance and make friends. And maybe enjoy a few adult beverages. You will undoubtedly have fun!