The Single Girl's Guide to Solo Attendance Music Festival Joyousness

I'm an expert in very few areas of life, most of which no one would want to gain expertise in, anyway (lolsob). I do, however, think I've gotten pretty darn good at going to music festivals. So I thought it would be fun to write up a guide on that, partly because my Coachella butterflies are out of control at this point, and partly because while I've seen several festival guides online, I haven't seen one written from the perspective of a single woman attending alone. One quick note - this guide isn't for campers. I'm not a camper (not yet anyway). I'm a hotel-stayer-at'er. So if you're looking for specifics on camping, I'm afraid I can't help you with that.

So far I've been to two multi-day festivals and three single-day fests. Last year I spent about half of my time at Outside Lands alone, and I've gone to all of the single-day electronic festivals alone. It's been my experience that when people find out I'm at these events solo, their reactions fall into one of two categories: a) shock + pity or b) shock + admiration. I completely understand the first reaction - it's one I would have had myself, even as recently as three years ago. But in that time, I've learned to love my own company, and to appreciate the unique joys of being and doing alone. I think it's a learned skill. It takes practice and an openness to growth - and a good attitude of self-love. But when you can find peace and joy within you, you've freed yourself in the most profound way: you're no longer beholden to the companionship of others to be feel good.

Don't get me wrong: I'm human and like everyone else, I crave and need the companionship of others. I get by survive with a little lot of help from my friends. Friendships and socializing are a very big, and very important, part of my life. But occasionally withdrawing to center myself - by myself - is really gratifying. And music (specifically live music) has turned out to be the perfect way for me to find that centering. Concerts and particularly festivals are like spiritual retreats to me, where I can go to remember who I am and, if I'm lucky, even learn a little bit more about myself.

So while I wouldn't want to speak for anyone else, in my case, any pity is misguided and unnecessary. I want to be there alone. I've got lots of amazing people in my life. I don't want for friendships - for fun, smart, creative and funny people to spend time with. So going to festivals alone, while occasionally pang-inducing (more on that below), doesn't make me feel bad about myself.

Plus, there are lots of positives to going to festivals alone. Most obviously, you can see whatever acts you'd like, without having to worry about what anyone else wants to see. No scheduling conflicts, no disagreements, no sacrifices. You can move at your own pace, too. If you need a water break, or a bathroom break, or you just want to lay on a blanket in the shade for half an hour - you can do that. You're not slowing anyone else down, or holding anyone else back. You don't have to worry about getting separated, or missing meetup times.

Festivals are intense experiences. Everyone gets something slightly different from them. They delight some people in ways that they challenge or frustrate others. Maybe, like me, you lov festival crowds. Maybe you, too, love being surrounded by hot, sweaty, happy, dancing people. Maybe you feel kinship and joy when amongst tens of thousands of other passionate music fans. Or maybe you need your space. Maybe the crowds are a drawback to you, and you need to have breathing room when you watch shows. Maybe you need to dance. Maybe you prefer to chill on the grass and watch quietly.

When you go by yourself, you can do whatever you'd like, without having to worry about what your friends or partner wants to do. And you don't have to worry that they're not enjoying themselves, or that they're more tired/hungry/hot than you.

You are completely free.

If you want to socialize, believe me, you won't have trouble. And this has nothing to do with being a woman - festivals are just friendly events made for mingling, and I've chummed up with other women as often as I've met men. If you feel a little lonely - say, for instance, when watching a band with whom you have some romantic, melancholic associations - just make some concert friends. There are thousands of people around you with whom you're sharing an amazing, once in a lifetime moment. Trust me, most of them will be happy to connect with you, if you just make yourself open to them. Smile, say hello, ask a question, strike up a conversation. Who are you here to see? Who else have you seen today? What's the best food here? I'm a first timer...

Some of the funnest times I've had at festivals happened when I hooked up with random strangers. We dance, we get drinks, maybe we watch a show or two together - and then we go our separate ways. Connection and memory made.

Obviously, though, you want to be careful. Especially if you're indulging in alcohol or other substances that can potentially compromise your self-awareness. Being a woman on your own, unfortunately, can make you a target for unwanted attention. So I'm going to throw out a small list of don'ts, most of which fall into the yeah, no shit Ellie category, but they're worth repeating, because they're that important.

DON'TS

1. Don't accept drugs - or even open container alcohol - from strangers. This is just common sense. And believe me, offers will be made. But no matter how friendly someone seems, you really know nothing about them. And it's just not worth the risk. If you're going to party, provide your own party favors. Buy your own drinks. Bring your own drugs, if that's your thing. There are just too many dangerous, deadly wild cards in the world, and you never know. Even seemingly harmless pot can be laced with seriously crazy shit.

2. If you do bring them, don't share your drugs with strangers, no matter how tempting it is to invite someone into the amazing physiological party your body is throwing you. There are undercover cops at festivals, and nothing would suck worse than getting ejected and losing $$$ because you tried to be cool. It's just not worth it. Not to mention, knowing nothing about these strangers, you have no idea what their familiarity with / tolerance of drugs is, or if they're taking something with counter indications, or if they're already fucked up, etc, etc, etc. You could potentially harm someone, and badly. Not worth the risks.

3. Don't do any drug for the first time. If you're not already comfortable with it - with how to take it, and how much of it to take - skip it. Not worth the risk of overdosing and being miserable / hurting yourself. And if you do over do it, don't be shy about asking for help. Festival staff are there to support your experience and keep you safe. They're neither naive about nor underprepared for any and all emergencies. I can't speak to Coachella yet, but at Bonnaroo and Outside Lands, there is a very friendly, "no questions asked" policy of providing help to festival-goers in trouble. Take advantage of this if you need to, and don't be too proud to admit if you've fucked up. You won't be the first or the last to do it!

4. Don't get so messed up that you lose self-awareness. This is largely related to #3. Don't get obliterated. Don't get so high you don't know where you are. This is dumb and potentially disastrous. Have enough self-respect to take responsibility for your mind and body. You are your own guardian. Take care of you and be smart. Rest. Hydrate. Relax. Enjoy. Absorb. Reflect. These are days you'll want to remember for the rest of your life - take care to leave your brain the capacity to do so.

5. DO NOT LET ANYONE HARASS OR MAKE YOU UNCOMFORTABLE. This is a huge one, so I put it in shoutycaps. It's been my experience that being at a festival alone, as a woman, can make you a magnet for assholes. Guys who want to dance with you, when you want to dance alone. Guys who want to talk to you, when you don't want to talk to them. Be friendly but firm. Thank them for their interest, but make it clear you have none of your own. I have seen far too many young women looking miserable and trapped in conversation/interaction with pushy men who are unable to read body language and take a hint - and I'm not just talking about at festivals. Women, don't ever be shy about saying no, clearly and loudly. (At ANY point in your life, when interacting with men.) Unfortunately at festivals, the party atmosphere makes it easy for drunken and high guys to be oblivious and obnoxious. If you feel uncomfortable, walk away. Festival grounds are huge and massively crowded, and you can ditch people in a few seconds. And if you ever feel that your safety is threatened, find a festival staffperson immediately.

Ok! Non-fun stuff out of the way. Onto the fun stuff, much of which is probably also Yeah, no shit Ellie-esque, but I'm going to write it up anyway.

PLANNING

1. Book your travel and lodging as early as you can. There's no escaping the price jack-ups that area hotels do. Once they find out the festival dates, they shoot their prices up enormously for those weekends. It sucks. It's a fact of festivals, though. But you still want to book everything as soon as possible, so you don't have to worry. If you want one, book a locker early, too. They go fast. Also arrange for pet boarding/sitting if you need it. (I lucked out and have a friend staying at my place with Chaucer, but I may give DogVacay a shot next time.)

2. Study! This, for me, is the funnest part of festival planning - going through the massive lists of artists to decide who you want to see. Be warned: it takes several hours to get through it, but it's worth it. There's nothing worse than discovering, after the fact, that a band you now love was at the festival you attended last year, and you either didn't see them at all, or you saw them without knowing any of their music, and thus didn't really appreciate them nearly as much as you could have. This happened to me with The Walkmen. I'm now obsessed with them (and madly in love with Hamilton Leithauser), but when I saw them at Outside Lands, I had only the barest familiarity with them. Had I taken more time to go through the lineup and audition artists, I would have realized how much I love them, and would have gotten much, much more out of that show. Ugh. Kills me to think of it. Not to mention, some of the best shows turn out to be the "fine print" artists - unsigned, new, unknown, and thus billed at the bottom of the lineup. It's worth doing your homework to find these gems.

My system now is to type up a master list of all the artists performing, and then audition them, one by one, by listening to at least four of their songs (more if I'm on the fence about them) - though obviously, there's some music that I instantly know I'm not into. I put all of my "must sees" in bold, and highlight the maybes. I jot down notes next to any band I'm unfamiliar with, but that I think I may want to see (e.g., "electronic, downbeat" or "alternative, grungy" and so forth). It's impossible to become familiar with every single band in the lineup, so if you keep a master list with you at the festival, you won't be stuck trying to remember who's who, and what kind of music they play, and if you wanted to see them, etc. This is especially important to me because I like to go with my mood at festivals, instead of being locked down to a rigid schedule. Sometimes I need to break up more upbeat acts with mellow ones where I can chill for a while. And sometimes I just want to dance for hours on end. Having a cheat sheet with me helps me know who's playing at any given time, that will suit my mood.

Spotify has been indispensable in this endeavor. I made playlists for each day of Coachella, as well as a playlist for running consisting of only music that will be at Coachella. For every band that I'm seeing, I put their most recent album in the playlist plus all of the other top hits that are likely to be played. I also made a playlist of "leftovers" - good music that will be at the fest but that I probably won't see. Unsigned or new bands aren't always on Spotify, though you can usually find them on SoundCloud (a great resource for auditioning electronic DJs), or of course, their own website.

I then listen to these playlists over and over and over, for the weeks leading up to the festival. It builds the anticipation, and makes it infinitely more fun and gratifying, to be familiar with the music by the time I hear it live.

3. Pack early, so you have plenty of time to make sure you have everything you need. Nothing worse than running around last minute. Don't forget sunscreen, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, Advil, and any meds you take. Of course, if you're like me, it's much more fun to pack the other stuff.

CLOTHES/ACCESSORIES

Festival wear is kind of a unique beast, in that anything goes, style wise - and it's fun to take advantage of that - but you still want to be comfortable. I think you have to decide what your priority is. For me, comfort is always tops. I've seen lots of women who prize fashion above everything: $300 Frye boots (trekking through mud), gorgeous boho ensembles, ornately styled hair. And that's cool, if that's your thing. It's your festival experience, and you should do what will make you enjoy it the most. And if looking fabulous is what's most important to you, go hog wild. Anything and everything goes at festivals. Wear as much or as little as you want, and don't be shy or self-conscious. It's one of the few times in life when you can embrace your inner wild child in public - go for it!

That being said, you need to bear in mind what it is you'll actually be doing. It's all fine and good to wear an awesome feather headdress and suede fringe bra, but if it impedes your dancing/crowdsurfing/whatevering, it's just going to be a bummer to deal with. If you're the type to chill on the sidelines and observe away from the crowd, you can really wear whatever the hell you like - my only recommendation is to be sure and bring enough layers to keep warm out there by yourself.

I've found I'm happiest when I dress for comfort and for movement. Since I dance at almost every show, it's a basic requirement for me that my clothes can accommodate my moooooves. :) I like to wear soft, lightweight layers - four of them to be exact:

First layer (on the bottom) - either cargo shorts or a lightweight cotton skirt. No matter what you're doing or how good you want to look, you'll still want to be in comfortable clothes. And gauzy, breezy cotton mini skirts are perfect for summer/warm weather festivals. They keep your legs cool, they're easy to deal with in the gnarly port-a-potties, and they're fun/flirty to dance in. Cargo shorts are great for holding stuff, but again - your best bet in the face of those bathrooms is a short, lightweight skirt that you can lift up easily and keep far away from the nasty toilets and floors in those port-a-potties. Gross but true.

First layer (on top) - bathing suit top or camisole - something bare that I can keep cool/feel sexy in when I'm dancing, but that's still supportive and fitted enough that I don't have to worry about wardrobe malfunctions. String bikini tops aren't going to cut it, for my body, and for how I move. The bikini tops I have are an awesome Free People find from last year - they're supportive and tight, but still sexy with a little side boob action and the back crisscross lacing. I also have a white camisole/bra top that fits snugly but is lightweight enough to stay cool in.

Second layer - a tissue weight/sheer/burnout tank top or muscle tank. This is more or less so I'm not self-conscious walking around the festival in just a bathing suit top. Lord knows there are thousands of girls doing just that, and I usually end up like that when I start to dance, but I like having something over me when I'm navigating the grounds between stages. Tank tops add next to no weight, but essentially the same amount of coverage as a t-shirt.

Third layer - a button down. Any cotton or flannel button down that's soft and lightweight, but will cover my arms as it starts to cool off at night. Button downs are perfect since you can rock them unbuttoned too. (I love letting them fall off my shoulders when I'm dancing, with my arms still warm inside the sleeves.)

Fourth layer - Zip up hoodie (again, can be unzipped for even more temperature control), and either over-the-knee socks or legwarmers (or both!). And here's the thing. This isn't exactly the most fashion forward ensemble. But I tell you what. If by the point in the night that you need to layer up you're not having such a great time that you don't have a shit what you look like, girl, you're doing something wrong. Or you've got your priorities whacked. You're there to have fun, first and foremost. Don't forget it! Legwarmers are perfect in my opinion, if for no other reason that they're a snap to pull from your backpack and slip on right over your shoes, without having to take them off. And if it's really chilly, I rock the tall socks underneath those. This too is largely a port-a-potty concern. At cold weather festivals I've changed into lightweight leggings at night, but ugh, pulling those suckers down when you're drunk/high while trying to not touch anything in the gross-beyond-words bathrooms - not fun, people.

Shoes - My festival shoe of choice is a canvas sneaker. My favorite are Gola Quotas - they're super lightweight and are more form fitting than Chucks (but order them a size up! they run small). They lace up nice and tight, and hug your foot almost like a sock - and being so lightweight, they're perfect for dancing. And I always stuff some Dr. Scholl's gel supports into my shoes. I also recommend bringing a pair of low rain boots. They're bulky and a pain to pack, but I was glad to have them at Bonnaroo and Outside Lands, where the ground was ridiculously muddy by the third day.

Accessories - I like to skip both earrings and rings, since I find them uncomfortable (and potentially dangerous, haha) when dancing. But I do wear some fabric/thread bracelets and a colorful fabric belt/obi. And while I sometimes start the day out with a cute headband, that goes the way of the dodo pretty early on. Same with hats.

Blanket or sheet - It's nice to have something dry and clean to sit on throughout the day, and I found the best option for this is to go to the fashion district and just get a few yards of vinyl-backed fabric. It's not as cute as some of the prettier, gauzier picnic blankets and quilts I've seen, but it's lightweight, waterproof, and rinses off easily. They come in funky, colorful patterns, and if you get sick of lugging it around, it's cheap enough to ditch. And really, all you need is something between you and the ground, anyway. I stick it in my locker when I get to the festival each day and then scoop it up a few hours in, when I start to lose steam and know I'll be wanting to sit for longer periods - or if I'm seeing a mellow show that I want to sit for in its entirety. Having a blanket is essential for creating a little bit of space for yourself, since no one will stand or sit on it once you lay it down. Just don't be a jerk and plop down in an area where most everyone is standing or dancing.

Backpack - I don't like the weight and hassle of a regular backpack. Plus I feel like an asshole pushing through a crowd with all that bulk bumping against people. Instead, I take a lightweight drawstring backpack, into which I put as little as possible (sunscreen, lip gloss, money, sunglasses), and get a locker for my heavier night layers and sheet. When I'm moving through the crowd at a show, I move the backpack around to my chest and leave it there until everyone is done jockeying for position and the music starts. Then I either keep it on if I'm just watching, or take it off and rest it just in front of my feet, if I'm dancing. The area I tend to watch shows in is toward the back where the crowd starts to thin out, so my bag isn't in anyone's way - and if it is, I move. I try to always practice good festiquette (which probably could be another post entirely...).

I just picked up the perfect bag from Fliteline on Etsy. It's lighter than air and silky soft, but strong (it's made from recycled parachute warning labels).

And here's what all that looks like, assembled!







OTHER RANDOM BITS OF ADVICE

If you want to socialize/meet people (read: guys), go for it. But if you're there primarily for the music, I definitely recommend going back to your hotel (alone) promptly at the end of the night. You won't realize how truly exhausted you are until you get back and lay down. It is a huge tax on your body, to be out in the sun all day, dancing and drinking and whatevering. And while you can meet guys anytime, there are only a few times in your life you'll be watching your favorite bands perform live. Save your energy for that!

Take cheap sunglasses. Or if you take good ones, make sure to have a hard clamshell case for them.

Make a playlist of maybe twenty of your favorite, most-anticipated festival songs. Listen to it often, and think about the kind of experience you want to have when you're there. Like so much in life, attitude is everything! If you go into your fest with the mindset that you're going to have an amazing time, you will. And it's all about the music. Having a set of songs that you're most excited about will make it so, so much fun to hear them live. Everything will come together and you'll think to yourself, This. This is what I was waiting for. Curate your experience ahead of time - it's worth the planning.

ENJOY. Make an effort to appreciate what's uniquely fun about going alone. You'll be surrounded by thousands upon thousands of people, almost all of whom are in groups or pairs. And that's a really cool and beautiful thing. But what you're doing is pretty darn special, too, and hella adventurous. Be proud of yourself that you have the independence and spirit to travel and fest on your own! Take your time, enjoy your own company, sit back, smile, and watch the incredible scene. Explore. Get lost. Engage. Get found. Close your eyes. Listen. Dance. Don't worry about anyone else. Love life, love music, and love yourself. 

Decide that you're all you need to make yourself happy, and you will be happy

Joyeux Festival, mes filles! :)