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Survival of the Hippest

Going to a weekend-long music festival is hard work; follow our guide and you'll make it through to Monday.
Friday Jul 17, 2009.     By K. Tighe
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Memorize your buzz-band stats and put on those aviators, because it's that time of year again. Festival season in Chicago will keep you in food samples, wine tastings and craft booths all summer long, but it's the al fresco concerts we get truly excited about. We've channeled that energy into compiling the most comprehensive festival survival guide you'll ever see. Follow our lead and you'll be sure to make it to September with everything intact.

Plan ahead

Musicians just don't show up to festivals without advance work, and neither should you. And while you don't need to worry about the intricacies of riders, contracts or guest slots, you do need to concern yourself with some tedious details now, so that your festival experience is totally carefree.

Buy your tickets, unless you want to pay ten times as much to a scalper for a ticket that's probably worthless. This counts for after-parties, too. Figure out which ones you want to attend, get on the list, buy the ticket, bribe the door guy; just do it in advance.

Do your research. You know who you want to see. Plan for it. Write it down. Study the line-up before you head out and schedule your "can't miss" bands. Of course, planning every tiny detail has a way of taking the fun out of the festival experience, so be sure to leave gaps in your schedule to go with the flow and discover the next big thing.

Get with your people. If you're attending with other folks, you'll have to incorporate their schedules into your own. Do this ahead of time so you don't spend half the day arguing by the Buckingham Fountain. Figure out meeting times, lunch places and after-parties ahead of time.

Get there. Be sure to plan out routes to the park, to any and all after-parties you plan on hitting up, and back home again. Search for nearby bars, banks and restaurants so that you have your bearings when you're drunk later on. Don't drive, that's what the CTA is for.

Dress appropriately

Those motorcycle boots and fishnet stockings might have seemed like a great fashion choice when you left the house, but by 10 a.m., you'll be chafing like crazy and you won't be able to lift your feet. Dressing to impress has its place, but spending all day in the blazing sun means that comfort should come first.

Wear practical attire. Choose light colors, they deflect heat and keep your core temperature down. Be sure to bring a light outer layer like a hoodie or nylon windbreaker. Carry a bag that fits comfortably over your shoulder (dudes, bring your own bag; your lady friends aren't responsible for lugging around your crap). Bring a hat to keep away the sun, but not one that will block the view of the people behind you (unless you're in Montana or a Hot Topic store circa 2002, lose the cowboy hat). Remember to don some shades that block at least 70 percent of UVB rays and 60 percent of UVA rays and that won't break the bank if they get lost, stolen or stepped on.

Choose your footwear carefully. Flip-flops might seem sensible, but you'll be walking through gravel in Grant Park and dirt fields in Union Park. Canvas slides make a great choice for girls and gals; they're comfy, light, breathable and cheap enough to take a few fallen beers without breaking your heart. Ladies, slip the flip-flops in your bag for the after-party.

Prepare for the weather with consideration. Rain is part of the fun, but being poked in the eye with an umbrella is not. Lollapalooza (which has the strictest guidelines of Chicago's summer festivals) allows small-handed umbrellas, so bring it if you really can't stand to get wet. But please, don't bust it out during a drizzle; you'll inhibit the sightlines of those behind you, who paid just as much and are likely considerate enough to keep their umbrellas tucked away. Plastic ponchos are a much more practical option; they take up less space, keep you dry all over and don't annoy your fellow festival-goers.

Don't be "that guy" (or girl)

In the realm of concert-going, there are many unspoken rules: don't wear the t-shirt of the band you're going to see; don't flash the stage (it's not 1987, and you aren't at a Poison concert); don't crowd-surf shirtless (in fact, don't crowd-surf at all) and don't, under any circumstances, yell out "Free Bird." Got all that? Good, now here are some other essential guidelines for not being a jerk while other people are trying to have fun:

Put your shirt on. No one wants to see your beer gut, tribal tattoos or the dead skin curling off your back from when you went shirtless at last weekend's festival.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em. But not around children or when standing in line. And carry a container to throw your butts in (a partially filled water bottle works great, just don't get confused).

Stay hydrated. You like beer; of course you do, it's beer. Just remember to drink water, too. You might think it's cool that you can down the brewskis from sun-up, but that person whose feet you're puking on at noon doesn't think it's very cool at all.

Hugs not drugs. Or the other way around, your choice. But please, not both. If you choose to get high, talk to the people you came with, not the innocent people standing around you. They don't care what your blue looks like.

Be Kind to Chicago

Every year Chicagoans and tourists alike descend on the city's green spaces and whole-heartedly embrace the festival season. It's a grand tradition that dates back to 1893, and the biggest fair the world had ever seen. You know what another Chicago tradition is? Keeping green space alive. Fortunately for our beautiful parks, festival organizers are taking necessary (and long overdue) strides to minimize the impact on Chicago, its resources and the environment as a whole. Now it's your turn:

Don't drive. Take public transit, carpool, bike or walk to the fest. Parking's going to suck, anyway.

Pay your share. Many fests now offer an option of offsetting your carbon footprint when you buy your ticket; it costs a few extra bucks, but maybe your unborn children will pay you back when they're able to enjoy the same green earth you are. Or maybe not.

Consume consciously. Bring a reusable water bottle, buy from local food vendors and don't leave any garbage behind.

Pick up. Bring an empty bag, and fill it with litter throughout the day. Sure, they pay people to do that, but Chicago is a windy town, and that napkin will be halfway to Mackinaw by the end of the night.

Pack that Bag

Experienced festival-goers know that your enjoyment of the weekend is directly proportionate to your bag-packing prowess. Just ask anyone who's ever passed out from heat stroke, been burnt to a crisp, or found themselves stuck in a port-o-john without any paper. In short, fest-packing is an art, an art we Centerstagers happen to excel at:

Get a sturdy bag.. Trader Joe's totes work great, but if you're going with canvas, be sure to bring some plastic bags to wrap around things that shouldn't get wet. Bring something that fits comfortably around your shoulders, is big enough to fit everything you bring with space to spare and isn't too heavy on its own (you'll be cursing that hip vintage bowling bag by noon). Beware, if your bag is too big, it might be prohibited. This regulation is enforced by the whim of the guys at the gate, so just stick to carry-on size and under and you'll be okay.

H20. Most fests are okay with you bringing in factory-sealed water, but to be a true environmental trooper (and to lighten your load), bring a refillable water bottle or an empty CamelBak. Parks are equipped with water-filling stations, and you won't be producing unnecessary waste (fact: 86 percent of empty plastic water bottles in the U.S. are not recycled (Source: Food and Water Watch)). Drink at least as much water as beer, more if possible.

Snacks. Some festivals wave the no-no flag at outside food, but we say, "Just tell 'em you're diabetic." Don't bring anything in a glass or metal container, because it will likely be confiscated at the gate. Fruit might seem like a good idea, but eat it on the way or it will get mushy by day's end. Pack like you're going on a hike: nuts, trail-mix, granola and dry cereal will give you plenty of energy, and won't take up too much room in your bag.

Protect your skin. Grab that SPF. Apply early (45 minutes before sun exposure) and often (every two hours). Try training yourself to apply a new coat every time you refill your water bottle or beer cup, so you don't end up slathered in aloe tomorrow. An SPF of 30 is ideal; it blocks 97 percent of UVB rays. Check to see that your sunscreen has Helioplex, which protects against wrinkle-causing UVA rays, too.

Keep clean. Bring a half-roll of toilet paper. It's an ideal size to carry around, and it should last you through the day. Bring a pocket-sized bottle of hand-sanitizer or travel pack of wet-naps (check in the baby section at the drugstore), because those portable sinks always run out of water, soap or paper towels (or all three). Ladies, be sure to bring more girly provisions than you think you'll need; you don't know how late you'll be out and you might be a hero to some ill-prepared line-buddy.

Sit on it. Chairs aren't allowed at most music fests, so don't even try it. Bring a thin blanket to picnic on, use as a wind-guard and stake out primo territory in front of the headliner's stage. This also comes in handy after last call, when you're drunkenly darting through downtown streets, pretending that you're Superman.

Moolah. Don't forget the money. You'll likely need enough for at least three meals, a day's worth of beverages, cab or CTA fare, spontaneous merch purchases and cover charges for unexpected detours afterwards. Stuff enough for cab or CTA fare in your shoe, just in case your wallet gets lost or stolen.

Technology. Don't forget to charge your cell phone, because you'll be texting locations with your buddies in the park all day. Leave the iPod at home. Don't bring any fancy equipment with you (pro audio, video or photo equipment is strictly prohibited, and it's one of the few things that the bouncers are told to really enforce), because it will probably get confiscated. If your camera is of acceptable size (if it's nice enough to have a detachable lens, it's not allowed), be sure you're willing to part with it, because handheld technology has a way of getting drunkenly misplaced at festivals. Hey, that's what camera phones are for!


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