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August 13, 2012

The Idiot's Guide to Taking Your Kids to an Outdoor Music Festival

Main stage at FloydFest 2012 (Roger Gupta)

I recently took my kids camping to FloydFest, a four-day music festival located off Milepost 170.5 on the Blue Ridge Parkway in southwestern Virginia. This was my first outdoor music festival, so I went with some trepidation given it was just me, my budding young rockers, and a stack of gear to supply our camping foray amid a crowd of dyed-to-the-core hippies, teenage flower-power wannabes, yoga-loving urbanites, and plenty of other families. The good news is we had a great time, enjoying an eclectic lineup of artists ranging from alt-rock to bluegrass to American folk. And between the acts, we literally never had to make a plan, drifting from jugglers to trapeze school to climbing wall and back to magicians. So don't be shy about taking your kids to a music festival in your neck of the woods. But if (or when) you do, here are some tips to help you make the most of the mayhem.

Love Thy Neighbors
Forget the primordial instinct to be the sole provider of food and shelter to your offspring. If you, like me, have only one pair of hands to erect a tent while your kids roam the campground, then just strike up a conversation with your fellow campers. There's something to be said for the communal aspect of driving into the woods to listen to music and howl at the moon for a few days. We didn't meet an unfriendly soul, and all were happy to lend a hand stretching out a rainfly or chat with the kids while I fussed around. (OK, I confess, maybe the friendly vibe occasionally had something to do with the exotic scents filling the air.)

Read's guide to the best summer music festivals

Bring a Good Book
A book at a music festival, you say? This one saved us during a particularly fierce afternoon thunderstorm, when we were sent packing into our tent for a few hours. As the wind and rain lashed through the trees, I was relieved to be able to fish out that children's novel that I'd packed on a whim to read to the kids. We also got through countless games of Uno and Go Fish. These few items don't weigh much or take up much space but will be worth their weight in gold if the weather doesn't cooperate.

Pack Earplugs
FloydFest features a "quiet" camping area, but just because it's labeled quiet doesn't mean it's soundproof. With respect to FloydFest, the quiet camping zone was located on a slope just off the main stage, which winds down earlier than the festival's other stages, but you could still hear music pumping till well past 3 a.m. (after which point, revelers return to their tents and you can hear, well... um, other nocturnal sounds—luckily my two were out by that point). Short of actually going to sleep with earplugs, rip up the nighttime routine and stay up as late as their stamina will allow. A day and night of fresh air, dancing, and playing does wonders for triggering instant sleep amid even the loudest of jam-band sets.

Prepare Food & Munchies
FloydFest has a mouthwatering array of vendors selling everything from organic burgers to crêpes to stir-fried noodles. Throw in the local homebrews and a 24-hour coffee shack, and you're never short of sustenance. But, boy, does it get expensive. Bring some cash, but in order to protect some of those reserves, don't overlook your own supply of snacks and simple camp meals. My trusty MSR PocketRocket stove was on hand to boil up pasta or hot-dogs at a match-strike's notice, which meant I had a little money left in my wallet to get my daughter that tie-dyed "rainbow" dress she absolutely had to have as a souvenir the day we left.

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Related Topics: Family Vacation · Holidays, Events, & Festivals · Outdoor Adventures · Travel Tips


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Nice tip re. the Kindle/eReader. You could also load up an iPad with books and a few games in case it's wet out. Thanks for commenting.

We ventured to our first Festival with the family this year and your tips are all good, I would suggest a couple of things:

1. Switching a book for a Kindle/e-reader. Lots more books so that you are covered for all family members without filling your tent with books.

2 Dont forget the Nintendo DS to keep them amused (make sure its fully charged before you leave though!)

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