Two of my kids started public school for the first time this year. They’re in kindergarten and first grade and I was just hoping they’d make it through at least a week or two before we got a call from the principal. I was also hoping that they would make friends with normal parents, mostly so they would finally realize how cool their own parents are. My kids have had a nontraditional childhood thus far. They think camping at music festivals, wearing onesies to the grocery store, and having kitchen dance parties are all normal.
But when it comes to parenting, my husband and I are not what most people would consider ‘normal.’ Neither of us have had a relationship with our parents in years, which leaves us without anyone to call and ask how to do things. We wing it, experiment, and try to find a balance between letting our kids have free range to be individuals and instilling them with the discipline and self control that have made both of us successful in life.
If you read my story How a Rave Saved My Marriage, you know I was a little late to the music festivals game, but fell in love instantly. There aren’t many other places in the world that I feel unite people in the way that celebrating a common love for music does. Once I found out that there were festivals that were all-ages, I knew I wanted to introduce our kids to the same magic and happiness we had found. I also knew that bringing three small kids to a festival (they were 2, 4, and 5 at the time) would be no small feat.
As a warm-up, we took them to How Weird Street Faire in San Francisco. We lived in San Jose at the time, so it was only an hour’s drive. A combination of internet searches and common sense told me we would need hearing protection, snacks, sunscreen and a wagon to pull them in when they inevitably grew tired of walking. We also used permanent marker to write our phone numbers on their arms in the event that any of them got separated from us.
The festival takes place in the streets of San Francisco, so it was very crowded and hard to pull the wagon around, but the kids enjoyed themselves a lot. They danced to music, had some tasty snacks, and made friends with everyone who stopped to talk to them. Best of all, they fell asleep early and slept for 14 hours that night.
For their first camping festival, we picked Lightning in a Bottle. Several people had recommended it to us and it was perfect due to its proximity to our house, as well as the wide range of family activities it offered. LiB has a dedicated Family Camping area, which is right outside the festival entrance. While camping at a festival with kids will never be easy, LiB is as close to ideal as you will find for a family festival experience.
We had never been camping with our kids before and were nervous about surviving for 4 days with them. We opted to rent a Jucy, the minivan RV conversions, which had a double bed in the interior of the van that all three of them fit on easily, plus a double bed that popped out of the top for us. There was also a mini kitchen in the back, which comes in handy with three kids who never stop eating. With a small tent set up outside to hold all of the stuff we had packed into the van, we had plenty of room for the weekend.
Our kids had a magical time at LiB. The activities that were available in the family area included Superhero Training, arts and crafts, a drum circle and many other things that kept them busy for hours. Activities started at 10AM, so we only had to keep them occupied for a few hours each morning. There was a lake to swim in, so when it got hot, they were able to cool off. Once inside the venue, LiB was a wonderland of DoLab created art structures they could explore. We even found a guy with a giant bubble wand!
The experience overall was great, but it wasn’t without its drawbacks. There may have been showers, but we didn’t see them and probably wouldn’t have attempted them if we had. We resorted to baby wipe baths for the kids a few times a day. Our kids absolutely destroyed their clothes, including onesies, playing in the grass and dirt at the festival. We saw some music, but given the fact that festivals tend to book the schedule from least to most popular, with headliners coming on well into the middle of the night, we didn’t see anyone on the lineup that we had initially been excited to see. We were in bed exhausted by 9PM every night. Ultimately, we ended up leaving after three days, partly due to our exhaustion and partly because my husband wasn’t feeling well. He ended up having an emergency appendectomy the day after we got home, so that turned out to be a lucky decision.
We used what we learned at LiB to refine our plan and processes for taking them to music festivals. I ended up buying a huge school bus so that I’d have more room and be able to take more stuff with me. That came in handy when I brought them to Oregon Eclipse Festival a few months later. I also brought their abuela for that trip, so I got a chance to see a lot more music and have some time to enjoy the festival myself. I still ended up leaving a day early because the reality is that festivaling with kids is a lot of work.
Interestingly, bringing kids to music festivals is also a more controversial topic than I would have anticipated. Some people disagree with bringing children to any festival at all, even the festivals that are all-ages. I frequently see people post in Facebook groups for festivals like Electric Forest (which is all-ages) asking whether it would be a good idea to bring their kids. They are typically met with a lot of negative reactions, with most people citing the number of intoxicated people around and adult activities that are going on.
While I do agree that your kids may end up seeing or hearing things that are outside their normal daily experiences, I believe that’s a good thing. It’s a learning opportunity and a chance to provide your kids with valuable life lessons and provide context for things they will inevitably be exposed to at some point anyway.
At How Weird Street Faire, there was an older man walking around naked. My kids noticed him before we did and asked us why he had no clothes on. We explained that some people are just more comfortable naked and that music festivals are, for a lot of people, a chance to express themselves in whatever way they want to. We told them that self-expression, as long as it isn’t hurting or bothering anyone, is something we are lucky to have the freedom to engage in.
When my kids have seen people who are intoxicated, it’s provided an opportunity to talk about self control, which is something we focus on a lot as parents in general. We explain that some things adults put in their bodies can change how they feel and act. A little bit makes them feel silly or strange, but too much and they have trouble controlling themselves and can even put themselves in danger of getting sick or dying. These are all important things for kids to learn and while the level of detail we provide will increase as they get older, I don’t think there’s an age that is too early to start having those conversations.
All of that said, we tend to get our kids back to camp before dark. Music festivals at night aren’t a place that I think kids should be for a number of reasons. People are generally more intoxicated by night time, the crowds become more dense, and it becomes exponentially more difficult to find a child that has wandered off. Luckily, all of the dancing, running around and playing my kids do at festivals means they are ready to crash at or before sunset anyway.
In June of last year, we had the opportunity to bring our kids to Electric Forest for the first time. As our favorite festival and the place we consider home, we were lucky enough to purchase a cabin on a small lake inside of the venue. This meant that, in addition to getting a chance to play in the forest during the day, our kids learned to swim, fish and got to run around barefoot in the woods on our property, providing the ideal festival experience for our family.
I believe in sharing the things that you love with your children so that they can get to know you as a real person, not just Mom and Dad. It’s something I wish my parents had done more of for me and that I am grateful to be able to do for my children. Some festivals are 18+ or 21+ for a reason, but I also believe that some are all-ages for a reason. If you prepare yourself and your kids appropriately, don’t expect to have a typical festival experience, and stay flexible, these festivals can provide for an amazing bonding activity for your family.