festival season

When Are You Too Old for Music Festivals?

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These days, you can smell a music festival coming a mile away. Before it’s even 50 degrees outside, Instagram ads and promotional emails for “festival ready” attire start popping up. Am I ready? you ask yourself, bracing for the inevitable barrage of blurry concert videos, crop tops, and jorts that will soon flood your feed. Some people are more than ready; they wait their whole calendar year for the opportunity to howl at the moon with 100,000 other people. Others dread it, running as fast as they can in the opposite direction, which presumably leads to a small concert in a dark basement.

Every spring, we are presented with these choices. But do we ever grow out of music festivals? Is there a point at which we say to our inner raver: Enough is enough? Two music festivalgoers — one at the end of her run, and the other just at the beginning — debate the merits of going, and of giving up.

Anna Silman: I have been to an embarrassing number of music festivals in my 28 years of life. I’ve been to Glastonbury, Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Sonar, Wayhome, Osheaga (multiple times), Governor’s Ball (also multiple times), and a bunch of others with equally Seussical names I can’t remember. I have slept in a ten-person tent in 100-degree Tennessee heat and showered by dumping a bottle of water on my head. I have waited in porta-potty lines that snaked to the end of the Earth. I have worn rave makeup and tie-dye crop-tops and floral headdresses and cat whiskers (don’t ask). Music festivals were a formative part of my 20s. And yet there comes a time in every woman’s life where she realizes she is simply too old for this shit. That time has come for me. Last year, all of a sudden, I knew with shocking clarity that I would never go to another music festival again. And it felt amazing. Emilia, join me.

Emilia Petrarca: I will never give up on music festivals!!! I’m admittedly not as hard core as you — I have only been to a handful, but even my worst experiences weren’t bad enough to make me want to give up forever. I went to Governor’s Ball in 2013 — the year there was a torrential downpour and Kanye West canceled (which I found out after I got there). I remember standing at the edge of a tent trying to enjoy Erykah Badu’s performance, the back half of my body still in the rain and my arms clutching a bowl of overpriced mac-and-cheese to stay warm. Someone pushed me, and my noodles went flying. The memory of them sinking into the mud and then fully disappearing into the depths of Randall’s Island still devastates me. But then I went back the next day! And the day after that. It builds character. What was the moment that made you want to quit?

AS: Funnily enough I think Governor’s Ball was actually the breaking point for me, and the moment, in particular, was when a bunch of teens came up to me and asked me to buy them beer. That was … sobering. Literally. But I also think I’d been growing out of festivals for a while. I came to realize that I’d much rather go see a single concert that I could be fully immersed in rather than half-watch a bunch of things from the back of a field. I can never fully hear or see what’s going on and at that point it feels like I might as well be watching the set on TV from the comfort of my bed.

EP: I also prefer the single-concert experience. Like most New Yorkers, I feel the need to quietly weep in a sea of people once in a while. Festivals are just different; it’s not one over the other in my mind. They offer a more out-of-body experience with trees and grass and sky. Coachella, which takes place in the desert, is particularly satisfying to me. I remember mimicking Lorde’s ridiculous dance moves and feeling both a part of something and totally alone. At more intimate New York concerts, I always run into someone I know, or work with, and feel self-conscious. It’s a little too “cool.” No one at a music festival is cool, and I love that. You also get like, three stadium tours for the price of one.

AS: It’s true that at a good festival you definitely feel like you’re part of something — like you’re sharing this massive communal experience. And you can’t beat the bang for your buck. But as I get older I feel like I’m less aware of being part of a crowd and more just annoyed by the other people in it. Since festivals have become increasingly commercialized, I tend to feel like I’m in one big Instagram story instead of actually having an unmediated live experience. I have no patience for Coachella fuckboys anymore. Or for not being on molly while everyone else is on molly. Like, I’m sure Woodstock was amazing, but I always think about how Joni Mitchell didn’t even go to the festival — she wrote “Woodstock” from the comfort of her hotel room, because she had a talk-show appearance the next day and didn’t want to be all sun-stroked and muddy for it. That’s kind of where I’m at in my life right now. Not to compare myself to Joni Mitchell …

EP: Yeah, it sounds like you and Joni Mitchell have cracked the code. You’ve seen the music-festival Matrix. I think I’ve got a few more in me, though. I will forever regret not seeing Beyoncé’s Coachella performance.

AS: That’s a good point. For Beyoncé I would probably make an exception.

EP: I watched from home and it was clear to me that going into debt would have been worth the live experience. I think I have to wait until she does Coachella again for me to quit, I don’t care how old I am.

AS: Wait, how old are you?

EP: Twenty-six. I’m about to be 27, though!

AS: Talk to me in a year or two.

When Are You Too Old for Music Festivals?