These days, it’s easier than ever to turn your favorite music festival into a family trip.
There’s a youthful movement underway on the festival circuit. No longer are parents forced to decide between leaving the little ones at home and abstaining from music festivals altogether (major boo). More and more, festival organizers are catering to families by creating special youth experiences and separate zones that give kids space to play, explore, and rest. Popular gatherings like Symbiosis, Lightning in a Bottle, Lucidity, Burning Man, and even Glastonbury have added special kids’ areas. Naturally, these family-friendly considerations appeal to an adult population, but they are also an investment in the future of a community that cares about continuing conservation and communion through music.
Symbiosis, which takes place at Woodward Reservoir in Northern California, is one of the most kid-friendly festivals out there. “We recognize that we’re really just stewarding the Earth and culture for the next generation,” says Marsi Frey, a principal organizer of the festival. “Philosophically, we really believe in offering an experience for this next generation that’s also mind-opening, fun, playful, and educational.”
“A festival is a world in which everyone gives everyone else permission to play, live in the moment, and really be their authentic kid selves,” says Symbiosis performer Super Tall Paul. “By being conscientious and friendly to actual children, we embrace the kid within ourselves and others. This is one of the most therapeutic aspects of being at a festival.”
So, what’s the best way to attend such events with kids? Here are some things Symbiosis organizers suggest:
1. Set the stage beforehand
The Mastermind Mamas of Family Love Village, an organization that provides kid-friendly programs at Symbiosis and other festivals headed up by Tangee Veloso, Sonia Wike, and Eva Lea, recommend getting the whole family involved in planning ahead. “Give your family a heads-up on what to expect at the festival—i.e., the social environment, what the weather will be like—and take a look together at the schedule of events and activities, especially if there is an area specific for children and families to enjoy together,” the Mamas advise. “Look at the festival website with your children. Allow your children to pack a small bag with their favorite toys and costumes. Plan a food menu for the weekend together.”
2. Pack the right gear
Each family’s packing list is going to be personal, but there are a few items everyone should bring for maximum comfort (while being eco-friendly, of course). The Symbiosis team’s must-pack list for families includes:
— Biodegradable soap
— Reusable utensils, straws, and dishware
— Eco/disposable baby wipes
— Nontoxic sunscreen
— Water bottle spray or pump mister
— Earmuffs to protect children’s ears
— Headlamps for the whole family
— Camelbak hydration packs: These make it easier for the whole family to carry water, as well as any necessary stuff, such as extra toilet paper for the porta-potties, sunscreen, lip balm, and snacks
— Extra trash bags
— A sturdy wagon (with a canopy for shade) or stroller
— LED lights to decorate the wagon or stroller at night, as well as fun LED items to festoon yourself and your children
— Fun costumes for the whole family
— Bathing suits (if your festival, like Symbiosis, is on the water!)
— Water toys
3. Take advantage of family camping areas
If there’s a dedicated space for families to camp together, stay there. These zones are usually closer to all the action—organizers know that it’s no fun pushing a stroller or wagon across festival grounds—and it can be comforting to be surrounded by like-minded people in the same stage of life. A quiet night’s sleep is still unlikely—sound from the stages really travels—but at least your neighbors will be less likely to be the ones keeping you up.
4. Make an emergency plan, just in case
The women of Family Love Village recommend getting familiar with the locations of the medics and medical tents as soon as you get to the event. If the festival doesn’t provide wristbands or some type of identification for you and your children to wear at all times in case you get separated, make your own: have your name and contact information on their wristbands and their names and ages written on yours. For those with older children, make a plan that works for your family, in case of an unexpected separation.
5. Bring home the best aspects of festival life to your everyday life
Sure, it’s “just” a music festival, but it can also be great family time free from the demands of work, home, and electronic devices. People are generally joyful at festivals, and there is often inspiration—in the art, the music, and the sense of community—that can be bottled up and brought home. “There’s an overall sense of deep connection that happens [at a festival] that you can bring back to daily life,” underscores Marsi Frey. “It’s purely a situational thing that happens, and it really has to do with connecting as a community and having our hearts blown wide open with all of the love that happens there.”
“One fun way to bring the spirit of the festival home is to have a little weekly family party or celebration. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it can be just your family,” explain the ladies of Family Love Village. “Turn off your phone and TV, put some music on, and have a picnic in your patio, yard, or in your living room. Children love when we switch up our daily routines. Play, dance, laugh, and be present. You will be building wonderful and unforgettable memories.”