How to Do the Summer Festivals in Style

Festivals can be enormous fun, but they need advance planning and sometimes you might want to throw a bit more cash at the experience.

How to Do the Summer Festivals in Style

Governors Ball includes massages and elevated viewing areas among its VIP offerings.

Courtesy of Alive Coverage

Done properly, a summer festival can be about as much fun as you can cram into one weekend. But there are a number of factors you’ve got to get right. The weather, the food, the other people, the amenities—any one of these elements can affect the overall experience. With the right amount of planning, and a fair investment of hard-earned cash, you can improve the odds of a great time.

From intimate city shindigs to the annual mega-fests, we’ve rounded up a few ways to do the 2019 summer festival season in style. If it pours with rain or Axl Rose throws a hissy fit, we can’t help. But these options should help elevate your experience.

Governors Ball

May 31–June 2, Randall’s Island Park, New York

The Strokes, Nas, and Florence + The Machine are among the top tier acts making their way onto the island this year, and the event has its VIP options sewn up. The main upgrade buys you seating, shaded areas, and air-conditioned restrooms, as well as a bunch of food vendors exclusive to the area. Lolo’s Seafood Shack, which calls itself “the original Cape Cod/Caribbean mash-up,” and ramen favorite Tojo’s Kitchen are among the options.

Throw in complimentary afternoon massages and separate merch booths and the extra dollars start to seem worth it. One step more exclusive is its VIP Plus package, which adds elevated viewing areas with comp bars and food tokens. All VIP areas are 21+ too, if kids at festivals aren’t your thing.

Even if you’re heading to Governors Ball as a mere standard ticket holder, the festival has partnered with TSA PreCheck (along with Forecastle in Louisville, New Orleans Voodoo Fest, and others) to offer fast-pass lanes for PreCheck customers. Sign up in advance to get the ball rolling.

VIP tickets are $255 per day ($705 for the weekend) while VIP Plus will run you $700 per day or $1,950 for the weekend.

Bonnaroo has created areas and experiences with many different guests in mind.

Bonnaroo has created areas and experiences with many different guests in mind.

Courtesy of Andrew Jorgensen / Bonnaroo

Bonnarooo Music & Arts Festival June 13–16, Manchester, Tennessee

Bonnaroo offers a host of extras with its standard VIP package, including showers with attendants, separate Wi-Fi, and the option to rent air-conditioned tents. Spring for its Platinum package, meanwhile, and you’ll be ferried between the exclusive viewing areas on golf carts, while back at the campground you’ll enjoy spa treatments, lawn games, an open bar and free breakfast, plus complimentary tastings from food vendors.

However, you don’t need to shell out hundreds to elevate your festival experience. Dedicated camping areas cater to different needs: Hit up Soberoo to find like-minded people staying sober during the weekend or She-Roo, an area for women and nonbinary individuals. The latter is promising meditation, murals, and meet-ups, as well as panel discussions, self-defense classes, and glitter stations. It’s an extra $50.

VIP tickets are available in pairs for $1,650 while Platinum are $6,550 a pair.

Pitchfork Music Festival

July 19–21, Union Park, Chicago

Pitchfork knows a thing or two about great music, and the lineup this year is no exception. From Haim to Earl Sweatshirt via Kurt Vile and Charli XCX, it’s got all the genre bases covered, with The Isley Brothers and Belle & Sebastian providing the legacy thrills.

In recent years the fest has expanded its VIP offerings, with Pitchfork Plus tickets including curated food and cocktails from a Chicago restaurant as well as a welcome bag, free ice cream, and the all-important shaded and elevated areas.

Pitchfork Plus tickets range from $375 to $400 for a three-day pass depending on when you buy them.


August 1–4, Grant Park, Chicago

Lollapalooza takes VIP to the next level. Its offerings range from the $2,200 VIP ticket to a $4,400 Platinum experience and a new-for-2019 Insider ticket, a “fully customizable package” for a “once-in-a-lifetime, behind-the-scenes experience” that starts at $25,000 for two.

What do these levels buy you? The first includes “intimate performances” in the Lolla Lounge daily, as well as exclusive areas and golf carts to get you around. Platinum will get you on stage at the North and South stages and entry into other premium viewing areas, while the Insider ticket throws in SUV transportation to and from the site, those golf carts again (but this time they’re on demand), a concierge, and an elevated cabana with full-service bar and premium viewing.

Outside Lands is as much about the local wine as the music.

Outside Lands is as much about the local wine as the music.

Photo by Jeremy Cohen / Outside Lands

Outside Lands August 9–11, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Most festivals have upped their game on the food and drink front in recent years, but at Outside Lands it really does take equal billing to the music. Eater even refers to the weekender, in its annual preview, as “San Francisco’s best food festival with occasional music.” We’re talking 80 restaurants, Michelin stars sprinkled among them, 46 wineries offering 125 different wines, and 31 breweries. “The ability to taste and buy wines from regional producers in a well-decorated tent makes the whole festival feel more upmarket,” AFAR editor and regular attendee Michelle Baran rhapsodizes.

This year, Outside Lands is offering a standard VIP package with separate lines, hospitality areas, and an exclusive performance, as well as a Golden Gate Pass, promising elevated views of the main stage, an all-inclusive bar with some of those top beers, wines, and cocktails, and a priority phone line for customer service in the months leading up to the event.

Three days as a VIP costs $815 while the Golden Gate Pass comes in at $1,595.

Austin City Limits

October 4–6 and October 11–13, Zilker Park, Austin, Texas

With about a million bands, from Guns N’ Roses and The Cure to Robyn and Cardi B, playing across two weekends, Austin City Limits is a great reason to head to Texas in the fall. The festival has two tiers of premium tickets, VIP and Platinum, with the former offering its own entrance, access to the VIP Grove area with shaded seating and a great sightline of the main stage; the latter adds a Premium Lounge with craft beer and cocktails as well as up-close viewing areas and even on-stage viewing for the two main stages.

Even better: A portion of the price goes to the Austin Parks Foundation, which benefits over 300 public parks, trails, and green spaces. Over $35 million has been raised and spent so far, improving not only the host site, Zilker Park, but also other parks in 10 different council districts.

It’s $1,200 for the three-day VIP ticket and $3,600 for Platinum. One day costs $495 and $2,000, respectively.

>> Next: Why Micro-Festivals Are Perfect For Music-Loving, Globe-Trotting Souls

Tim Chester is a deputy editor at AFAR, focusing primarily on destination inspiration and sustainable travel. He lives near L.A. and likes spending time in the waves, on the mountains, or on wheels.
From Our Partners
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
More From AFAR