Years ago, I watched the documentary Taking My Parents to Burning Man, and I thought, um… hell no. Burning Man is a lot of things, but an experience I wanted to share with my mom or my dad was not one of them.
However, years later, things changed — sort of. My friend Kristin was visiting me in my hometown of Albany, New York, and she really hit it off, as I expected she would, with both my mom and her fiancé Miller. Kristin is a Central Tennessee native and had hosted me for my first Bonnaroo, which music maven Miller had been green with envy over. Kristin and my mom bonded over the fact that they both married former housepainters who now love renovating their old houses, and Miller jokingly offered to help paint Kristin and her husband’s place if they’d host him for Bonnaroo someday.
Except, it wasn’t really a joke. Kristin loved the idea, and we all vowed to reunite at Bonnaroo 2017. When friends raised their eyebrows at the idea that I was heading to a festival with parents in tow, I realized that it was a fairly unusual arrangement. But I wasn’t nervous in the slightest — after all, Kristin’s whole family attends most years!
As the sun set on the final night of the festival, I couldn’t have been more thrilled with how it all turned out. Intrigued by the idea of doing the same? Read on for ideas on how to make it the best experience possible!
1. Stay Offsite
Unless you all grew up camping, or your parents are super hardcore, you might wish to ease into your family festival-ing by staying offsite for the first one. We were lucky — we had the world’s greatest hosts in Kristin and Scott, who live nearby in said beautiful old Victorian they’re currently renovating.
But otherwise, we would have definitely opted for a hotel or an Airbnb (get $40 off your first stay using my coupon code) over camping. Normally you’d have to drag me kicking and screaming to stay offsite for a festival — but in this case, creature comforts are well worth it to set skeptical or skittish first time festival goers at ease.
2. Bring Buddies
In our particular case, this was kind of a given — Miller was really the driving force behind wanting to go to Bonnaroo for my mom, and we were the guests of one of my best blogging buddies, so we really had a built in group. And it was perfect!
Having a group meant that we were free to break off into various combinations throughout the weekend — at times I went off with my mom and Miller, other moments they were off on an adventure and I was hanging with Kristin or another friend, and other sets still I was on my own and they were hanging with the rest of our crew! Being in a group meant that everyone had plenty of breathing room, and we all got to do what we wanted to do with minimal compromising.
If you love the idea of taking one of your parents to a festival but are worried it might be too much pressure one-on-one, put a group together. Whether it’s one of your best friends and a parent of theirs that you know yours would click with (my college best friend and I infamously set our moms up on a friend date, and now they adore each other!) or a group of family friends that you know your mom or dad would love to rock out with all weekend, festivals are truly a more-the-merrier kind of situation, especially in this case.
3. Plan a Few Other Adventures
Typically, when I’m at a festival, I’m totally immersed and don’t come up for air until it’s time for the decompression party. I knew that would be a little intense for my mom, and so I was thrilled when we paused for a morning to go for a walk in a nearby state park.
Don’t be afraid to take a little time out of your busy set schedule to do something you think your mom or dad might love in the area. Yes, stopping to do an architecture tour of Palm Springs when you’re itching to get to the festival grounds might be a bit of a compromise — but come on, how cool is that your dad wanted to go to Coachella?
4. Indulge Accordingly
Again, back to the compromise. Frankly, Bonnaroo has been on the tamer scale of my festival experiences overall — even for my first ‘Roo, I was staying offsite and I was super into the health and fitness aspects of the festival, and I had an absolute blast even while practicing some serious moderation.
But regardless, even if my first Bonnaroo had been a wild explosion of hedonism and bad decisions, I would have put a lid on it when showing my mama and her man around. Yes, of course, we had a few drinks — our hosts keep the world’s best stocked home bar, after all — but I kept the all night benders and doing shots off the bar for another trip, thank you very much. It’s not that my mom doesn’t know I party — the cat is very much out of that bag — or that she doesn’t like to have a good time herself. It’s just that there’s a time and a place for everything and it’s more fun to stay more or less on the same level.
5. Make a Plan — And Stick To It
Frankly, this is good advice for any festival. That said, if your friends don’t show up at the pre-planned meeting time for Tomorrowland, you’re likely to shrug your shoulders and go off and have a good time. If you don’t show when you’re supposed to meet your mom, you’re so getting grounded!
Okay just kidding — I’m assuming you’re past that point — but chances are she won’t take it as lightly as some of your friends might. And again, I’m guessing that in this scenario, you’re the festival savvy one, and your ma is probably just getting used to the idea. In Bonnaroo’s case, cell phones rarely work well on The Farm. Be a good festival guide and meet up at the Food Truck Oasis when you say you’re going to.
6. Think It Through First
Really evaluate if your parent is going to be down for this adventure. At Bonnaroo and Burning Man, there’s a lot of nudity (top half only for the former, full monty for the latter). At Tomorrowland and Electric Daisy Carnival, there’s probably going to be a lot of drugs (and, uh, electronic dance music, which some might find even more offensive). At Coachella or Lollapalooza, you’re likely to battle crazy crowds (and not, believe it or not, of other parent child combos).
But that’s not to put you off — most festivals I’ve been to have been more multi-generational and welcoming-to-all than I ever would have imagined, and you might find yourself surprised at how easy-going and open-minded the people that made you can really be. A lot of my friends commented that they could never go to a festival with their mom or dad even though they loved the idea; I think in a lot of cases they might be selling their parents short. If going to festivals has brought you joy and happiness, it might do the same for them too! And how cool would it be to share that?
If you’re unfamiliar with a festival and wondering how dad-friendly it might be, check if they have family camping or resources geared towards guests with young children — that should be a pretty good indicator of how welcoming an environment you can expect.
From dancing in the silent disco to riding the ferris wheel to singing along on the mainstage to watching the worlds of my family and friends collide, Bonnaroo with my mom and soon-to-be stepdad was an experience I’ll never forget.
Here’s to the next family adventure!
I received a media pass to attend Bonnaroo. All other expenses were my own. All non-selfie shots that I’m in are likely courtesy of the talented Camels and Chocolate!