I left the music festival because it was too loud: Untangling the threads of a impending offbeat mama identity crisis

This is me at 5 months pregnant and NOT at the festival I'd been looking forward to all year.

My identity as an electronic music fan (yes, ok fine: raver) dates back to 1996. I edited a rave magazine called Lotus through the late '90s, met my husband at a new years rave, and even though I stopped going to warehouse parties in 2000 or so, I've continued to attend loud outdoor festivals every summer in the decade since. These festivals included Burning Man 1999 – 2003, and then an awesome Canadian dance music festival called Shambhala for the last 4 years. Andreas and I go with a big crew of other aging dancers ranging from late 20s to early 40s, and have had wonderful times.

This year was different.

Of course I knew things would be really different for me, being pregnant and sober and all. But we had a good friend who attended the festival at 8 months pregnant last year and had a great time.

When we arrived at the festival Friday morning, I was immediately aware that I didn't have the same energy to wander from stage to stage, and leaving the dance floor 3 times an hour to pee was bothersome … but I was going to have a great time regardless because going to dance music festivals is what I do, pregnant or not! I wouldn't say I was having a great time, but I was HAVING A TIME, dammit!

Early Saturday evening, the friends I was camped with all decided we'd take "disco naps" before heading out for the night … just as our camping neighbors decided that would be the perfect time to enforce their musical tastes upon us by pounding awful genre-less banging music from their enormous sound system.

Dre and I looked at each other.

"I don't think a nap is happening," I shouted over our neighbor's awful music.

"This sucks," Dre said. "I kind of want to leave."

"Leave?!" I said. But, Shambhala is my favorite festival! Even if I wasn't having the best time evar, I wasn't ready to just turn around and go home.

"We could go to Nelson, BC tonight and then go camping in the Kootenay Mountains tomorrow," Dre said.

…And that sounded wonderful.

An hour later we'd packed up our camp, hugged our friends farewell, and were on the road north to Nelson. We stayed in a hotel that night, wandered the town the next morning, and then headed north to a hot springs resort to soak. The afternoon was spent on the shores of Lake Kootenay and that evening at a campground. It was perfect.

I felt 100% awesome about our decision to leave the festival, but I can't deny that I had to do a little chewing on the identity ramifications.

Back in my rave magazine days, I used to write a LOT about the value of dance and celebration. My nickname at the magazine was "Little Fists In The Air" because I was a fucking dance activist, people!

I wrote an article for Lotus in 1998 called "Maintaining The Groove" (I am physically wincing right now over that title) that was all about how "The moment you stop Dancing is the moment you begin to die, so Dance forever." (Yes, we capitalized the word Dance because that's how seriously we took ourselves it.) Even as an overly enthusiastic slightly dogmatic 22 year old, I was keenly aware that the rave scene's age-based homogeneity was a problem in terms of cultural sustainability.

Having built the early years of my writing career on screeds like Maintaining The Groove (you can go read it: vintage typos and all!), I guess it's understandable that the statement "I left the electronic music festival because it was too loud" would be more loaded for me than it might be for others.

There's a lot of defensiveness that comes up for me, some of which I think is rational: I have friends in their 40s who still go to parties! I knew people who felt "too old" in their early 20s! Age is just a number! This isn't about me getting older or being pregnant!

There's no denying it: leaving my favorite festival after 36 hours feels like untangling some tiny last fine threads that held me to my rave career. It's been a gradual process — I haven't been a true RAVER!!! since I resigned from Lotus in 2001, attending mostly just hippie-raves and outdoor festivals since 2002. Once I started getting my morning dancing in with NIA in 2006, I gave up on most late-night electronic dance music events. Shambhala and a couple nights at clubs a year have been my last vestiges of my former rave identity.

I have had a HELL of a run, partying loud and proud for almost 15 years … I banged the fuck out of my youth.

When I think about this rationally, I know of course that there's NOTHING WRONG here. I have had a HELL of a run, partying loud and proud for almost 15 years. I've been shouting over speaker stacks since I was 20 years old. When it's time for my midlife crisis, it will not include pining over not attending enough loud parties or not having enough fun in my youth. I banged the fuck out of my youth.

I also have to remind myself that the form is NOT the function. Dancing and celebratory gatherings have been a part of my world since childhood. It's not like I don't have examples of how dance can shift through the phases of a person's life: I look at my parents and see that they've both integrated dance and gatherings and celebrations through-out their lives. Mom still does African Dance and drumming. Dad still loves his Ecstatic Dance classes.

I keep having to remind myself that not enjoying a form of dance that did me good for almost 15 years doesn't somehow represent the Demise of All Fun in my life. Leaving a music festival doesn't mean I'm going to stop dancing. It's just that the era of super loud, super big, super intoxicated, all-night parties may be coming to a gentle close. There are a LOT of places to dance in this world, and while I want to dance forever … I'm not sure I want to dance all night with strangers as much as I used to.

Not that parenthood won't still be an abrupt transition, but feeling like I'm losing my identity as a party maven is something I've dealt with for years. (Although, as this situation is evidence of, not always without a few clutchings and bittersweet moments.) It's been a gentle amble in this direction, and my favorite moments of the last couple years have all been about spontaneous walks to the park with friends, soaking in my mom's hot tub, participating in ridiculous choreographed dance routines, shaking it on a sprung wood floor at a dance studio, and laughing over good stories and tasty food.

In closing, I'll quote my 22 year old self:

Since none of us can maintain (or re-obtain) our youth, we can learn from it. Maintain attitudes of openness, curiosity and enthusiasm. Never let your heart or your body harden. Remember that when people say they've "grown out of Dancing," they often mean that their heart has grown old. Do not let this happen to you. For the sake of yourself, for the sake of our community, for the sake of our shared experience as a generation, for the sake of our shared joy as humans, promise to Dance for the rest of your life!

And I will Dance [sic] for the rest of my life. At friend's houses. At dance studios. At gentler festivals like this one. In parks. With my husband. With our son.

I'm especially looking forward to that last one.

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  1. Is it pathetic that I got a little misty at that the last paragraph?

    I think you nailed the issue right on the head in that you're not giving up dance, you're just changing the medium to suit who you are and what you feel expresses you best right now. I bet your baby boy will just love to dance when he's ready to come out and play. Heck, I bet he's dancing right now!

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    • Absolutely not … I am sitting here at work getting misty myself … and wanting to get up and dance dance dance!! :-)

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  2. Ah hahahahahaha. Sorry, not laughing at YOU at ALL Ariel, more at the scent of familiarity of growing out of the festival scene. I am a off-beat-pre-mumma who gave up on the 'rave' scene after I heard myself lecturing the 'next-door-campers' about their non-traditional use of balloons and gases…to the cries of 'nanna go home'…off I went! I was the one that asked you whether you still raved recently, and I guess I asked cos I kind of feel I lost a whole chunk of 'me' when I stopped that particular dance scene too. I have since found the 'boogie' in me again- it was in a bellydancing class at the local hall, and on a poorly lit podium in a dingy dark club, also in my kitchen when there's cooking to be done – that seems to really go OFF!!!!! Best of luck with your BoogieBubba

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  3. You know, people actually asked me if I was going to Burning man this year….. Im right there with you, Lady.

  4. I've never been the raving type – more like the mellow hippie music fest type. But I can really relate to how disconcerting it is to realize you're just not into what you used to be into anymore. There have been a few shows this summer that we've ended up leaving early because 5 hours on my feet at 6 months pregnant is just not fun at all.

  5. Yeah, the scenes may be different … but the realities are the same. I've had similar conversations with indie rock scenesters, jam band fans, etc. It's disorienting when you've built part of your identity around a music culture that eventually stops serving you the ways it used to! I still contend this isn't just an issue of pregnancy or age for me … BUT STILL!

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  6. Me too! I love love love the idea of Ariel dancing with her son…her whole family. We're going to check out BabyLovesDisco sometime soon because the bf and I too met at a "party" and it just seems natural to dance with Alexa :-)

  7. We skipped three festivals this summer because of the bump. Oh, the heat! Oh, the travel! Oh, the standing, the peeing, the fatigue, the discomfort…When we found out we were pregnant we swore, no way will being pregnant stop me from doing the stuff that makes me happy…except when the challenges become greater than the fun.

    Now that he's here (a mere 11 days ago) I'm trying to find infant hearing protection because there are two shows before the season ends that I'm delusional enough to think we might make it to.

    Music has been such a big part of our lives as individuals, and a bigger part of our lives as a couple…I can't really wrap my brain around possibly losing that…maybe I just don't want to…

  8. I think it's all about finding ways to integrate the music and culture into your new life that feel like a good fit. For me, I'm thinking daytime music festivals, earplugs, and a lot of dancing around the living room … but we'll see how it all shakes out.

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  9. I don't know a lot about the raver or Burning Man scenes specifically, but as someone who experienced her first Grateful Dead concert at age 8 months I really admire how my parents worked their love of music and festivals into our family life. They found a bluegrass/rock/folk festival with a family-oriented atmosphere (Strawberry Music Festival in Yosemite, CA) and we went as a family for about ten solid years. (They still go. I haven't made it for the past several years, wah.)

    But anyway, I have the most amazing childhood memories of falling asleep on a picnic blanket in a field, looking up at the stars, and listening to Bela Fleck or Richard Thompson or whoever. I'm sure my parents didn't experience the festival as fully as they would have without kids to take care of, but they went and did it and had a blast, and I can't wait to copy them.

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  10. Oh man, ME TOO. I think that's part of what I'm wrestling with: I want to continue going to festivals and music events, I just have to find the ones that feel like the right place … and Shambhala made it clear this year that it wasn't it.

    I really am hoping the Beloved Festival is a better fit. They have a kids village!

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  11. I LOVE this post! I am an ecstatic dancer (which is a new term to me and one I love) and am well known in my area (which is small and midwestern: read backward) as the dancingest chick at the show. I can dance to ANYTHING that has a beat (and sometimes things without beat as well) and I LOVE to dance. It can be industrial, techno, rock, country, bluegrass, pop, hip-hop, reggae, tribal, or latin and I will be dancing to it. Disco? Polka? Electric Slide? Yep I'm dancing. It is my favorite exercise and expression and it makes me happy! I like reading about Ariel-the-dancer and also reading how that person has changed and adapted with age, but hasn't been diluted or replaced. You are pretty much who I want to be when I 'grow up' but in my Julia way. Thanks for the inspiring post.

  12. "There are a LOT of places to dance in this world, and while I want to dance forever & I'm not sure I want to dance all night with strangers as much as I used to." yes this! i have felt this exact way in the four year that i have been a mom and just couldn't ever find the words to explain myself but you hit the nail on the head. you most certainly can keep dancing!! but it's true, the settings change as your life changes and that's okay! i have three sons and they are my favourite dance partners. i actually just got into hooping in the last few months and my oldest son totally loves it too. i love how he always wants to hoop with me and show me his tricks, especially when he's wearing his spiderman costume. :) i love how he hoops in costume!

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  13. My wife and I took our son to some really great festivals this year — with some disturbingly loud music — and got tipped off to these really great Peltor headphones for kids.

    Link to amazon:

    Of course, now the hard part is keeping him from taking them off on the dance floor!

  14. I found out i was pregnant a week before Bonnaroo. I was partly disappointed that i was pregnant RIGHT BEFORE Bonnaroo, but i was also very grateful that i found out when i did, because i would have made a lot of bad decisions for my baby during the festival. I have to say, it was my third Bonnaroo and I was trying soo hard to have a good time, but i was miserable. It was hot, I couldn't comfortably use a porto-potty, and i couldn't really stay up super late for the awesome shows and dance and have an awesome time because quite frankly, i was absolutely exhausted. This was by far, the hardest part of my pregnancy so far and I'm 22 weeks along, everything going smoothly (as smooth as pregnancy goes).
    We aren't giving up on festivals by any means (in fact, we think it will make for good family vacations if done properly) but I don't think i'll be attending another one while being pregnant.
    I can't wait to find a new family friendly festival to attend!

  15. I bought tickets to the warped tour before I got pregnant so when the time came I was about a month and a half. I didn't have the energy to walk around as much or stand the heat and I even took a mini nap in the shade. I'm already too old for that festival anyway and I stopped going to gigs a while back almost since I got married three years ago so I'm not making huge changes, most of them I've already made. Three weeks ago I went to see The Killers and we were so high up the nausea came but the nausea has been coming for any reason so that wasn't a surprise. I don't see any upcoming shows in my pregnancy period though, I mean I don't see the point if I and baby don't feel comfortable. Later on I know we will share our love of music with our child but I will do it as safely and responsibly as I can, while still being able to rock out.

  16. Leaving shams would be a very difficult thing to do, no matter how little fun you were having. I understand, It's my favorite festival too. Met my fiance there, but we are already feeling like we are drifting away from the scene. We'll go this upcoming year, but who knows after that… Neither of us like to party like we used to (or at least as often as we used to). We've already given up on the raves, and also just hit up the occasional club night and outdoor festival. My fiance always said he'd grow up and be more responsible when he turned 30 (which he did last month)

    I'm training to be a Doula, so no more crazy parties for me either, when I'm on call, which will pretty much be always , hehe. Good training for when we do have a little one of our own.

    Anyway… Offbeat brides and Offbeatmamas are my two fav websites, and knowing you're a shambalite makes it that much better.

  17. love the tip for the beloved fest! in MN where i live there is project earth which is a family friendly festy as well. can't wait for the summer to bring my little one to positive places like those! the good festivals are the ones you can bring a kid to without worry :) awesome blog, by the way!

  18. oh I'm totally misty eyed! haha I too was a "raver" for many years, and with the birth of my daughter came my "demise". I rememeber telling her father who desperately wanted to go to a desert party as I was 8 months pregnant and EXTREMELY ill and not up for it, or the drive or anything else really, "Go, have fun…your life will be chaning too once she's here"….So he did. He had a blast and I was happy for him, however I remember being incredibly jealous that I had to be the one to miss out. So while it took me a while to get back into my groove, unfortunately I haven't been to a party in years (my daughter is now 5) I've regained my identity (for the most part) and continued on. Now I listen to my electro with my daughter, and we jam together. I've taken her to a few softer music events in which she LOVED and completely enjoyed herself. So, cheers to you and the complete awesomeness you'll get from grooving with your little man in a park, to some great great music, is enough to make you jump out of your skin! Enjoy!

  19. Awwww, this totally made me weepy too. I actually got out of the scene a few years before I had my first child, because I felt too old(…at 20. Why yes, I do chase kids off of my lawn with a cane!), but I've been so conflicted about it lately as it was my everything for the entirety of my teenage years and, quite honestly, I have no idea who I am without it…and I'm kind of tired of being a mombie.

    It makes my heart flutter when my kids sing along to my music, which I play in my mini van while bopping around town on errands.

  20. i sold my cochella tickets in 08 due to pregnancy, i did however tough out s warped tour 6 months pregnant, haven't been to a concert sense

  21. I am 30 and pregnant (due July 1) and I absolutely made sure I had the dancing thing covered before we started the pregnancy.

    I could still dance up through month 4 at clubs without feeling awkward about it (I am a curvy gal, so it didn't really show) until the point where I couldn't do a smooth spin kick. After that I went to the local skating rink – movement plus music is enough like dance for me – so, practically, I am really going only two months without dancing.

    The other thing I have done to make sure I never feel like 'the old person' is to chose clubbing genres that aren't age focused: latin, gay, goth, steampunk, folk, etc. It also ensures that I never get bored – I switch up my dancing style and am incorporating moves from one genre to another; I am also not listening to the same music over and over.

    It seems like we're talking about the evolution of dance in our lives but, for me, it was important to make sure that I was evolving as a dancer. Otherwise, you get club fatigue going to the same places with the same people listening to the same music.

  22. http://www.babycenter.com/406_is-it-safe-to-go-to-a-rock-concert-when-im-pregnant_1245283.bc

    last night my husband told me Agent Orange will be in town for a show in October, right around my week 32. so i researched and found a lot of advice all saying what this site basically says about attending loud music functions. we're still planning to go, but i'll be sitting in the back happily chair-dancing. to me it's not a big deal since nearly 10 years ago i realized that while my heart is still young, my body isn't a kid anymore and i don't enjoy shows in the same manner (moshing) as i used to.

    perhaps, with the information from this site, it isn't that your identity is changing. maybe your baby was just telling you he/she was uncomfortable, you picked up on that, and left for more low key activities.

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