I went to my first large outdoor electronic music festival in 1996 when I was 21. The event was called “FutureSoul Festival” and I spent a significant portion of the weekend rolling around in a sleeping bag on the grass, trying to keep my brain from exploding from what’s known as “candyflipping.” By the time I was finally in stable enough condition to dance, I got in about an hour of flailing before the cops showed up and shut the event down for lack of appropriate permitting.
In the decades since, I’ve attended dozens of music festivals in various states of inebriation and ridiculousness, not just in the US but abroad… the Glastonbury in the UK, Love Parade in Berlin, Roskilde in Denmark. One of my all-time favorites that I attended for years was Shambhala in British Columbia. Man, those were some good festivals. Dancing your ass off surrounded by a sea of sweating people in the open air? Camping with friends and stumbling in and out of tents that shivered with bass being blasted a half mile away? Good times in my 20s, and good times in my 30s.
Miraculously, here I am, almost 20 summers after my first big music festival… building my summer yet again around a festival, this time, Oregon’s Beloved Festival. This time, I’m 40 years old. 40, you guys. It’s time to confront that I may be the equivalent of the old guy at the club, and why I’m totally ok with that. Here’s why.
Dancing outdoors is still the best
Yes ok fine: in my early 20s music festivals were as much about getting fucked up as they were about dancing. The reality of my life is this, though: I LOVE DANCING, and I love dancing outdoors best of all. While there be some aspects of any music scene that are best enjoyed in your youth, I would argue that “moving your body to music” should never EVER be considered one of them. For those who truly love dance (and I love it so much that I used to capitalize the word Dance, because it was Very Sacred and deserved Special Emphasis), there’s no age limit on that. Some cultures are better at recognizing this than others, and mainstream American culture is still working on it.
Depending on the festival, I’m in great company
Certainly this is where picking the RIGHT festival starts to be the most important factor. Shambhala was my jam for years, and then suddenly it was some combination of it being too coked up and me being too old. Picking the right festival is extra complicated because of course festivals shift year to year, but when a friend in her 40s told me a few years ago about Beloved in Oregon, I was hopeful. I looked at pictures of previous years and could see that the attendees came in a range of ages. Sure, the bulk were 20s and 30s, but children and The Olds were also well represented.
Having attended now for three years, I can say that I don’t even feel old at Beloved — culturally, the event does a great job of having day music and workshops for folks who want that (who often skew a bit older) and then late night music for those who want that (who usually skew younger). Last year, I found myself getting down on the outdoor dance floor with a guy who’s dance style reminded me of something — turns out he’d been raving in London in the late ’80s (old school!) and had lived in SF in the mid-90s (like me) and his dancing was totally that SF style I remember so well. Plus, he was even older than I was.
Not high? Doesn’t matter
At 40, I am no longer that person gurning half-naked on the dance floor, stumbling around with dilated pupils. Now I’m the person who offers that person a sip of water helps them find their friends on a blanket. During my gurning years, I had hundreds of high encounters with kind strangers who kept me hydrated, made sure I was safe, and helped me out. As the older, less high person at the music festival, it’s my turn to pay back the kindnesses paid to me back in the day.
The people-watching OMG
Yes, dance (with a capital D or not) is still very important to me, but without a doubt my second-favorite thing to do at music festivals is watching people. I live in a dense urban Seattle neighborhood known for its hipsters and gays, so I get some decent people-watching in my daily life… but there’s no denying that people are decked out and in rare form at music festivals, and the people-watching gets elevated to some next-level shit. Eavesdropping, too!
Be a living example that life doesn’t end at 29
If I worry that mainstream American culture doesn’t have much to offer when it comes to examples of older folks having fun dancing, then isn’t it my responsibility to be the change I wish to see? Look, young friends: you can be 40-years-old, reasonably successful and competent, have a family and run a business… and still manage to get out on the dance floor every once in a while!
At 40, I celebrate different things on the dance floor than I did when I was 21… but it still feels important to celebrate. I don’t go to music festivals to regress or pretend I’m younger than I am (I looooove sleeping at music festivals omg I’m like the best rested day-dancer everrrr), but it feels important to be both very adult, and very committed to getting down and celebrating. At music festivals now, I’m responsible about eating well, sleeping well, taking care of myself, AND enjoying myself. I was still learning those skills in my early 20s, but now I know how to do all these things! Isn’t adulthood awesome?!
My kid gets to learn stuff
I’ve written about how much I love bringing my son to Beloved, but as he gets older, going to music festivals with him is getting even more awesome. Sure, dancing with him is great, but I also love people-watching with him, and music festivals give us an amazing opportunity to have very natural, early conversations about substance use and abuse. I’m a firm believer in harm reduction, and while my kid’s only 5 and likely won’t encounter friends using substances for another 5-10 years, I love that we can have conversations NOW about why that bug-eyed girl is rolling around in the dirt, and if that sweaty and crying guy in the ripped pants looks like he’s having fun.
This is also where picking the RIGHT festival to go to is critical. I wouldn’t take my kid to a festival where everyone’s top priority was getting fucked up. In part because it wouldn’t be much fun for him, but also because it’s disrespectful to the other attendees. Beloved Festival makes it clear that children are welcome, while also having a late-night dance floor that’s clearly intended for adults.
And yeah, ok: the music is awesome
I can’t believe I’m saving this for last because of course it’s most important: music is fucking awesome, and hearing new music at festivals is the best. A few years ago, after hearing her sing at Beloved, my son became obsessed with C.C. White, a singer who rocks a niche known as “Soul Kirtan.” Toddlers love repetitive music, and devotional soul music (it’s a thing!) hit a sweet spot for him that I never would have thought to introduce him to. Last summer, I danced my ass off to Odezsa, who I’d never heard of (despite their being from Seattle). Why? Because I don’t go out as much as I used to, duh! (Too busy sleeping!) Dancing myself into a sweaty pump to Odezsa for two hours was a high point of my summer, and their music carried me through a dreary fall.
Look, I totally get that music festivals aren’t everybody’s jam, and that for some of us they stop being fun. Hell, I wrote a post called I left the music festival because it was too loud! But for those of us who are able to find music festivals, at the right time, that fit and feel good? Age ain’t got no limit on celebrating that.
Tickets are on sale now for the Beloved Festival, August 7-10 2015. Maybe I’ll see you there this summer?
Comments on Why I’m totally ok being the 40-year-old at the music festival
Love this! Music festivals aren’t my thing, but your passion for them jumps off the screen, and that makes me both want to go to a festival and hug you. Go rock out and have a blast!
This exactly. I’ve never really enjoyed music festivals (not ever having had ANY exposure to substances beyond caffeine until AFTER college, and even then third-hand, all the unknowns and horror stories freak me out too much to have a good time at places like festivals), this really makes me want to find an awesome festival near me that I COULD enjoy! And at the very least makes me proud to be passionate in what I’m passionate about, regardless if it’s “appropriate” for my age or not. Thanks for putting it so eloquently!
(July 2019) Just back from a big festival at 44… oh yeah! They’re my happy place :-). My copilot had crapped out but came good just prior and we had a ball! We both love live music and letting it all out and festivals are just awesome! Being older, we stood out sometimes, but we are looser and happier than most 20 somethings… dancing and singing and being silly idiots is the best way to live and we know it. On day three she met up with a younger hook-up and he had trouble coping with us… he kept trying to be an alpha male and yeah… nah. Nothing left to do but dance!
I love this! For the past four summers my boyfriend and I have been to Outsidelands in SF, and while the focus seems to be less on dancing, I love getting to explore new music (at least two thirds of the bands each year are new to me), eat all the trendy hipster fusion food, gawk at people’s crazy get-ups, and watch the clouds of smoke mingle with the chilly SF fog. And yes, the headliners draw plenty of Olds! This year we missed the cheaper early-bird tickets, and decided the price increase was too steep to stomach. It feels like there’s a hole looming in my summer without a festival to go to.
Anyway, Beloved sounds perfect for you! Enjoy it. And I hope when I’m An Old I never lose the joy that comes with discovering new music to love. Maybe I’ll even take up some dancing at whichever new festivals I find. 😀
We’re taking our toddler to his first festival this summer and we’ll probably be the old ones there too. We’re going to warped tour – generally targeted at the 14-18 crowd and we’re 32. But there’s a whole bunch of good bands playing.
I felt old when I found out they have a “bring your parent for free” ticket deal and a parents only air conditioned lounge
I totally feel you on this. Shambhala used to be my jam too, but it’s getting to be too much. Shams will always have a special place in my heart. I met my two loves, hula hooping and my husband there seven years ago. These days I have far more interest in getting a good nights sleep and dancing in the daytime and early to mid-evening and having energy for all the workshops and good times that happen earlier.
There are smaller festivals I love that really support that vibe, but I’ve also found my groove at hoop dance and flow arts festivals and retreats. Same great people watching, costumes, workshops, dancing and music, with slightly more sleep.
I whole heartedly agree that dancing your body to music never gets old, and you never get too old for it!!!
I will never stop loving Shambhala, and truth be told I still miss it. The beauty of that space, the joy of all those gorgeous Canadians, the great music, the multiple stages with all those cool ramps and forest paths and light shows and… yeah. Definitely some peak experiences at Shambhala for SURE.
Oh, man, this is exactly the transition my husband and I are going through. After spending our twenties partying hard with the ragingest of hippies, we still have our lust of music, lights, dancing and camping with thousands of awesome strangers…..but finding a fest that caters to our newfound thirties has been key! Plus now we have a baby in tow! We went to a couple last year, hit up Electric Forest for probably the last time, and I found the more local, small festivals really do a great job of being just as chill and exciting as the big guns, but offer family-friendly alternatives as well. Summercamp, Lockin’ Fest and 3G in Wisconsin were really great – lots of ages represented!
Wheee!! <3 this!!! I've got a fab music festival by me (in Scotland) that has something for everyone, every scene! Young and old! And this is just an awesome article that explains how I feel about it all. Thank you!!
I love this article! I love really bad pop-punk/emo music and to jump/dance around…and I’m 30. Luckily my partner enjoys it with me, so we still go to warped tour. I used to go in my teens. It’s a different experience now, but I still have a blast. I secretly hope I still blend in with the early 20s crowd, but I’m probably just lying to myself at this point lol. I love music and the feeling it gives me, I can’t ever imagine growing out of the live music scene.
I really enjoyed this post, and like some of the earlier commenters, I don’t even like music festivals much! I love hearing live music, but I’ve never liked dancing or camping or huge crowds – concerts at smaller venues are my thing.
The only festival I can see myself at is Faerieworlds, which I haven’t had the money or time to go to because I live on the wrong side of the country. But it looks amazing, and it regularly features some groups I love. This post makes me feel encouraged and less intimidated, should I ever manage to get to it!
“Hey everyone! I’m a journalist! Let me tell you about the time I did multiple drugs and couldn’t control myself! That’ll sure bolster my journalistic integrity!”
Seriously though, super unprofessional.
I fear you haven’t read the comment policy on being constructive
I kicked off my media career 20 years ago editing a rave magazine, so the “talking about doing drugs” ship sailed a long, long time ago.
Also, not a journalist.
you seem fun.
Of course, nothing says journalistic integrity like leaving snarky comments anonymously.
Thanks for sharing, Ariel! I relate! A huge part of why my marriage works is our shared love for live music! I’m 31, and he’ll turn 30 this fall…and things are very different than they were 5-10 years ago. I only hit the bar once or twice now, because I have things to do the next morning. We also now get a hotel when we take trips to see shows. No more 3 hour drives in the middle of the night.
Thank you so much for sharing your love for music and festivals. Very inspiring. I fully plan on rocking out when I’m 40, 50…and have been thinking I’ll be the old lady–but there’s nothing wrong with that!
For your next overseas festival trip you should go to the Byron Bay Blues Fest in Australia. I took my parents, they are in their fifties and were nowhere near the oldest there. The oldies really were there with their fold up chairs and packed sangas. It is an amazing festival, people of every age, music for everyone, game shows, side stalls you name it. ZZ Top are regular performers there. The year I went they were on stage saying they had been a band for over 40 years and they were playing to a massive crowd of kids to people who probably purchased their first album the day it came out. The festival is relaxed with plenty of grass for laying down a blanket and listening to the tunes on the breeze or you can get in the tent and dance away. I prefer festivals like that and I am still in my twenties!
Loved this article! You nailed it %100 for me. Put String Summit on your radar if it’s not yet or anything at Horningns for that matter. Bringing our whole fam up there. Horning’s will always be one of my most favorite places to fest – beautiful scenery, people, and music with a very welcoming vibe. I hope our paths cross at a festival some day!
I relate to this a lot, but with totally different music (goth). I find the type of events I want to go to change as well as how I might act at them, but why stop being involved with something you love because of an age. This article made me smile. 🙂
Aloha ALL Greetings of love and light from Maui I am 63 going on 18 I LOOOOVE Beloved been going since the first one 6 or 7 yrs ago The picture of “the Old guy” is my good friend who i first met in NYC Now He also lives on Maui There are alot of folks in my age group that still love to party dnace and go to festivals i prefer beloved as small intimate High vibes and GREAT music totally in nature For me its really about dancing and good vibes I stay up all night about a dozen time a year to dance the night away It becomes Shamanic and very healing I am a firm believer in Youthing Its all about your mind and where you are with Life Dancing keeps one youthful and Happy so Keep on dancin Blessings to you all Aloha Solomon
This is absolutely awesome and on the mark. As veteran and one of the elder statesmen of the past two Coachella festivals and will be doing ACL in the fall (yes… All w my kids)…. It’s a blast, best people watching on the planet and as the author says… Proof life doesn’t end at 29
Haha! This article is spot on. I’ll be 30 in July, and I feel like I’m just getting started even though I’ve been in the electronic music scene since my first outdoor desert raves in 1999. I love the music with an endless passion. I live to perform my original music and dance my ass off at festivals.
Go too Terrapin Hill Harvest Festival, or any Terrapi music festival. You won’t regret it. Located in Harrodsburg, KY. Impossible to have a bad time.
World music, especially sacred music with others who are there to raise consciousness, learn and teach, and create community is ageless….bringing our tent trailer tricked out for fun to sleep in a bed and to create a little space between me and the bass. We’ll catch up with our son at the front of the stage. PS. We’re in our 60’s and still sassy.
I’m pretty sure my fiance and I go to more concerts (rock, folk, punk, metal, classical – you name it, we probably go to it) now than we did when we were in our 30s (he’s 50, I’m 42). Partly because we’re more financially stable now; partly because I finally realized I didn’t want to climb the corporate ladder as much as I thought I did (or thought I should); partly because I honestly feel that concerts keep me sane in an insane world. Sure, it might be a little more difficult to get up for work the next day…but the sacrifice is well worth it.
Just started going to festivals recently myself (mid 30’s). If you like a smaller option, check out The BIG What? in central NC! Great event!