Taking my son to his first music festival

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My grubby son rocking his noise-cancelling headphones
My grubby son rocking his noise-cancelling headphones. Photo by Stephanie Kaloi.

The last time we went to a music festival, it was summer of 2009 and I was pretty pregnant. We stayed for about a day, and then we bailed — with much navel gazing and obsessing from me:

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.


That was three years ago. I’ve continued to dance, mostly at dance studios and very occasionally at clubs… but we hadn’t made it back to a music festival. Then I was contacted about doing an Offbeat Families workshop at the Beloved Festival, in Oregon… and so my husband and I returned to the festival scene, son in tow. Here’s how it all went down…

At our friend Dawn’s encouragement, we arrived within an hour of the festival’s gates opening on Thursday, the “early arrival day.” Technically, you’re not supposed to car camp at Beloved (the walk-in camping is part of what makes it special) but they can’t keep you from sleeping in your car, and if you get there early enough, you can get a close-ish parking spot.

“Close-ish” ended up being perfect for us, our van parked side-by-side with Dawn’s Westie, and about a five minute walk down a dirt road from the festival’s stage. Close enough to carry Tavi the entire way if you needed, but far enough and around a hill, so you could barely hear the music from our van… ensuring easy sleeping. There were only a few of us sleeping in the parking lot, so not only was the music quiet… the people were quiet. Someone played an acoustic guitar a few times, and the couple in the teardrop camper next to us could be heard quietly gossiping over their morning coffee. In other words, PERFECT for a family with an excited but slightly overstimulated toddler who needed a lot of quiet resting times snuggling in his favorite place in the world: his van.

Morning snuckles in The Vantasy. #belovedfestival
Morning snuggles in the van

The perfect camp-spot was the set-up for pretty much the rest of the entire weekend. We’d walk with Tavi into the heart of the festival, spend some time dancing or looking for newts in the pond, or doing hand-balancing on the edge of the stage (Dre), people-watching and gossiping (me), eating meals from the range of extremely overpriced but very healthy food vendors, painting in the kids’ village teepee, etc. When Tavi started acting up, one of us would retreat to the van chill out with him, play, snack, and try to take a nap (not always successfully). The other would wander around and explore and get some adult time.

We tried to hand-off bedtimes — I did Thursday while Dre went out, he did Friday while I went out, and then I did Saturday night again, but knowing that I’d get the second shift to go out when Dre got back.

Was it weird, laying in the bed of our van with Tavi at 8pm, listening to the sounds of a music festival kick into high gear as I nestled down to read and fall asleep? A little. But then I woke up a couple hours later, assembled my festival gear (hat, elf coat, boots: check. water bottle, chapstick, cash, better bat, lighter, flask, headlamp, walkie-talkie: check), and then went out dancing when Dre got back to the van at 1:30. It actually worked out really well, and matched with some of my pre-Tavi pre-funk power-napping methods of 1996.

Parenthood at #belovedfestival

A child-free friend noted a couple times that she was almost jealous of us having an excuse to need to go back to our van and rest — something she admitted she always wanted to do at a music festival, but couldn’t ever quite justify. Despite feeling overstimulated and exhausted, it’s really hard to take time off at a festival… having a kid there forces you to do something you kinda wanna do anyway. (Although admittedly, not always at the times when you might want to do it.)

There were definitely some melt-down moments. Tavi completely lost it when he discovered he had to eat real food before having an ice cream bar, freaking out so hard that he got no ice cream bar at all for then. (Later, when he did get one, he could hardly eat it he was so excited to finally possess it.) He got shouty when he saw us talking to other people (wtf, child? we must work on your social graces). He half-peed his pants because he didn’t want to stop listening to Meklit Hadero. He is two years old, and can be completely blown away by a cat walking down the sidewalk — a music festival is EXTREMELY overstimulating even for those of us who are experienced with large crowds and loud noises.

But for the most part, he was amazing. He loved his noise-cancelling headphones. He loved dancing around on the soft squishy dance floor. He got to do monkey chanting with his father, he got to listen to jazz and and dance to hippie-hop with his mother. He got to hunt for newts with a little boy named Bija and laugh with “the bubble fish” (actually a naked hippie woman swimming in the pond, blowing bubbles in the water at him). He played tag with a little boy named Elijah, did handstands with papa, ate Goober sandwiches with mama, explored Dawn’s van, and peed in a porta potty. He made elaborate plans to bake newt quesadillas with cheese, telling us in great detail how he’d wait until the newts died before putting them on a plate with a tortilla and cheese and baking them in the toaster oven. He danced and sang and played and got filthy. He requested more glitter paint and purple eye shadow on his arms. He wore his rhino pants and his mushroom sweatshirt, looking for all intents and purposes like a psy-trancer circa 1999.

It was awesome for him. It was awesome for Dre, because there were a ton of circus arts/acrobatics people there, and that’s totally his jam. And me? I was in heaven because I was finally immersed back in my favorite scene for people-watching, which was delightfully all-ages. This multi-generational component is part of the organizer’s goal:

One of the things I’m really excited about is its multigenerational nature and the reality that we get different generations of people that have been working on creating a new culture in different ways and in different areas talking about what they want to see in the world and how it is that they want to go about it. Having multiple generations of change agents all together in the same place feeling completely free and open to be together and to learn is a beautiful experience. [Read full interview]


Really, the event was totally awesome for us as a family. It felt like a piece of Dre’s and my personal identities that we were finally able to integrate fully with our parental identities. I guess that means it felt like we got to establish a piece of our FAMILY identity. We explored and held hands and danced and laughed. Dre and I took turns taking time to enjoy ourselves separately, but also spent lots of time the three of us, exploring and learning and eating and telling stories. Dre gave me the option of staying for an extra night after he and Tavi left, but it felt important to stick together. We went to the festival together, all three of us in it as a little love-unit. It wasn’t about me being there by myself — I’d miss them, if they were gone.

Mostly, Beloved felt like the realization of a dream. At the end of that post I wrote back in 2009, I set this intention:

And I will dance 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.

…and I finally got there.

Dancing with Tavi at Beloved.
Dancing with Tavi at Beloved. Photo by Stephanie Kaloi.

Tickets are on sale now for the Beloved Festival, August 7-10 2015. Maybe we’ll see you and your family there this year?

Comments on Taking my son to his first music festival

  1. So the noise-cancelling headphones worked well? I’m thinking of getting some for our little one for attending professional soccer games. Like you, I want to be able to share the experience as a family, but the decibel level in those supporters “pits” can be ridiculous, what with the chanting, drumming, and trumpets…

  2. How fantastic. I remember that post way back when, and now the picture of you guys festival-van-snuggling speaks worlds about where you ended up. Go you guys.

  3. Excellent! I really like the model you present for keeping up your (sometimes alternative) lifestyle as a parent. Peers, parents, and most websites never stop telling you that you’ll soon be stuck at home, giving up nearly your entire life as you know it now.

  4. this post….and also stephanie’s about bonnaroo, and also witnessing first hand being at a festival with friends who had an 8 month old (with 2 other familes with 8 month olds!!) and it all working out totally fine for parents and kids alike…..makes me think i could pull it off one day. one day FAR into the future…..but really thanks for sharing. it’s inspiring.

  5. I love this– and I’m not even a music festival person! I agree that one key to going somewhere interesting with a baby has been to balance alone time with family time. When my husband and I went to Rome with our six-month-old we split up a lot more than we would have had we gone as a couple, but it was great… some of my favorite memories of Rome are when I explored the old city with my baby in the ergo while my husband went on an expedition to scope out Roman micro-brews. I’m really learning to appreciate being independent again after so many years of thinking “couple or bust,” but I think it’s healthy for us all… and it makes the time we all spend together sweeter as well!

  6. I love this! I’m not a festival person, but the ones I do go to I wouldn’t bring my kids (bamboozle and such on the east coast). Yet my son’s first birthday was spent in his bob stroller at a green day concert. If a venue is kid friendly and I have an extra set of hands (since that first concert I now have two little monsters toddler age)I bring them along. As soon as my oldest is ready I’ll drag him along to whatever he wants to go to. My father was taking me to CBGBs at 13 years old so why wouldn’t I take my sons to as many concerts as i can.

  7. This is so freaking awesome and so damn inspirational at the same time. I’m not a music festival goer myself, but my husband and I promised each other we wouldn’t stop living the life we love (living overseas, traveling) just because we have a daughter now. And this proves that it can be done. It really can be done. Thank you.

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