Tips for helping your family rock at music festivals

Guest post by Candice Littlepage
Photo by JASON ANFINSEN, used under Creative Commons license.

A common passion that my husband, Eric, and I have is seeing live music. We enjoy festivals in particular because we can see a bunch of bands during the weekend and possibly become a new fan. We decided that just because we have a baby didn’t mean our love for live music had to change — so we just started taking her with us!

First, since we’re talking music festivals here, I want to go ahead and put it out there: Eric and I were both completely stone cold sober during our time at these festivals and we still had an amazing time. It’s completely possible!

If you’re thinking of taking your babies or little kids to a festival, here are must-haves:

  • Ear plugs or headphones for babies/toddlers
  • Lots of water to keep hydrated — for everyone
  • Baby carrier of some sort — I loved our Ergo while we were at Bonnaroo, and wore our youngest in it for hours
  • Clothes for all weather: rain, cold, hot, mild, etc.
  • An open mind and flexibility: you may have a schedule or know there are bands you HAVE to see, but baby will change those plans in an instant
Our youngest and her ear plugs.

The first time we took her to a festival was when she was 13 months old and we went to SummerCamp. What a trip that was! We brought anything and everything we could pack in the car to keep her happy — both at the festival and for the four-and-a-half hour drive. She was still nursing, so I sat in the back with her to make mealtimes a little easier.

When we arrived we learned we couldn’t park next to our campsite (it was our first time at this festival) — which also meant we wouldn’t be able to access the stuff we brought with us. As it turned out, she loved the music as much as we did and we didn’t even need everything we had brought! She had the time of her life and so did we. The downside was that she didn’t want to sleep, so we found a secluded place in the woods to avoid bothering our neighbors. We were told there was a “Family Camping” area, but no one seemed to know where it was. The lowest point was when she screamed all night — we almost called it quits.

When we had our second baby I initially said no when festival season rolled around — she was only going to be six moths old during! Well, Phish chose that year to get back together and decided to play two nights at Bonnaroo, so we changed our minds and went. This time we only packed necessities for the ten-hour drive. Luckily, our youngest didn’t mind and our oldest was forward-facing and no longer screamed while riding. Bonnaroo was amazing — the “family camping” section is the best. When we were waiting in Centeroo for the shows to start it was like our two-year-old was home: she was so comfortable and danced like no one was watching. There were also a lot of people coming up and playing with her, and she loved it.

Our family at Bonnaroo!

Nighttime at Bonnaroo was so easy — both kids slept better in the tent then they did at home. My husband was able to go watch a few nighttime sets (he said I should go first, but I was worried our youngest would wake up and want to nurse). We made a ton of friends there, and now we usually end up at the same shows and our kids play together.

Two months after Bonnaroo Jane’s Addiction got back together with the original lineup. My husband thought it wouldn’t last very long, so we went off to Chicago and Grant Park. This time we got a hotel room before heading to the festival, and after watching Neko Case a girl handed me a note that said “Beautiful family! Thanks for being inspiring XOXOXO” — I almost cried. We were just doing what we love, seeing live music, and bringing our kids along. It was nice to realize that just because we had kids we didn’t have to stop. There are even perks to bringing your kids along: when most people see babies, they make room for you!

Comments on Tips for helping your family rock at music festivals

  1. Love this! I’ve been to Bonnaroo twice and I was always inspired by parents bringing their kiddos along. Made me realize that when I become a parent I don’t have to become a totally different person!

  2. We took Moo to his first festival (Wickerman in Dumfries, Scotland) when he was 4 months old. I kept him in the wrap sling for most of it. He was quite happy in his flouro yellow ear defenders, even though they pretty much dwarfed his tiny head. Now he’s nearly five he been getting fun weekends at Granny’s house while we let our hair down, although we are planning on taking him to a few smaller festies this coming summer because my boy does love to dance!

  3. I took my daughter to Coachella when she was four, not planned but her dad and I found ourselves in a position of take her with us or not go at all. With it being the day of and me being too stuborn to let that money spent go to waste, we decided to take the kid.

    We packed light, taking only spare clothes for her, water, cash, camera, and her seizure medication. No stroller. There was the posibility of so much going wrong.

    She was overwhelmed by the heat in the tent and we missed seeing the ting tings, as we walked out a woman made a comment of “oh my god, why would anyone bring kids to a festival.” I felt like we were failing, that maybe this was a bad idea. She cooled off quickly and she wanted to go see the art!

    The rest of the day was great, a lady gave my kid bubbles, the artist let my kid cross boundary lines and cling to the structures for pictures and interact hands on. Yes there were people smoking but I noticed people respect when a kid is around and without ever asking anyone to do so all day ppl were turning off what ever they were smoking if they saw my kid standing near them.

    Sure, my kid didn’t care that her dad and I had made a plans to see certain bands, we did what ever she wanted to do. And yes we stayed sober. She danced and cheered. It was great singing with her Moz songs I sung to her when she was a baby.

    To avoid accidents while waiting in long bathroom lines we went on a schedule. We bought her glow in the dark necklaces and covered her with them because she thought it was funny to watch me panic when she ran to hide in the shadows. And no, she did not have a seizure. We kept her hydrated, fed, happy and stress free to make sure she didn’t have one.

    Oh, and the end of the festival as we left when we went to buy ice cream and snacks for the road home the vendors gave her what she asked for for free.

  4. I’m not quite as avid a festival goer as many offbeat parents might be (I do love festivals, but the price usually turns me off, also I do not like camping, so weekend events are a no go for me), but Remy has been to a few awesome festivals and these suggestions are great!

    We went to Jazz Fest when he was 3 — I got free tickets, and took a friend with me, but it was a not-great experience b/c Remy — who didn’t have a diagnosis yet, but was speech delayed and high needs — didn’t want to do much. Still, it was a fun time, even if we spent most of it following him around and the kids tent smelled of mildew and piss (EWWWW!).

    Then last summer, when Remy was five, we had a chance to go see Gogol Bordello/ Ani Difranco (amongst others) and while I was hesitant, we had friends going and we were able to ask our son if he wanted to go (to a music party? Heck yes! He was excited!).

    And it was great! Yes, we ended up leaving right as Ani went on but Gogol was AMAZING (and I got to stand maybe 10 people from the stage while my husband stayed back in the back with Remy)!!!

    And we all had a blast, which was the most important thing!

    (I’m editing to add, I’d forgotten I blogged about this until after I posted and I thought I might add a link: which expands a teeny little more on the issues of taking a kid on the spectrum to a concert. Hopefully that isn’t a problem with the editors, I will remove it if they ask! I just thought it might be helpful to other special needs mamas!)

    • I have a little one with a speech delay and bring her to fests, so it’s awesome seeing posts like yours 🙂 Thank you for sharing your experience! (also, gogol bordello=AWESOME!!)

      also, Jazz Fest like South Dakota?

      • You’re welcome! (And OMG, they ARE awesome!!! We didn’t even really know them before but the friends we went with made us a CD to listen to and now I have a Gogol Bordello station on Pandora and I follow them on FB!)

        PS: Jazz Fest in NOLA (we used to live in lower Alabama, so it was just a 2-3 hour drive).

  5. After attending 3 years of Bonnaroo, I have a few concerns about bringing a baby/toddler.

    One is the extreme heat. I don’t know if it’s my New England blood or what, but that Tennessee heat is almost unbearable. I am big on babywearing but I can not imagine having a little heater strapped to my body while making the trek to Centeroo.

    Another concern is the drugs. As an adult it doesn’t bother me but I don’t like the idea of my kid breathing in the smoke. Not to mention the unsavory characters that used to stick to shakedown street but now seem to be all over camp. Nitrous seemed to be the big thing last time I went, and not only do I shudder at the memory of the constant hiss of balloons being inhaled, if my kid spotted a balloon he would want to get his hands on it.

    Then there’s the 18 hour drive, the potentially overwhelming amount of people, and the possibility of not actually getting to see the bands I want to see.

    Ugh I want to go again but I think I would have to leave the little one at home.

    • I made a point to sit in back and stay clear of things we didn’t want near our kiddos. Heat wasn’t an issue the year we went with kiddos, but we’ve been when it was over 100, so yeah, we were concerned too, but we packed for it. Where Family Camping was set up, we weren’t even on Shakedown. We were seriously, right by the gate to Centeroo. We tried to find shade and when people saw the kiddos, they made room for us. It was nice.

  6. As someone who works medical at festivals throughout the summer here in the PacNW I have a few protips.

    1. Start aclimating your little one to hearing protection early. You don’t want to be introducing them to earmuffs or plugs as beatsantique is warming up. It will be a nightmare.

    2. They make ear muffs for kids. This way you don’t have to stick anything IN their ears. See above.

    3. ALWAYS pack a water bottle for the kiddo. This is different from your waterbottle. You would not believe how many parents don’t pack enough kid appropriate fluids for the day away from the tent. They then come to medical with a cranky dry kid….The sunnier and dustier it is the more water everyone needs.

    4. Please keep some sort of foot protection on your kiddo. A festival may seem like a great time to run free of shoes but other people are NOT always good planetary stewards and I HATE having to wash out little cut feet and get our doc to stitch up baby paws and give tetanus shots….Foot protection is just good common sense.

    5. Understand that there may be a LOT of drugs being done. You are NOT going to convince that 22 year old to put out the joint because your baby is sensitive to smoke. If this is a deal breaker than maybe kiddo should weekend with Grandma while you go get your groove on. Remember, it takes ALL kinds to make a world and a festival is just a little world.

    • These are all excellent tips! I have had good luck staying around the outer line of the stage, usually more open space and much less smoke. We also pack a lot of water-filled fruit for my little one.

  7. LOVE this!! I started reading and was like.. *this* is the kind of article i would want to personally share on offbeat mama, too! Your experience at Bonnaroo is awesome, as that was a fest I was trying to make this last summer with my (then 1.5yr old) babe. Next year, maybe! It’s always great to hear personal experiences about the campgrounds, as we always try to camp in ‘family camping’ but sometimes (like you guys) can’t find it, or its somehow a party zone, etc.

    My family have attended many festivals since my little one was born (she is 2.5) and she loves sleeping in tents, gets SO excited about all the colorful,friendly people, and has the best time being outside for an entire weekend. Thank you for sharing your adventures! You rock, mama 🙂

  8. Being a momma hasn’t really stopped me from going to shows, as my inlaws are AWESOME!!! And my old man is IN a old-school punk band so he’s always playing out anyway.

    Needless to say, we can’t really take the kids to THOSE shows. They can get pretty rough.

    Luckily, we have a great “School of Rock” program in our area and they do all-ages shows once a month. We get out to support as much as possible!!!The kids (4&6 y/o) LOVE it, they get right up front and just dance their little butts off!!

    As for ear protection the oldest uses ear plugs and my little one uses wood shop grade earmuffs.

    Its been a great experience for all of us. The kids get to see tons of styles of live music, we chow down on loaded frys and nachos, and just get to hang out. 🙂

  9. Thanks for this encouraging article! I’m planning on taking my baby to the Mariposa Folk Festival this summer (in Orillia north of Toronto). My baby will be 9 months old by then. Mariposa has a kids area and other friends and family have been taking their kids there for years so I’ve been feeling somewhat confident about it. It’s nice to see that other parents attend festivals with kids in tow, too.

  10. Love this! Last summer, Steve Martin played Rockygrass, so we ended up taking our son to his first bluegrass festival at four weeks old. His second followed only two months later He did great at both! Granted, I didn’t get to see as much music as usual, but he slept great in the tent, and since I was nursing, we really needed nothing but a shady spot to sit in and a sling to carry him around in. I also used a GIANT floppy sunhat to give us both some extra shade when we were walking around. To anyone considering it, I’d say that in many ways it is easier with a tiny baby who barely knows what’s going on. Looking forward to next year, but it will undoubtedly be tougher chasing a toddler around!

  11. HUGE thank you to all of you who read the article. To answer some of your questions, heat was a major concern for us at Bonnaroo (we were there when it was over 100), so we brought light clothes, hats, sunblock, water spray bottle to keep cool and other necessities. It was actually pretty decent that year and wasn’t that hot, so we lucked out!

    We bought tickets for SummerCamp this year so I am hoping to see some of you with your kiddos in tow 🙂

  12. Thanks for this! I took our baby to our town’s first blues festival last summer, mostly because my husband was doing video work for them and so we had free passes (but also because in utero, baby had shown a marked enjoyment in the blues). The first thing I put in the bag was earplugs, though I did call around to some of the hunting gear stores to see if they carried kid-size muffs; not only did they not, their first reaction was, “You don’t take your kid to the shooting range! Babies and kids don’t belong there!” I responded that it was none of their business whether I took my baby to the shooting range with me or not, but to give them piece of mind, I wanted to protect her ears at a concert. In this town (I don’t know if this is unusual or not), the longer the even lasts, the louder it gets.

    That said, I was shocked to see other babies there, in front of the speakers, without earplugs. (Even with earplugs, I found being in front of the speakers was too loud, so we hung out on the sides of the event.)

    BTW, if anyone’s in the Toledo, Ohio, area, a shop called Sweet Cheeks on Monroe in Sylvania carries kid-size hearing protection muffs! I was so excited to see that when we were visiting over the holidays, even though we’d already purchased muffs for our daughter.

    • I am originally from Sandusky, OH and Eric from Detroit, so we drive through Toledo all the time when we go home. We’ll be home in March, I might have to stop in there for 2 pair. Thanks for the info!

  13. I also would like to chime in Lollapalloza is awesome at accomodating children. I don’t hae any of my own, but my friends and I saw many an awesome little rocker enjoying the kidsapalooza stage and activity area. It was set up near the main entrance of the festival (which is great, because man it is HUGE!), and had full day entertainment specifically for the kiddos there, with activities likes drum circles, rock star hair stations, and painting that was in a family-only zone, along with awesome kid-friendly bands with a portable dance floor set up in front of the stage.

  14. Hi Candice,
    Great to see it’s not just us crazy Brits who love sharing music festivals with our kids!
    You’re so right – a little bit of thought and preparation and the whole weekend can be as fun-filled as the best of them 🙂
    Romany x

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