We’re taking our 3 year old to Bonnaroo: what should we keep in mind?

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If they have one of these we're set. Photo by JS North, used under Creative Commons license.
We’ve talked about taking kids to festivals before, but now that my husband and I are actually PLANNING to take our three-year-old to Bonnaroo this year I’m super curious about what we do and don’t need to worry about.

For instance, even though sunscreen, water, and ear plugs are provided for little ones, we also plan to bring our own. We’ll be camping in the family camping area, which I imagine will make things easier on us (right?). Our son is into live shows and we’ll know people there who are happy to help out with the child watching if an awesome band is playing and we both want to go.

I’m wondering about so many things that basically boil down to: assuming it’s a given that everyone is protected from the sun and has plenty to eat and drink, how do families with preschoolers fare at days-long music festivals?

Comments on We’re taking our 3 year old to Bonnaroo: what should we keep in mind?

  1. Does your son take naps during the day? I think a difficult thing might be having a quiet/familiar place to chill out and/or nap. Being at a big festival is likely to tire the little guy out a little more than usual, so I’d find a way to make your tent (if thats what your using) a familiar place with toys from home or something and be ready to take him to it if he starts to get too tired/cranky.

    • He doesn’t usually! Every so often if he’s really tired he will, so I imagine if he’s going to Bonnaroo will probably be the kind of thing the exhausts him. We definitely plan to have times throughout the day where we retreat back to the tent so he can process.

  2. We’ve been taking our almost 6 year old since she was 10 months. You just kind of have to go with the flow. Pack toys, glow sticks are always a hit for night time fun and help you to keep track of your kid. I found it useful to teach our daughter how to pee in the grass once she was out of diapers because portapottys are awful with a small child. Make sure you allow plenty of downtime
    away from the hustle & bustle as it’s a lot to take in for them, especially Bonnaroo (which honestly I’d never take my little one there just
    due to the size alone, but good for you
    guys!). One thing I’ve always liked is that people at festivals LOVE kids and want to play with them….usually this is awesome, you just have to be careful of the occasional nut job! Also a wagon is that your kid can comfortable lay down in is key…we like to pimp ours out with blankets and toys so we have everything we need to keep the kid happy, including a comfy place to sleep!

  3. I’ve only once been a mom to a kid at a big thing like this, but I’ve been around lots of parents of little ones, and there’s one thing everyone seems to forget:

    Even though your kid is a trooper, likes crowds/shows, and is having a great time, they may reach a point where it’s all overstimulating. It’ll probably come totally out of nowhere. They can go from having an awesome day to being a total turd in a minute flat, and I’ve seen SO many parents get exasperated with their little one because, “We were just having fun! What is your ISSUE?”

    So, just keep it in the back of your mind that it could happen, and have a plan in place to get to a quiet spot for some one-on-one downtime if necessary.

    And after you go, could you write a follow up of, “This is what we learned”? Cause I’d love to hear about it!

    • Yep! Planned quiet time is definitely something we’re thinking of. We’re planning to be as flexible as we can with his reactions, what he needs, etc. Thanks!

      And I will most certainly write about it after! 🙂

  4. Whew! You are braver than I. I’ve done bonnaroo several times over, and I could never bring my kiddo. But I applaud you for being game! My number one concern would be planning out the shows that will be the calmest. I have been knocked over in the back of the crowd by people who have overindulged in various substances. The pot smoking will be everywhere and I’m pretty whatever about that…. But there are some who get VERY out of control.

    I would say, wagon to pull WITH A SUNSHADE, more water than you can imagine in said wagon, snacks and sunscreen, bring a poncho/umbrella and sweatshirt. It’s always wacky weather at least one day. wet wipes. I even brought in a hotel sized bar of soap and used broken misters in the mist tent to clean up a bit.

    Have so much fun!!

    • Yeah, the over indulging in drugs is something we’re concerned about — I’m not worried about people who are high, but I know All Kinds Of Things go down at Bonnaroo, and we definitely don’t want to be in the way of someone who’s… somewhere else.

  5. ooh! And those little handheld fans for kiddo might make it more pleasant too. A hot, sticky, tired, cranky kid does not a fun time make. 🙂

  6. I take my 7 month old daughter with me to outdoor shows and she is a trooper. We have so much fun! I take a backpack still and at three I think if he is small enough I would recommend having a carrier or backpack he can relax in on mom or dad. It is just added comfort. We pack tons of snacks, a tambourine (of course), plenty of water, electrolyte drinks and formula still. A camera for all the fun. A blanket to sit on. I would think with a 3 year old you will have a great time! Ask him lots of questions to keep him engaged. My parents took me everywhere with them and concerts were for me a favorite all through childhood. I am the only kid I knew that got to see the dead, pink Floyd, The Who, The Allman Brothers Band, and too many more to list by age 6.

  7. Bonnaroo has tons of visual stuff to look at too, I would mix some of that in so it isn’t just watching bands all day. There’s break dancing and belly dancing to watch too. It’s a zany little village that exists suddenly from nothing. I’ve never been there with kids, but I’ve seen lotsa kids having an awesome time. If you just keep him cool and realize when it is too much it’s break time I think everyone will have a great time.

  8. I’m not a parent, but I have been to Bonnaroo for last 3 years. My general person/couple survival tips that might be applicable are:
    For chilling on the grass bring a sheet/sarong instead of a blanket, they’re lighter to carry and will dry quicker if you spill water/beer.
    Pocket packs of tissues are perfect for when the porta-jons are out of paper. One/two packs generally gets one person through the whole festival (most of the porta-jons have paper).
    I started carrying a spray bottle of lavender scented, groovy, hand sanitizer (http://bitylink.info/1qA). Good for cleaning hands right before eating, and good for spraying your pits when you smell ripe.
    Most of the scary-high people at Bonnaroo are noticeable, and easy to avoid.
    Take a little bit of alone time over the weekend, and give your partner some too. Time to just walk around and chill or to go jump in the mosh pit. 🙂
    It’s nice to lay on a sheet on the grass near-ish to a good stage during the day. You can hear the music but not be too crowded.
    If you want a cool place to nap lay a sheet next to the cinema tent, the air-conditioning seeps out the bottom of the tent and keeps you cool.
    I don’t get hungry mid-day when it’s hot, so I eat a big breakfast to start the day and a big dinner when the sun goes down. In between I have a protein bar and multiple fruit smoothies.
    The big Bonnarroo fountain is really fun to play in. Last year on the really hot days I just wore my bathing suit +tevas all day and walked in and out of the fountain every time I went by.

    My first Bonnaroo I got stressed out and over-stimulated. I’ve since realized that I just need to accept the crazyness, get dirty, and realize that there is a ton of fun stuff happening, some of it I’ll hit, some of it I’ll miss, and that’s okay. 🙂

    • I wanted to follow up and say that the weather is supposed to be a lot more mild this year then in past years (80’s instead of 100’s) so temp wise it looks like it won’t be as extreme as usual. Plus they are getting rain right now, which means dust clouds won’t be as bad as last year.

      After reading the other comments I wanted to note that Bonnaroo isn’t that scary. So no need to get super stressed. You sound pretty prepared. You’ll have fun, you’ll get to see some great music/comedy, you might get a little over-stimulated, but you’ll move past it back into the good times. 🙂

      • Yay! I’ve been watching the weather also. We live in Alabama, so 80s we can handle. And thank you! We’re not too worried about it — I think once we have our son set up (water/food/etc.) we’ll be good.

  9. Have you ever been to Bonnaroo before? I have (pre-kids), it is HOT and there is hardly any shade, which isn’t exactly kid friendly.

    My main concern was the “bathrooms” though. They were constantly overflowing with feces (and I absolutely and truly mean this, poop and toilet paper piled to a good six inches about the rim of the port-a-pottys)… I know that is an unpleasant thing to read about your upcoming trip, but it is something I would have wanted to be aware of. In the grounds things are even more disgusting because these port-a-potties were all clustered together in areas, and (despite the lack of any rain) they were all surrounded by a thick, deep mud. Not something I would feel comfortable letting my little one near.

    Is your three year old still diapered or using the toilet? I would highly recommend bringing your own little baby-bjorn type potty for him/her so that they didn’t have to touch/get near those facilities.

  10. We took our 8 month old to a little festival in Western Australia called Fairbridge festival. It is a verry family friendly festival so it was easy for us but one of the best things we did was take a portable gazebo in Australia you can get some really heavy duty easy to put up gazebos that keep out the rain and the sun, there are lots of brands but ours was oz trail if you wanted to google it and see what I mean. we set it up right outside our tent and it gave us our own designated play area, we also took some shade cloth to put on the ground so we wern’t in the dirt. this helped our little girl have her own play/ chill area in the shade it made our campsite MUCH more comfortable!! also what or where will your little one be sleeping? if co sleeping obviously that’s not much different but if in a porta cot or blow up mattress it might be a good idea to have a couple of nights sleeping this way before you go. If they are already used to the bed they will be sleeping in it usually helps on the festival weekend because the noise is already a lot to deal with. It helped for us anyway your bubba might be a little more easy going than ours although she loved our festival weekend :0) The best part for us was that her dad was playing so she got to see her Daddy playing up on stage :0) Priceless!! Good luck I would love to hear a follow up too!

  11. I don’t know how the family camping area is set up, but try to park in a way that if something happened and you had to leave early, you could get out without relying on others to break down their campsites. Sunhat and sunglasses for the kiddo might help, and a headlamp for nighttime excursions. Make sure he has sunscreen on his scalp, ears, tops of feet, etc. Definitely make sure he has important information on him (name, parents’ names, phone numbers, campsite location, etc.) in case he somehow gets lost. The comedy and movie tents are dark and air conditioned — I’ve taken some midday naps there 🙂

  12. We’ve taken our 4-year old to loads of festivals. Definitely sunscreen, a blanket, etc. I also take lots of bubbles and a couple inflatable beach balls. As a prior person said, people love to interact with kids, and those are good things that kids love to play with that engage strangers but are easy to redirect away from freaks. I also take powder packs of gatorade-type kid stuff from PCC or Whole Foods to add to water to get my kid to drink more and stay hydrated. He loves “pink music water!”. I also Sharpie our names and mobile numbers in the back of his shirt, just in case, and we show him where the emergency tent is and the shirts of the “police” people at the festival, so he knows that, if he gets lost, he should immediately go to someone in a yellow t-shirt with orange writing (for example). 3 is a great age. You’ll have a blast!

  13. I cant wait to read a follow-up. The second my baby is old enough, bonnaroo all the way. I think i read somewhere that they have a kids activity area as well (maybe i am wrong)…

  14. I’ve been to Bonnaroo twice, and I honestly do not recommend it for a child. It is extremely hot, and quite overstimulating for an adult – I can’t imagine a little one. Also, Mary makes a great point about bathrooms and such. Maybe if you ponied up for VIP, where there is access to bathrooms and some A/C.

    But my biggest hesitation is just the very rampant drug use. I smoked pot at shows and would feel really bad when kids would end up downwind, but it’s impossible to avoid in that cluster. And pot is the least of your concerns. My dear friend actually passed away at Bonnaroo after partaking in very run-of-the-mill party favors, because of the heat. An environment where that is more likely to happen than not (it does nearly every year, and countless others get close to it) is not one where I would bring a child.

    I don’t say this to offend or call you into question – I just believe from your post that you haven’t been to Bonnaroo before, and I want to answer you honestly.

    • Thanks for this!

      We’re going with my friend who has been for the last six years and staying in family camping. I also have media passes, so we’ll have access to air conditioned tents if we need them and restrooms. He’s mostly toilet trained but we’re going to let him rock diapers because.. yeah. Definitely not into the port a potty with a kid scene!

      The drug thing is totally a real concern. We’re not taking him to shows all day and when we do we plan to be on the suuuuper outskirts. We’ve never been so it’s hard to know what it will be like, but he’ll be our biggest priority while there.

  15. I’ve been to Bonnaroo 3 times ( the last time was when i just found out i was pregnant) so i haven’t taken a child there. We want to take our daughter to festivals too someday so this is a great question. What i would try to keep in mind is the very open drug deals/consumption that happens at Bonnaroo. This hopefully shouldn’t be too much of an issue in your camp area but when you are at Centeroo it could be. I would have a blast at bonnaroo if i was 3! The mushroom fountain and big statues of crazy things!
    Also- my last year there (5 weeks prego) was so miserable. Between the heat and my extremely distant campsite from all the music and FOOD, it was not fun.
    I just know anytime i go anywhere different with my daughter, i try to keep in mind our normal schedule (books before bed, or songs, or specific nap times) but still be flexible. i mean, its bonnaroo!!

  16. I’m also wondering what other festivals are out there that are kid-friendly? Preferably on the east coast. It’s easy to look up festivals but hard to tell which ones would actually be fun/not stressful with a kiddo.

    • We love AllGood & Floyd Fest. Floyd is AMAZING for kids, they reeeeally cater to kids and families. SummerCamp is also pretty good. If the Fest doesn’t offer kids camp or family camp, I’d steer clear….we’ve made that mistake & will not be making the same mistake twice!

    • We just got back from DelFest (all Bluegrass so if that’s your thing) in Maryland and it was SO kid friendly. Had a kid’s camp with art projects and plenty of room for little ones to dance and hula hoop. They even allowed people to put up shade tents in the music meadow which was AWESOME!

  17. I don’t really have advice, but I love that you are bringing your child with you! I love seeing families at festivals and I cannot wait to do the same thing with mine! I hope you guys have an amazing time! Report back to us all and let us know how it went!

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