How to Survive a Music Festival (With Your Parent)


By: Alexa Girkout

This is the fourth year that I've attended Outside Lands Music Festival in foggy Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, with my father. Yes, my father who is both half a century old and at least one-and-a-half times the age of many of musicians to which he listens (he won't appreciate that, as far as any of you know he's still in his mid-30s). This is, of course, to his credit; he's remained musically adventurous, allowing recommendations and music reviews to prompt him to impulsively buy records and concert tickets for artists he doesn't even know. He still owns a subscription to Rolling Stone Magazine and buys physical CDs but probably hits as many venues as the seasoned pros do.

The catch is that he prefers classic rock and any variation of it - indie, alternative, folk - in a musical realm that is becoming increasingly less so. (He remains perplexed by James Blake and Frank Ocean, if that helps clarify his limitations.) The first year we attended Outside Lands was 2011, a year that marked my departure from the Bay Area, Muse, Arctic Monkeys and Arcade Fire were the acts not to miss. The annual festival has become a kind of pilgrimage for me, and an experience in which untangling the lineup is ritual and Golden Gate Park, our three-day Mecca. This year my dad, who still relishes the memory of record players, was forced to navigate an arena in which the top names were Kanye West, Macklemore and Tiesto.

How exactly does one survive a festival with a parent, and the contradictory collision of the former's cool and the latter's supposed uncool? Here's how I did it (and continue to do it each year) and what makes it special:

  1. Inundate your parent with all the music that you plan on catching at the festival. Sounds a bit pompous, yes, but it's probably the easiest way to spark interest. Stuck in a six-hour car ride I switched between Swedish songstress Lykke Li and Brooklyn's twin-fronted quintet Lucius. Not sure if it stuck at all but he kept asking, "Who is this? Who again? What is this song?" in a somewhat detached voice. He ended up seeing both bands, although he still doesn't know how to pronounce Lykke, and I'm almost certain he thinks they're the same band.
  2. Listen to their stories. Probably sounds like I'm suggesting death by slow torture, but bear with me. Your parents were young once and they're full of hilarious stories that will probably only arise when in a setting that provides the proper stimulus. My favorite? In the middle of Tom Petty's set, my dad leans over and yells, "I used to listen to this in my dorm room!" Classic.
  3. Introduce them to your friends. OK, I get it. You probably think I'm insane. It's true, you might have to stomach some embarrassment, but music is more enjoyable when you can discuss its nuances or defend why you like it. My dad definitely made a couple of friends during the weekend, and I actually think he might like them more than me…
  4. Drag them to something they don't know. As soon as we passed festival security, I lugged my dad to Made in Heights, the Los Angeles duo that has been quietly amassing a name in its overwhelming city. I'm not sure what my dad made of their frenetic energy and coordinated choreography, but he stood obediently and bobbed his head agreeably. Not sure if he took the bait, but I know he appreciated the exposure.
  5. Go to something your parent is dying to see. That, for my dad, was Petty. I'll be honest, I was never going to pass up the rock legend for Mackemore, but witnessing my dad's sheer euphoria is a sight I don't think I'll ever forget. Pumping fists, belligerently hollering lyrics… I'll spare you the rest of the details and him the embarrassment.
  6. Booze. Of course, right? A festival is, in essence, just one elongated party in which you witness the music you love. And at the end of the day, your parent just wants to experience that with you. Sipping wine in the frigid San Franciscan air while my dad downed one of his many beers as Local Natives jammed in the background is no sorry way to spend a Saturday.

You're young now, but think about how much energy and stamina it takes to attend a three-day festival when you have adult children. My dad rocks, seriously. And if your parent is willing and able to chug along, then damn, you owe them the time and memories they so desperately crave.