How to Make Friends at a Festival
The sun was rising on Saturday morning at Lightning In a Bottle , an art and music festival that takes place over Memorial Day weekend at the San Antonio Recreation Area in Bradley, CA. I emerged from “The Drift” ravine to see a tractor pulling a large art car called the Front Porch . As it struggled up the hill, the tractor sputtered and died right in front of me. The proprietor of the vehicle leapt out and with great flourish announced: “Ladies and gentleman! Since this is a big hippie fest and we’re all collaborating and co-creating and co-habitating who’s going to help me pull this porch up over that hill? It’ll be like a tug of war but it will be a tug of love. Who’s with me?!” His charisma was undeniable, and so twenty bedraggled partiers descended upon two lines of heavy chain and began to heave the tractor, the Porch and its little outhouse up the hill.
An excited crowd gathered, clapping and taking photos. My comrades and I smiled blissfully as we shared a moment. With a triumphant cry we reached the top, and as we gained momentum down the hill, it occurred to me that the Front Porch was now headed toward my own campsite. I pulled a stool up to the bar while old-time music prattled on and my new friend Rob played the spoons. Together, we watched the sun come up over the hills as we rolled home.
It was my first time at a festival without a partner or a camp, and the experience taught me some simple, fun ways to make new friends and have exciting adventures. Whether you’re riding solo or with a group, here are eight tips that I’ve found helpful in making new connections at a festival.
Choose The Right Festival
Festivals are a natural filter for people with common interests. Be it Glastonbury or the Gathering of the Juggalos, choosing your own adventure starts with selecting the right festival for you. If you enjoy electronic music, interactive art, camping and a vibrant progressive community, then Lightning In a Bottle might be the one. If you like some of those things but you aren’t into camping, you might prefer a more urban festival like Electric Daisy Carnival . Do your research and choose your festival wisely. Our list of the world's 300 best festivals is a good place to start. Once you determine which festival is right for you, you’ll find folks who have similar beliefs and interests, so you’ll already have a lot to talk about.
Wear a Creative Outfit that Represents Your Personality
Whether it’s a costume, a display of your culture, fancy dress, or “playa attire,” donning something unique will catch peoples’ eyes. If your clothing represents your vibe, the people who remark on it will be the very folks most likely to have a conversation or an adventure with you. Expressive clothing tells the people around you that you have something to say, and it gives them an easy conversation starter.
Give and Accept Compliments Generously
Photo by Art Gimbel
If an outfit is an invitation to engage, a compliment is an offer to connect. Compliments obviously don’t have to pertain to clothes, but clothes are fun to praise. Whatever the compliment is, it should be genuine, specific and not a come-on (see number 4). On the flip side, the key to giving props successfully lays in how it is received. One must be generous in accepting a compliment because that in itself is a gift to the compliment giver. It’s not about saying “thank you,” per se, or about complimenting them back. It’s about letting that person in and allowing them to uplift you.
Don’t Be In It Just to Hook Up
You may someday fall in love with a friend you met at a festival, but if you introduce yourself to a group with your eye on a particular person, your energy will show that and members of the group may feel protective and defensive. There’s nothing wrong with seeking a romantic moment, but that’s not exactly making friends. If you’re looking to hook up, approach with your honest intention and continue your adventure elsewhere if they’re not feeling it.
If you feel a connection with a person or a group, jump right in and introduce yourself. At many festivals, hugs are welcome. If you’re meeting a group, the introduction should bring everyone into the conversation. If you’re talking to someone one-on-one, try pointing your toes in their direction. Your body language will automatically show that you are giving that person your full attention, and you’re not waiting to talk to someone else. If you have trouble remembering names, repeat a person’s name back to them when they introduce themselves. Also, never be afraid to ask a person to repeat their name if you forget or misunderstand it. People will appreciate the time you’ve taken to get their name right.
Participate in Group Experiences
Many music festivals have participatory art installations and fun chill zones. Whether you’re simply sharing the shade or animating a kinetic sculpture, you’re in it together and finding common cause with new people. Check out the festival’s website or read the program to find information on their arts and activities. At LIB I made new friends by pedal-powering a rap battle , chilling in a rope web with four charming locals, and enjoying the incredible interactive Jive Joint . (If you see it at a festival, sit right up front!)
Dancing is another way to filter the type of folks who might share your inclinations. I personally like big, silly dance moves. If I can make someone laugh on the dance floor, I’ve either made a new friend or at least shared a memorable moment. If you feel too shy to talk to a new person but would like to make some new friends on the dance floor, try grooving in headphones at a silent disco. More and more music festivals have them and they are particularly fun in the early hours.
Volunteering at a festival is an excellent way to make new friends, and the camaraderie feels a little like a summer job. You’ll also get the inside scoop on the festival, learn new things and meet new people. If you don’t want to commit to something formal, you can always just find a half-assembled geodesic dome or help set up your neighbor’s campsite.
This article was originally published in 2015 and has since been updated.