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Survival Tips for Transformational Festival Newbies

Photo by: Conner Coughenour
by Laura Mason | @masonlazarus Fri May 12, 2017 | 12:15 PM

I’m not an electronic music lover; I idolize Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead. I’m not a camper; I don’t even own a sleeping bag. And I don’t do yoga; it made me faint once. I much prefer screaming vocals, epic choruses, guitar solos, clean feet, an insulated roof over my head, and music festivals after which I can retreat to a hotel room full of my friends. I’m a stubborn, neurotic city mouse who loves her creature comforts – so much so that I think my fellow Fest300 cohorts couldn’t wait for the opportunity to (lovingly) shove me out of my comfort zone when I joined the team a few months ago. In fact, I had never even heard the phrase “transformational festival.” So as Memorial Day Weekend 2015 approached, a plan arose. “Let’s all go to Lightning In a Bottle ,” they said. “It’s for the company.”

Anxious, yet more than slightly intrigued by the chance to experience something new, I agreed. Then I fretted about what to bring, how I would be able to sleep on the ground in a tent, whether I could conquer moments of uncertainty in a sea of 20,000 people, and how I’d survive four nights and a million miles away from the nearest electrical outlet for my hair straightener. But guess what? I had a sweaty, sticky, dancey, helluva good time, and am already making sketches of the totem I plan to hoist into the air at the Woogie Stage next year. And, okay, I kind of lied, I do LOVE Tycho – so that was a major cherry on top.

So how can a girl who likes to nerd out on heavy metal and have full access to her hair products and makeup every single day survive – no, THRIVE – at a dusty, hot, four-day camping-and-yoga-centric transformational festival full of untz-untz-untzes like LIB – without any of her close pals in tow?

Inspired by this past weekend, here are my survival tips for transformational festival newbies (whether you’re a guy or gal) like me.

Open Your Heart to New People and Experiences

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This is a big one. One of our philosophies at Fest300 is that, in this increasingly routine- and digitally driven society, it’s important to break out of our ruts and reconnect with one another, person to person and in new, challenging ways. Festivals are perfect for that; you will encounter scores of different people who come from all over the place and have different jobs, ways of expressing themselves, hobbies, styles of dress, and definitions of what they think is “fun” or “beautiful.” Just because you don’t hang out with “those kinds of people” in “real life” doesn’t mean you can’t dance with them, share beer or your life story with them at a festival. After all, you never know what kind of spiritual, emotional, or physical journeys other people might offer you if you never let them into your heart. And the ultimate goal? Infusing that same sense of openness, freedom and warmth you feel in a festival setting into your everyday routines.

Let Go of Expectations

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Photo by Connor Coughenour

This goes hand in hand with my previous tip. With an open heart and zero expectations, your transformational festival experience will go exactly as it should. You’ll leave with no “what if” this and “I should have” that. If I hadn’t thrashed around like a maniac during Odesza, I never would have hurt my neck and felt compelled to wander into LIB’s amazing Healing Sanctuary, where I received a soul-soothing massage from Ash Tree, nor would I have met Nathaniel, a sound healer, while I was waiting for my appointment. He asked if I wanted to be “bowled,” and I said yes, so he had me stand up, state my intention for being at LIB, and close my eyes. He then held a giant copper bowl up and hit it softly with a mallet, so that gentle, undulating soundwaves enveloped my body as he moved the vibrating bowl around my skull and torso. I’ve never felt so many chills tickle my spine. Sure, I wanted to see Scotty Soltronic’s talk about "Futuristic Space Technology and Its People" at the Mystery School, but then again, I wouldn’t have discovered the sexy groove of Bob Moses and the utter magic of the Woogie Stage. Expectations are what lead to routines, and routines are the enemy of any authentic festival experience.

Let Others Show You the Ropes

Lightning In A Bottle 2015 Reid Godshaw Fest300 Team

Eamon Armstrong, myself, Chip Conley, Micah Byrnes, and Emily Ward, the Fest300 team photographed by Reid Godshaw's Harmonic Light

There are always going to be people around you who are seasoned festival veterans, full of knowledge and wisdom. Let them bestow that info upon you; ask questions, take their advice, follow their lead. They know secrets that will enlighten and heighten your fest experience more than any blog post you read on the internet will. I was fortunate because I have a set of passionate festival weirdos in my own backyard: my Fest300 coworkers. They showed me musical acts I'd never heard of, took me to see a super informative talk by our pal Cameron Bowman, "The Festival Lawyer," at the Mystery School, and sat me down for a raucous family-style Italian dinner and a show at Amori's Burlesque & Casino , where we sat front row and got the royal treatment. After dinner, perhaps my favorite part of the festival occurred: We got our portraits taken by photography wizard Reid Godshaw, who takes long-exposure photos and uses special lights to paint around his subjects, creating trippy-as-hell, unedited and one-of-a-kind images that seem to live and breathe energy and magic. Had my festie pro coworkers not been by my side, I wouldn't have discovered so many of the nooks and crannies of LIB.

Just Be You

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Photo by: Eric Allen

If you’re new to the transformational or even the electronic music scene, you probably won’t ~look~ like most of the people there – and that’s totally okay. Just because you’re not decked out in glitter, sequins, neon, face paint, fake fur or anything else eye-catching doesn’t mean you’re not sparkling on your own. On two separate days, I wore the ratty Beavis & Butthead tank top and the way-too-big, old Motorhead shirt that I always wear, and raver kids were high-fiving me, addressing me as “Beavis,” and telling me Lemmy jokes. I felt more confident and shimmery than I ever would have wearing things that didn’t reflect who I am. It’s not about fitting in, projecting a certain lifestyle or having a specific look down, it’s about being your best self so you can radiate confidence and happiness so you and everyone around you can have the best time. Oh, but one fashion tip, no matter what your style— bring a bandana so your lungs don’t fill with dust.

Forget That You’re Totally Filthy

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Photo by Connor Coughenour

It wasn’t until the ninth mile of walking on my first full day of LIB that I looked down at my sandaled hooves and realized they’d turned into hobbit feet. Black with dirt and reddened from the sun, I just shrugged at them and continued towards the main stage to catch Odesza. The next day my jaw hit the floor as I marveled at the amounts of soot on the baby wipes I used to clean my forehead and cheeks. The next day, I finally decided that my hair, which felt stiff and dry like hay, looked like Robert Plant’s of Led Zeppelin circa 1972, which has been my ultimate dream hair look since ninth grade. The final day as we were packing up our camp gear, I glanced at my face in a hand-held mirror and literally laughed aloud because, sunburned and covered in dust, I looked like a wizened ghoul – despite a visit to LIB’s heaven-sent shower station the day before. Even though I knew I was dirty and crusty almost from the moment I arrived, we were all dirty and crusty together, so no one gave a damn.

Never Forget Water

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Photo by Connor Coughenour

This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to forget how straight-up hectic festival environments are, and how being dehydrated can ruin a fun time. Throw in hot temperatures (it got up to 85 degrees at LIB), a ton of walking around (I walked 10 miles each day of the festival), fierce competition for shaded areas, the prevalence and temptation of booze, and dancing, and your throat’s going to be as parched as the drought-stricken California grounds upon which Lightning in a Bottle was held. Luckily, the folks who put on LIB provided tons of free water stations throughout the festival: near stages, campgrounds, port-a-potties and food vendors. It’s just on you to remember to bring something to put that water in.

Let Your Music-Snob Guard Down

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Photo by: Soodyod

As I said before, I’m not an electronic music lover. But I have been known to indulge in the occasional Kraftwerk, Four Tet, Air, Caribou or Tycho, and because music is basically the most important thing to me in general, I knew I’d find more than just a few acts to love and dance to at LIB – and I was right. The year I went, Shiba San, Bob Moses, Active Child (wow), Random Rab, Alunageorge, Lucent Dossier Experience, Goldroom, Flume, Odesza, Thomas Jack and others spewed melodies and beats that seemed to heighten everything (and everyone) around me and provided an unforgettable soundtrack to the entire weekend. If you can’t shed your music snobbery at the gates, there’s no point in going through them at all.

I came back Monday evening, my body feeling broken, my skin crispy from the sun and everything I own totally dirty. But I was prouder of myself than I had been in a long time, closer to my coworkers than I’ve felt at any other job, and beaming at the thought of the fresh connections and friends I’d made. Next stop? Burning Man.

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Start Date: May 25, 2016
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