By Embracing Families at Festivals, We Prime Our Next Generation of Festival-Goers
I remember the first time I saw a child at a festival. I was at Burning Man and my first thought was, ”Holy crap this isn’t a place for kids! Are those parents nuts?!” This was my Mormon upbringing ringing in my ears, loud and clear. But as I have moved away from that way of life, a new thought pattern has emerged. And while some parents feel that once they have a child, festivals can no longer be a part of their lives because it’s too loud, too expensive, too tough to keep track of them, etc., there are festivals who not only feel that children should be allowed, they go out of their way to make sure families are warmly welcomed.
Barnett English, a producer of Joshua Tree Music Festival, has been a vendor at over 600 musical festivals over the course of 24 years, with his organic espresso company, JavaGoGo. His 11-year-old daughter, Lola, has been to over 125 festivals. English says he has “experienced festivals of all sizes, shapes, colors, and forms," as well as “taken [in] all the positive aspects of those many fests [in order to help create] a festival where families can safely commune and revel and still get their fill of world class performances.”
Joshua Tree specifically includes the slogan "Family Friendly Global Music Experience" at the top of all of their web pages, posters, and flyers. They have a Kidsville, with an action packed schedule to keep kids engaged and entertained. Youngsters either get in free (10 years and under) or for a largely discounted rate (11-16 years). The festival designates one fourth of its campgrounds as Family Camp, where noise is restricted at night and things get going early. They also provide unlimited drinking water and 35,000 square feet of shade to protect tiny bodies from getting too much sun. As English puts it, “I really do strive to make our fest a place where the parents can feel comfortable having their kids roam around, where there are family and quiet spaces, lots of activities, warm, nurturing crew and staff. It’s our thing.”
Fatherly magazine mentioned Joshua Tree – alongside other killer festivals like New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival , Austin City Limits , and Lollapalooza – as one of six top family friendly festivals to attend. And they’re not the only ones who take steps to welcome families. Symbiosis Gathering has an entire family-friendly zone called Kidzbiosis , where families flock for all the perks of a festival experience with added peace of mind. In 2016, Kidzbiosis added a Family Camp as well, similar to Joshua Tree Music Festival's. Burning Man's famous Kidsville is a full-fledged village where burner kids can do anything from learn about art installations to battle it out in a mini kids' Thunderdome. And why do they do it?
“With more kids in the audience, the vibe is higher and richer, even for those without children. When you see a group of kids doing cartwheels, you smile," English said.
Festivals aren’t just about partying or music. Festivals are about connection and community. Exposing children to this community-oriented way of life does them a great service. It allows them to become acquainted with the raucous revelry in a way that, if done right, opens doors to discover their own inner power for the rest of their lives. And more than that, it could create a generation of kids who can change the world, kids who aren’t sucked into consumerism and commodification. Kids who are comfortable setting boundaries for themselves because they have been given opportunities to do so. Kids who know what it means to be part of a community that plays and survives together. Kids who know that, in order to get the benefits of the journey, you gotta pack it in and pack it out.
Youngsters are given a chance to just plain get dirty and learn that the world is not idiot-proofed. “I know hundreds of kids who get as excited about their festival experiences as their parents do, that look forward to the next one more than they do Christmas or their birthday, and who truly have transformative weekends together with families and friends," English said.
So if that’s what kids can get out of festivals, how we can give our support to families and the festivals welcoming them? We treat them like we treat anyone in our community, like they have a right to be there. Like they bring something special to the party. We engage with them and remind them that they are safe and encouraged along this journey just like the rest of us. And we let parents know that we are here to help – because that’s what a community does.
At Symbiosis Gathering in 2015, the music stopped abruptly and the DJ announced that a child had been found alone and safe. He called out his parents by name and told them where to meet the little one. My heart warmed. It was a beautiful moment to think that someone had the wherewithal to see a wandering kid and get engaged in helping him find his folks. I can imagine that being a full time guardian is more than a little draining. To know that in those inevitable moments when you drop the proverbial ball, that your community is there to help you get back on track with no harm done is a comforting thought. As English mentions, “By catering to families, we create a more connected community, as all parents here are looking out for all the kiddos and here not just their own.” Now, that’s community.
Each generation sees the one growing behind it with some level of admiration. There seems to be a prevailing mindset that “Hey, we did our best, but these next kids, they're really going to take this to the next level.” As my dad says, “Kids raise good parents.” But kids can only grow to surpass us if we give them wings. That’s what families are doing at festivals. They are showing their kids what it means to be in touch with the inspirational elements of this world and how to be an active part of them. And what’s better for our community, our planet, and our future than that?