A Cranky Fan's Guide to Music Festivals

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There's nothing like hearing that your favorite band is going to be performing somewhere nearby, especially if they almost never play live shows, or are coming out of a long retirement. Those sorts of announcements can excite a rock fan in ways almost nothing else will. Of course, sometimes there's a catch, as when your favorite band is performing at a huge music festival three hours away instead of in their own concert in the city where you live. Some people seem to love huge festivals stretching out over days; others tolerate them to see one or two bands they love; and people like myself just let out a frustrated sigh. As anyone who's ever been to one knows, big festivals can have a few downsides.

Anyone living in Houston or the rest of Texas knows the weather can be..."interesting." A good assumption most of the year is that it'll be hotter than Satan's frying pan until at least dark, and for some reason thunderstorms seem to seek out music festivals like frat boys looking for a keg. Sure, most Texans are used to the extreme weather, or at least expect it as a possibility, but a two- or three-day outdoor festival that encounters some rain or abnormally hot weather can test the resolve of the biggest music fan. Some people worship the outdoors, but for those who enter a festival lily-white from nights spent in darkened clubs, only to emerge looking like an unhappy lobster thanks to a second-degree sunburn...their outdoor live-music experience can kinda suck.

Sure, some festivals are spread out across a bunch of indoor venues, and most of those places will have restrooms that aren't completely horrible. Even if they are exceptionally gross, they're almost never as bad as the rows of portable toilets that often are the only restrooms available at a large outdoor festival. There is no delicate way to describe those accommodations; basically they're plastic closets holding a tank of poo. These torture chambers are especially lovely if the aforementioned heat is bad, but they're never great. Just pray that some dude who has been pounding down beer and chili dogs all day doesn't end up in front of you in line.

It kinda goes without saying that a huge music festival is going to be full of people, but if a person isn't comfortable in a large spread of land teeming with thousands of other humans, it can be pretty overwhelming. And it's not just the sheer number of people that can be off-putting; at last year's Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, so many people were smoking weed that I felt like I was in a Cheech and Chong movie. Have I seen people light up a joint in smaller indoor shows? Sure, but it's a lot less common than when people are outside. It's not just the prospect of going home smelling like the bottom of a bong, either; drunks seem to be worse at big festivals too. I'm guessing that hanging out all day in a sweltering field inspires some folks to spend a good portion of it getting wasted in a way that's harder to pull off over the three or four hours a regular concert might span.

A single ticket to some festivals can cost hundreds of dollars, and if a person wants a chance to see some of the more special performances at something like SXSW, it's going to cost more. Even a more run-of-the-mill outdoor festival gets expensive really fast. Those who want to eat and drink anything, or even buy any band merch, had better get ready to raid the ol' piggy bank, because that stuff adds up quickly. Paying to see bands is one thing, but I always feel a little violated when I see that the price of food and drinks is ten times the going rate outside of the festival.

Let's say a person loves almost every band playing a festival. That's usually not the case, but if it is, this person would then end up with the possibility that two or more of the bands he or she wants to see are going to be playing at the same time on different stages. It can be frustrating to run back and forth trying to catch a little of each band's set, or getting stuck choosing one over the other. What's the point of that? Many people would probably just prefer attending two separate concerts at a regular venue.

Granted, this scenario is more likely at a multi-venue festival like SXSW rather than a big outdoor-stage kind of affair, but boy, does it suck to hear that some music legend is going to perform at some super-small venue, only to realize that not only is it going to be off-limits to almost anyone without some sort of connection, but that the legend in question probably won't be coming back to town again anytime soon. Iggy Pop is going to play a club the size of a shoebox? Oh wait, only 60 people get in, and chances are the average fan doesn't have a chance.

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