Hi, I'm Alex, and I'm what some people would call an introverted personality type with anxiety. (This is where you say hello back!) This summer, I raved alone at Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, was ditched by my now-ex for the majority of Electric Forest in Rothbury, turned up last minute and alone a day into Camp Bisco at a water park in Scranton, and met a few old friends underneath the neon sky at Electric Zoo on Randall's Island smack in the middle of NYC. In short: I went all in and learned a thing or two about enjoying dance music festivals as an anxious introvert, so you don't have to.
When Bassnectar kicked-off his 2017 Camp Bisco set with his own rendition of The Doors' classic "Riders on the Storm," the sea of Bassheads was already in formation beneath the laser-lit pavilion at Montage Mountain. Some chose their spots well before the sun had even set and held steady, trout-like, through sets from the Disco Biscuits and Lotus; others had rushed in when the hard rain first began to fall. My rave buddy for the evening and I, however, didn't want to miss a moment of G Jones at the other end of the venue, so we showed up just as Lorin Ashton was taking the stage. I'd rather run back and forth across a meandering water park in a downpour than wait around in between sets, thus leaving myself vulnerable to the nightmare known as small talk.
Determined to get that sweet, sweet bass all up in my face as much as possible, I grabbed my friend's hand and smooth talked our way through the crowd: "Excuse me, that's my glow stick up there!" "Pardon me, I need to catch up with my grandma!" "Sorry, my pineapple got loose!" By the time Bassnectar was mixing "Frog Song" into "Music is the Drug" featuring LUZCID, we were dancing our way through someone else's VIP box, front and center.
To the untrained eye, we might have passed as the most outrageously extroverted duo in the place -- one member of this box full of "Very Important People" even accused me of "having some serious cajones." Yet, what if I told you that back home ("IRL" if you will) I have a hard time ordering myself a drink at the local dive bar I've patronized weekly for the better part of the past decade, and that I'd rather spend most nights at home with my cat scribbling in my notebook than making new friends?
Sure, I get my kicks by swinging from chandeliers (or dancing my way to the gate during Deadmau5, which was no small feat at Electric Zoo if we're being honest) as much as the next person, but that doesn't change the fact that I'm an introvert who also happens to live with what doctors call general anxiety disorder. What that translates to is that a) some social situations exhaust me, whereas time spent doing my own thing without many interruptions to my internal dialogue fires me up, and b) I have to take time and space to prepare for things, lest the sense of impending doom swallows me whole.
After a few rough festival experiences under my belt -- I fell asleep before Nine Inch Nails' set at my first Bonnaroo because I was literally worried about being tired for that set so I decided to take a nap and didn't wake up and it remained the worst mistake of my life. That is, until I skipped out on Boards of Canada because my then-boyfriend wanted to go to sleep and I felt weird and unsure of how to scurry off to that late-night Bisco set alone -- I've figured out how to do it right.
Now, I'm getting ready to head down to Spirit Lake in Live Oak, Florida for Suwannee Hulaween with a Facebook acquaintance I first met at Bisco years ago when it was still in New York. At first, the idea of going to a festival I've never attended with a near-stranger and her crew seemed terrifying, but with the String Cheese Incident's fifth incarnation of the Halloween weekend party bringing a lineup including Bassnectar, RL Grime, GRiZ, Ween, Run the Jewels, Nick Murphy, FKJ, and so many others, it's totally worth working through my anxiety and making the dream of attending a reality. Follow along as I get ready for Hulaween and put my own theories of how to find my own home within the best loud, crowded spaces on earth to the test.
- Prepare. By "getting ready" for Hulaween, I mean: I'm preparing as if I were rolling with a pack of the drunkest and disorderly party animals imaginable, and the success of the weekend for the whole crew depends on little old me stepping up my game, Girl Scout style. Substitute the chaotic friends with Things That Can Possibly Go Wrong, rock the tried-and-true Girl Scout motto ("always be prepared"), and you get the idea.
Find out if the festival has an app and download it before you leave the comfort of your own wifi. A lot of festivals have stopped printing paper programs in order to save trees, so you can't count on paper schedules and maps being available. I'm downloading Hulaween's app as I write this, but have no idea what my service will be like or if I'll get to charge my phone easily, so I'm also planning as if my phone will be in airplane mode most of the time. Check out the event's website and screenshot maps of the grounds, the daily schedules, and any other pertinent pieces of information; favorite these photos, make them your homescreen, do whatever makes them easy-to-find in a jiffy, with or without free wifi.
You can even go so far as writing important information down in whatever tiny notebook you plan on bringing (if you don't have one, I recommend getting one. My little moleskines are my shield against unwanted interactions and my charm against bad situations). So far I've got my travel plans plotted-out, including my friend's number, as well as when my top essential sets are going down: "Bassnectar, Friday night," etcetera.
Read the festival FAQ. Hulaween put together a "Top Tips" page, so I'm starting there. Make a packlist and double-check it against the festival's do's and don'ts. Pack a tarp and an extra poncho even if the weather report calls for nothing but sunshine; pack your onesie, extra socks, and lots of other layers even if you are headed closer to the equator. Envision your outfits for two different temperatures for each day and pack accordingly. There's never a good reason to pack your entire wardrobe without a plan, or all of your makeup; there's also never reason to catch a chill!
Make your food list and bring more than enough of your favorite non-perishable bars no matter what. Text your mom, post a status, and leave a note for your roommate so people know where you're going. You can probably take it from here.
2. Get really, really into it. Plan your ideal schedule. Look into artists with whom you are less familiar. Listen to whatever tracks or mixes the festival itself shares. Dive into related hashtags on Instagram, look for relevant subreddits, read what people are saying about the festival or its headlining artists on Facebook and in the media. I've been getting hype for Hulaween by marathoning RL Grimes' collection of Halloween mixes while making festive Kandi stating things like "put a spell on u," "bite me," "slay," and reading reviews of the first four incarnations of the String Cheese Incident's sold-out event.
3. Consider Volunteering. My best festival experiences ever have involved volunteering in some capacity. Volunteering with HeadCount, the nonpartisan voter empowerment organization, at Camp Bisco a few years back is hands-down the best of such memories. The gig got me entry to the festival, and provided me some much-needed structure to the long weekend; the notion of empowering my fellow Bassheads as voters gave me something of a positive purpose for being there other than dancing and debauchery. There's always the Clean Vibes option (you get to help people recycle and compost correctly!), volunteering with the festival itself, or looking into other organizations that might be partnering with a particular event.
4. Once on-site, do a walk-through. Ride that adrenaline rush wave upon arrival and take the time to find the closest porta-potty line and water refill stations, both in the camping area and inside the venue. Crack open a cold one with the neighbors and leave your comfort zone for a moment of introductions, because it's easier to ask everyone their name before the festivities really start. Head through the venue gates the soonest they let you and do a full walk-through and take mental note of where things are.
5. Warm up to rage mode after you warm up to the day. Take your time getting up and getting ready each day. Don't forsake your daily routine: if you're like me and can't function before your first homemade almond milk latte of the day, come prepared with instant coffee or energy drinks; there might be some dank coffee for sale on the grounds, but expect the lines to be long. Take your vitamins, brush your teeth, stretch, journal for a few, whatever.
6. Create a festival persona. Everyone has their Thing; make being more outgoing part of yours! Or, just get really into character in your fairy wings or unicorn horn. I'm planning on rocking sparkly metal-inspired makeup all Hulaween weekend long, and am going to put on a boisterous "hell yeah 666" attitude to match.
7. Take it easy. Remember, if you're like me, you don't recharge your batteries by being a social butterfly. It's okay to take time to sprawl-out on a blanket with your notebook or a snack.
8. Team-up with an extrovert. My old festie bestie's photo is next to "outgoing" in the dictionary, but now that he's out of the picture I love meeting a new outgoing girl gang each day of every festival I attend while the sun's still high in the sky. I've had the best luck finding the extroverted ying to my introverted yang at daytime activities like hula-hooping workshops, then making plans to meet-up at a certain spot for a certain artist's set later in the day.
9. Immerse yourself! Participate in all the activities that make dance music festivals immersive, transcendental, life-affirming experiences. I plan on spending a lot of time taking in all that Hulaween has to offer: between gong baths, slacklining workshops, and what looks like a baller craft beer corner, I won't even have to worry about making small talk if I don't want to.
10. Finally, approach the festival like a fairytale or a game: it's not exactly real life. You are absolved from being social in ways with which you are uncomfortable.