Rock a Music Festival with Kids

You may no longer be quite as into the idea of spending three days camping in the desert with 100,000 of your closest, friends, Coachella-style, as you once were, but becoming a parent doesn’t mean you have to give up summer music festivals altogether. I’ve spent many enjoyable days at outdoor music festivals with my family, and have learned a few lessons along the way about how to make it a good time for everyone. So dust off your cut-offs and crocheted tops—or, you know, your coolest pair of comfy shoes and a sunhat—and read on for my best tips for rocking out with the kids in tow.


For at least your first couple of family music festival adventures, seek out festivals in your own area that won’t require an overnight stay. Look for festivals that offer one-day tickets (as opposed to weekend-only passes), so you won’t be tempted to stay longer just to get your money’s worth. One of our favorite local festivals is Field Trip Music and Arts Festival, which is so close to our home in downtown Toronto that we cycle there, which immediately cuts out the long walk or shuttle bus ride from the parking lot that can make just getting to some music festivals a less-than-child-friendly experience. If there isn’t a big festival near where you live, try starting simple with a free concert in a local park or amphitheater.


The volume of music pumping through sound systems at outdoor festivals can damage kids’ ears, so be sure to bring ear protection! We use the cute noise-cancelling ear protectors that look like headphones and always avoid standing too close to the speakers beside the stage. It’s also important to consider the style of music: smaller stages at folk festivals are quiet enough for kids to enjoy without the headphones, but major rock shows are so loud that even adults will want to consider popping in some earplugs.


If a festival has a kids’ stage or kids’ play area, it’s a great sign that it is a family-friendly event. The tricky part is not getting stuck at the kids’ stage all day. One way to escape the kiddie vortex is for the adults to take turns sneaking off (make sure you have your phone with you!) to catch a few songs at the main stage while the kids are occupied at the bouncy castle. We’ve also had some success in weaning our children onto enjoying concerts at “the big stage.” It’s all about combining seeing a band with something else they enjoy: lunch or a special treat within earshot of the stage, unlimited shoulder rides so they can actually see the musicians on stage, or making friends of all ages by blowing bubbles or handing out glow sticks.


Like any long day spent outside, the key to a meltdown-free experience is to keep everyone well hydrated and fed, and to take lots of bathroom and shade breaks. Scope out a patch of shade for snack time and always, always head to the long line of porta-potties before young kids announce they have to go (which can sometimes be too late). To help lower the gross-factor of portable toilets, make sure to bring along a small package of wet-wipes.


You don’t want to go overboard with the packing, since you’ll have to carry around whatever you bring, but an extra t-shirt and a warm sweatshirt for each kid for when the temperature dips after dark are a good idea. If the forecast calls for rain, stuff a lightweight raincoat or poncho into the bottom of your backpack just in case. Another option is to leave extra clothes in the car, so you’ll at least have something dry to change into for the ride home. Or, if you want to be hard-core, don’t bring any extra clothes at all and if rains, go full-Woodstock with a family mudslide and then buy your kid their first concert tee from the merch table for the trip home.


Photo by Mr. Seb via Flickr