Squad Up: Choosing (And Keeping!) Your Festival Crew

Summer’s arrived and with that comes festival season: Time to squad up or fly solo, depending on your modus operandi.

Some of us like to fly with the wind, meet a thousand strangers and wake up lying among piles of feathers; others are more about partying with your people and creating a happening home base that is both inviting and exciting. Either way, it's still pretty sweet to have people you will share this incredible experience with, and know you'll all arrive back at camp to compare notes in the morning before doing it all again. Getting friends to commit before a festival can be tough, but much easier when you have the right people - "What a great group, now I can't miss out" - and the right plan - "Sounds perfect, count me in!".  which is why you've got to be careful who you pick for that email chain or text message group. Here are a couple tips for picking (and keeping!) the ultimate festival posse to Squad up:

1. Pick your Festival Family

I’m not saying to waste your fest being Mama Bear. I’m saying that although this is radical-self-reliance central, we all forget little things (who’s got a fucking can opener?), and need help sometimes (why won’t my car start)? Festival buddies are good friends because they can laugh at each other’s dumb mistakes while at the same time helping them out! If you have a drama-queen who would rather create a scene than a safe place for his homies, or a sparklepony drunktard who can be relied upon to forget her tent and her bowel control, these are not people you need to invite to camp with you. Invite them to camp with the people you don’t like, because, hey, radical inclusion and all. But you if you don’t want to hear their over-loud opinion of how you should have picked a better tent, or help them find a phone charger when they have to make like E.T. and phone home, you are under no obligation to invite them to be your festival family. Just say your camp is full.

On the other hand, if you have a great friend who’s been interested but doesn’t have the confidence to try this alone, give them a hand and a spot in your car! Cut those kids a little slack and show them how to rock out with your (no shirt-cockers please) weierbach out! We all needed someone to show us the ropes, and popping someone’s Gratitude cherry is a good way to be remembered forever. Bring the friends that you want to introduce to all the amazing people at your new favorite festival.

2. Align Your Goals

It’s always more fun to camp with friends, but if you're set on hitting up two workshops a day while your friends would rather sit at camp and nurse their hangovers, you may be running with the wrong pack. Pick a group that enjoys the same vibe as you -- early morning yoga or dancing til dawn. It's really great to have a buddy that can dare you to swim after sunset or hold your pack while you're in the potty.  Check with your friends on their goals and make sure you have the same ones - things like where you’ll camp (party side vs. family camping), what/when you’ll eat and drink, and time spent at camp vs out and about. You don't want to feel like you're constantly trying to drag everyone out of camp to explore; nor do you want to be the lonely one left behind. Communicate your intentions so you can have the ultimate time with others who share your vision for the festival.

 Photo by Daniel Montuoro

Photo by Daniel Montuoro

3. Community is Key

You have two brand-new coolers but no dayshade; they have a dayshade they didn’t plan on packing, but their coolers look like Swamp Thing. You know how bad this could turn out? Start a group email with your buddies about what you have and what you’ll need as a group. What would you want to make your weekend perfect? Do you have fire toys but no fuel? Ramen but no camp stove? Will your friend bring their inflatable unicorn floaty? What about a first aid kit? Does someone need a generator (make sure they have a sound dampening plan, and calculate amperage before you expect to draw from it)? Dear god, someone bring extra camp chairs! And if you guys are real party pros, bring a sign for your shantytown and some cute coordinated gifts to give out. Something as small as a sticker, a signature drink, or a polaroid photo with your camps inflatable unicorn floaty can really make someone’s festival special.

 Photo by Tico Chango

Photo by Tico Chango

4. Carpool or Caravan

Get the fest started early by carpooling and caravaning with your friends! Traveling with your friends is fun, and a great way to begin the conversations and plans for the event. They’ll often have ideas or camping secrets or at least stupid jokes that you didn’t hear about before, and arriving together saves the hassle of a campsite being too small or in the wrong space. When everyone arrives at the same time, no one has to do all the prep-work (picking the campsite, cordoning off space, arranging power, setting up the dayshade and kitchen) alone -- and then no one has to get blamed for anything after. You’ll get to help arrange and decorate your communal “home” for the weekend. Plus, you’ll get those unique inside jokes about stopping at Ed’s WaffleBear Restaurant together and getting a photo with the WaffleBear, and when it roared and you all screamed and ran away except Bobby who had fallen asleep on the bear…. You really had to be there to get it.

 Photo by Kate Hess

Photo by Kate Hess

5. Set Expectations Ahead of Time

Once you've decided you'll be camping together, talk about what that looks like. Are you just neighbors who wave at each other once or twice in the weekend, or will you be doing meals and specific activities together? If you're festival-ing with a partner, this paramount: do you want to spend all your time together, are you just heading out together at night, or will you share different schedules entirely? Do you want to set a few meeting times during the day or do you want to be surprised and delighted when you run into each other? I always encourage couples to arrange at least one day where you have time to run around solo - that way you have a chance to feel the freedom in your sails, and remember why you like having the other person around, before returning to each other refreshed and full of stories. Talk with your campmates about how they will balance posse period vs solo exploration. Where will everyone be hanging out during the day or night; and are there any must-do events, activities or sets that you need to see together? Clarifying some of these points ahead of time helps avoid major meltdowns when there's a musician coming on in ten minutes, you’re halfway across the beach and no one's even started getting dressed yet.

6. Set a designated meeting spot 

“Back at camp” might mean a twenty minute walk, so if you're aiming to meet up during the day or night, scope the stage or center camp areas and pick a place to claim as your own. It might be handy to set one of these at every stage or on opposite sides of the festival to keep you covered. "Meet me at the Gratitude Earth Stage" can be "Meet me at that pole to the left of the stage (when you're facing it), right in front of that dome..." That way, if you get lost and have a plan to meet, you know exactly where to go and at what specific time (i.e. see you all here after the set...)

 Photo by No Fear of Missing Out

Photo by No Fear of Missing Out

7. Set up meeting times that work for the group

She's playing on the beach; he's teaching a workshop; and the others are at a morning dance party - but you've all agreed to be back at camp to eat, catch up and see what's happening for the rest of the day. You guys are smarter than this! Setting a meeting time that interrupts the flow of someone’s day means that someone won’t show up. It's best to set a time of day when you'll all convene at camp or your designated meeting spot naturally. Most camps meet together at dinner time to talk about the day’s events and prepare for the night, some do a breakfast or lunch meetup too -- meals are good to gather around because people sit down and have a chance to talk instead of just waiting impatiently to be able to go. Whether you’re all buying from the food trucks, eating space food from cans, or cooking an elaborate vegan feast, make sure you agree to sit down together at a specific place before wandering off again to the next experience.

8. Be flexible

A great part of attending a festival is the lack of constraints like schedules, deadlines, and that ticking clock. Going with friends and setting up meeting times is great, but be prepared to let all that fly out the window and cut your friends some slack if they're a little late because of an awesome talk they just heard that's got them in a post-workshop haze. Be open to your own flow and it won't bother you when your friends get lost in theirs. And, hey, when you’ve been waiting 45min, it’s okay to let your friend be a no-show and not waste your own fest waiting for them. They know where the camp is, you’ll see them later. Unless there’s a reason to truly be worried (at which point, please find a Ranger to help), go find your own amazing experience to share with them when they tell you their great story tomorrow.

9. Tune in and keep an eye on your friends

No matter how safe and secure the festival environment, there are still dangers present, especially where intoxication is involved. If your friends are working with substances that incapacitate them in any way, shape or form, keep an eye out. Designate a signal or safe word to indicate when they're not okay; including any sexual discomfort or inappropriate touch. If you're ready to move on, check in with your friend first that he/she is okay with the stranger they're dancing with before leaving them to their own devices. Tune in to your friend's vibe and keep an eye out to make sure they're safe. And, importantly, make sure you’re with friends that will take care of you as much as you take care of them! If your friends are more lenient with certain kinds of touch or conversation than you are, or if you know that you are not as assertive as you’d like to be in certain situations, talk about this with your friends beforehand so they know to be extra-vigilant if they see someone intruding on your comfort zone.

10. Town Trip

Someone in your camp or the next camp over will, undoubtedly, go to town for supplies on Saturday. Is that saver of souls you? If not, bring cash for whatever you don’t yet realize you’ve forgot, and track them down early. Once someone has at least 3 orders from their friends and actual cash in their hands, they are 300% more likely to actually leave the party and take care of your real-world needs. Cause someone’s gotta make sure you get the sunglasses/ cigarettes / toothbrush you so desperately need.

11. Put the phone away

Make sure you don’t lose your phone while you’re out and about, in fact your best idea is to leave it in your car! If not your car, at least in that “safe place” in your tent. But maybe you've got crew stuck in the city who live vicariously through your updates; perhaps you need a thousand selfies to take home with you. If you need to use your phone for a camera or watch, put it on airplane mode - the batteries will last much longer that way - and remember that the memories live on in your heart just as much as they do on the phone. There are lots of events and workshops to experience completely and make new friends for next year. Do your best to live in the moment by putting your phone away and just taking in everything around you. Don’t waste your space on the dance floor or the beauty of the beach by having your nose in your phone! When it comes to meeting up with your friends, you'll find them when the time is right - that's what home base is for! Ignoring your friends (and that potential new friend just down the beach) to constantly check your phone is the best way to not be invited back to the festival family. Are your phone friends more important than the real ones, standing in front of you at their most beautiful, glistening, radiant glory? Then you probably won’t be Best Festival Friends Forever! It’s okay -- go find someone that is!


Written with input from Zeut Riot