Bottle Rockin’ Napa: how to get the most out of your music festival experience

The inaugural Bottle Rock Music Festival in Napa, CA just wrapped up on Sunday and the impressive musical lineup combined with Napa-area food, wines and beers has instantly placed Bottle Rock in the league of other nearby, world-class music festivals (Coachella, Outside Lands). Highlights of the festival included an entrancing, dance-inducing show from the high powered acoustic duo Rodrigo y Gabriela, a classic, legendary performance from Jackson Browne, a skillful and inspired Andrew Bird, an energetic and dazzling show from the Kings of Leon, the warmingly humble Brandi Carlyle, and epic performances from The Shins, Donavon Frankenreiter, Alabama Shakes, The Black Keys, Ben Harper, Edward Sharpe, and more.

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After attending Bottle Rock 2013 along with many other festivals, we at CheapAir wanted to share some tips for traveling to a music festival. Whether you’re traveling to Coachella, Outside Lands, Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits or Bottle Rock 2014, these tidbits are here to help you enjoy your days.

Tip #1 Don’t rely on cell phones

Many festivals are held in rural or loosely populated areas to accommodate the large crowds of festival goers. Often times the infrastructure isn’t sufficient to handle the cell phone traffic and even when accommodations are made by the festival organizers, the mobile service can be spotty and variable depending on your mobile phone carrier and the size and bandwidth usage of the crowd around you.

Tip #2 Keep meeting spots very clear – triangulate landmarks

Stick with your group, and if one person is ducking away to a restroom or food stand, be very clear on meeting spots. Never say “I’ll just look for you over there…” – there could be 10,000 people in that spot in a matter of minutes if a performance ends, and you might not be able to text or call to get in touch. One trick is to have the group stay stationary if one person or a segment of the group is going elsewhere, and use landmarks like large tents, banners or overhead wires to triangulate where everyone is located.

Tip #3 Stay hydrated, here’s how

Bring an empty canteen. Most music festivals won’t let you bring a canteen full of water (or other beverages) for security reasons, but generally you can refill them once inside. A bottle of water at a festival will often run $4 and you must stay hydrated, so having a canteen you can refill with filtered water is ideal, as long as the line to refill the canteen is tolerable.

Tip #4 Bring a small backpack stocked with essentials

Once you have your canteen, consider some other helpful essentials. Your packing list can include a granola bar, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, lip balm, a hat, and a fleece/jacket. All those things should still keep the backpack light so it won’t be a burden to carry around all day. All these items in total weigh only a few pounds. Not only will the backpack be handy for what’s inside, but if you take a break it functions perfectly as a pillow.

Tip #5 Let there be light!

Have something unique that glows, lights up or otherwise catches your eye at night. It helps others you’re with spot you while walking through crowds in the dark.

Tip #6 Use height to your advantage

If you happen to be over 7 feet tall, congratulations, but otherwise a stick with a brightly colored bandana held above your head can be seen and followed by your group as you traverse even the most densely packed concerts. And if you’re feeling creative, create a mast with your own unique design.

Bottle Rock, Napa CA stage

Tip #7 Didn’t dress warm enough for the nighttime? Here’s what to do

Temperatures vary. If you find yourself cold, often due to the wind, use the crowd to your advantage by getting into the middle of an energetic crowd. You’ll be warmer than standing on the sidelines, and have a lot more fun too.

Tip #8 Keep your wristband

When attending a multi-day festival that has wristbands for those over 21, don’t take off the wristband at night. It may be slightly odd to sleep with a Budweiser wristband, but it’ll save you from having to stand in line again for a new one the following day.

Tip #9 Use zippered compartments

Jumping and dancing has a way of causing phones and electronics to fall and get lost. And at night there’s almost no chance of finding a lost Smartphone. Securing them in a zippered compartment is the way to go.

Tip #10 Stand behind shorter people

For the best view, walk through the crowd and try to spot a group of shorter people. That will give you a better view of the stage and often you’ll only need to walk 10 or 20 feet to find the perfect perch.

Tip #11 Ask others about their food

Most festivals have many more food choices than you could try, and some of the better music festivals have downright incredible food options catered by local restaurants. Not only is it difficult to know all the options, it can even be impossible to spot all the hidden restaurant gems. If you see something that looks good, ask the person where they found it – sometimes it’s off in a corner you otherwise would have never discovered.

Tip #12 At end of night: leave just before the end of the set

Ok, some music fans will consider this sacrilegious, but leaving before the end of the set can be a good strategy, especially at the end of the night. Heading for the exit during what you think is the last song will give you the opportunity to hear the music, but be at the exit by the time the masses start moving. If you’re catching a shuttle or exiting a parking lot this one action could save you an hour of extra waiting time.

These festival tips are brought to you by, with noteworthy contributions from San Francisco-based festival goer Wendy Lu.

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