A post in which I waffle about some of my experiences of taking my kids to music festivals from when they were babies to now almost adults and why I think it’s been worth it…....
There’s already a multitude of articles about going to festivals with kids and tips for ‘surviving’ the experience, as well as a few about why festivals are no place for children (this one from the Guardian particularly makes me laugh – the author seems mainly concerned about her own lack of sleep).
Let’s be clear about this. I’m all for taking kids to certain music festivals; but which ones depends upon the age of the children. I wouldn’t take a 6-year-old to Reading, but I would a 16-year-old. Although in reality a 16-year-old would much rather go with their friends than their parents – hanging around with mum and dad at Reading would just be so uncool.
I also believe that not all children should be taken to a music festival. As a parent, you know your kids and how they behave. You also know yourself and how as a family you all deal with situations that are potentially outside of your comfort zones. You are therefore best judged to make the decision if going to a music festival is a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ thing to do. Nobody else can make that judgement better – just you.
I went to my first festival (Isle of Wight 1970) when I was 1 year old. Yes, it was the 70’s and yes my parents were hippies. I have a photo of me sitting in my pram looking out over the crowds. Apparently I cried when Jimi Hendrix played. It's OK, it hasn’t mentally scarred me.
My kids went to their first festival when they were 2 and a half and four months old respectively. It was Guilfest – a relatively small to medium sized family friendly affair in a well to do part of Surrey, with a decent size kids area, clean toilets and the benefit of a lido and park next door to the site if it all get a too much. Both myself and my partner were also relatively experienced festival goers – our eldest child went to Glastonbury in the mud whilst in the womb and we’d already taken the kids camping before the festival, so we were reasonably confident about what we were doing.
However, things got off to a bit of an unpredictable start. Having arrived at the site and pitched our tent (the kids slept through all of that) I went to change our eldest’s nappy, only to discover a bunch of odd spots on her belly – chickenpox! Thankfully one of the reasons we’d chosen Guilfest was that the grandparents lived 25 miles away and had agreed to be ‘back up babysitters’ if it all went wrong. So, with one ill child deposited with them, my partner and I guiltily enjoyed Guilfest with the youngest sleeping her way through the vast majority of it in a baby carrier.
Since that time my kids have grown up with festivals. What we’ve chosen to attend as a family has changed over the years as the children have grown up and want different things. Before they could walk or talk it made very little difference what event they went to. So, at any early age we took them to Glastonbury.
Isobel, my eldest, has only a memory of getting her face painted as a rabbit in the Kids Field, whilst her sister Connie has some vague recollections of a dancing sun on stage during The Flaming Lips set. She was 15 when she saw the mighty Lips again in our home city of Portsmouth, where they brought huge balloons stating 'Fuck Yeah Portsmouth' onto stage. Probably not particularly 'family friendly' language, but it's nothing worse than what she hears in the playground every day. Back to Glastonbury though and my own striking memory is leaving on Monday morning at 3am as it started to rain, managing to take the tent down in the dark with the children still asleep, and transporting them back to the car without them being aware of what was happening. Oh yeah, I saw Radiohead, REM and Bodger and Badger as well. That was good.
We also did Blissfields when it was 400 capacity, Wychwood with just dad and the kids whilst mum stayed at home for a rest and Leicester’s Summer Sundae (RIP) which had a fantastically quiet family campsite, with super nice stewards and virtually queue free showers plus the benefit of an indoor venue with comfy seats upstairs on the balcony which the kids could have a nap on when they got tired -and so did mum once – to the amusement of the children. Comfort becomes more important as you get older.
As they became toddlers and then primary school age, small intimate events with some activities for children worked best. As they got older, festivals like Camp Bestival with its huge wonderland of a kids area and the likes of Dick & Dom on the main stages in addition to the music provided something that worked for all of us, but eventually they began to outgrow the truly ‘family friendly’ events. The term ‘family friendly’ is often a misused one, implying that families are only such if you have kids under 12. Curiously I’d like to go back to Camp Bestival without the kids, just to experience it from a non-family perspective. Maybe next year?
Now at 16 and 18 both daughters really want to see the music more than anything else and this year we’re hitting Latitude as a family; with the eldest having already been twice just with dad, which in 2015 she described as ‘the best festival I’ve ever been to’. I have to agree. It was something pretty special for me as well, to experience what was a mind-blowing weekend with one of the 3 favourite people in my world.
Isobel (now 18) has been to over 30 festivals in her young life and last year went to her first without mum and dad (Reading). This year she's going to Truck Festival with friends. With all the experience we’ve given her over the years I was confident that she was well equipped with whatever it threw at her. She knew what to do in an emergency and I knew that the most important thing was for her to just get on with it and enjoy herself and as a group, look after each other. She came back relatively intact compared to some of her mates. I felt a bit of pride at that – I’m very much of the ‘make it up as you go along’ school of parenting, but that felt like a success.
For us, our family festivals are just another part of our lives. One that brings excitement, magic, fun and a time for us all to be together away from the pressures of the modern world. This year with one daughter doing GCSE’s, the other A Levels, my partner just finishing from chemotherapy to treat her cancer and my day job being subject to a period of change that I don’t fully support it feels that these moments of escapism are more important than ever.
Of course, having attended so many festivals (I’ve been to over 80) there are always going to be a few lows. Thankfully apart from the chicken pox incident any other dramas I’ve experienced at festivals have been non-child related: receiving a phone call saying that my partners mother had died whilst we were at Camp Bestival, being taken ill through food poisoning at Bestival and losing my car keys at Latitude are all memorable festival f*ck up moments. But apart from those isolated bad times they’ve generally been full of glorious highs and with my children now reaching adulthood, I’m confident that they wouldn’t have changed the way we’ve done things.
Whenever I’ve asked them if they’d like to go to another festival, they’ve always said yes. I think that shows, that given the right attitude and choosing the right events, taking kids to festivals is a very positive thing to do - our family thrives on them.
Part 1 of Being A 'Music Parent' deals with the assumption that your music taste turns into a mess when you become a mum or dad and can be found by clicking this link here.