If you’re heading out to your first music festival this spring, here are 10 things you NEED to know before you go.
So you’ve got April 6 through 9 carved out of your schedule: You’re going to Country Thunder Arizona 2017 in Florence.
If you haven’t already, it’s time to start planning. Country Thunder is the biggest music festival in Arizona, with approximately 29,000 people there each day, many staying in the more than 7,500 camp sites on the grounds.
“Last year, I went to Country Thunder for the first time with a girl who also hadn’t been,” said Madeleine Slama, 22, of Flagstaff. “The first day, we got there at noon, slathered on sunscreen, and walked all around the campgrounds looking for people to make friends with.
“My friend had more fair skin than I, and by the end of the day she decided she was going to leave and go back up to Flagstaff because she self-diagnosed herself with sun poisoning.”
We don’t want you to end up sun-poisoned and sad, so we scoured the Internet and talked with a few Country Thunder veterans to compile a list of the top tips for newbies and returners alike to stay alive and have fun doing it. Consider it applicable for Coachella and other desert-camping festivals as well.
Tips on what to wear
- Wear a ton of waterproof sunscreen. Reapply constantly. You could even consider wearing a UV wristband, such as the disposable, waterproof one from Sunburn Alert, which changes colors when you need to reapply sunscreen.
- Wear comfortable shoes. Heels or flip flops sound fun until your feet hurt or get really dirty. Wear boots, athletic shoes or hiking sandals to provide the support you need to stand, dance and walk around all day.
- Consider wearing a hat. Why not avoid burning your scalp and face? Also bring multiple pairs of sunglasses in case you lose one.
- Wear a fanny pack. You can carry everything hands-free! Small backpacks are OK but can bump into people. Cross-body bags are fine but can be heavy on your shoulder.
- Remember your wristband! Country Thunder is using RFID wristbands for the first time this year, which you should receive in the mail or can pick up at will call. If you lose it, you’ll have to pay for a new one.
- Bring a sweater or jacket and pants. The desert will get cold at night.
- If you really want to be prepared, bring a rain jacket or poncho just in case, as well as rain boots. There will be lakes of mud if it rains.
What to carry with you all day, every day
- Bring cash, including singles. You will save so much in time, ATM fees, and bargaining ability.
- Carry sunscreen with you. You’ll reapply it more, and you also can put it on others who are too drunk to know they’re already lobsters. Also bring lip balm with SPF.
- Bring a portable phone charger. You can get one on Amazon for $10 or less.
- Carry a small package of tissues in case the portable toilet is out of toilet paper or you need to blow all of that dirt out of your nose.
- Remember your ID, especially if you’re drinking.
- You’re allowed to bring one unopened bottle of water into the festival, so do that and then refill it inside for free.
- Consider bringing a lawn chair. You’re allowed to park them anywhere in the festival grounds.
- Bring ear plugs. Some sets may be too loud depending on where you’re standing, or you may want to pop in some ear plugs and take a nap on the ground. It happens.
Tips for safety, health and hygiene
- Bring allergy medicine, even if you don’t think you need it. There’s so much dust, and smoking is allowed everywhere.
- Bring a first-aid kit and some over-the-counter medications, such as pain reliever, acid reliever, Tums, Pepto Bismol and cold medicine in case someone ends up sick.
- Bring a bandana to wear around your nose and mouth, in case you need to block out the dust and smoke.
- Write your campsite on your arm in case you forget it or your phone dies.
- Put a label on the outside of your phone with your name, campsite and contact information for a friend.
- Establish landmarks, both at your campsite and inside the festival. Smart people mark their campsites with very tall poles with distinctive lights or a flag on the top.
- Consider bringing some source of electrolytes, such as Pedialyte, Vitamin Water, Gatorade or coconut water. They help for hangovers, but are also beneficial just if you’ve been sweating a lot.
- Stay clean by bringing dry shampoo, wet wipes or baby wipes, and hand sanitizer. Like, a lot of wet wipes.
Tips on food and drink
- Bring more water than you think you need. There’s zero chance you’ll regret it.
- Bring coolers with ice, including blocks of ice, which take longer to melt. Store the coolers in shade. Freeze any food or water that you can.
- Consider bringing a grill. You’re allowed to bring charcoal or propane grills but not woodburning ones. Just make sure you bring enough propane!
- If you’re into it, bring a lot of energy drinks. They can really help you be out and about having fun for 18 hours a day.
- If you want to buy food, food vendors will be open from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. every day.
- Bring cheap, hearty food that’s high in protein. You will be walking a lot and burning a lot of calories that you need to replenish in order to have energy. Think burgers, chili, pre-made burritos, peanut butter, bagels, trail mix and protein bars.
“I thought I would be cute and bring diet food (fruit, veggies, tortilla chips, healthy stuff) but I was wrong,” Slama said. “My first day at Country Thunder, I walked about nine miles. I was ravenous … and that led me to eating four hot dogs.”
Tips on the music and festival itself
- Festival gates are open 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday and 1 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday through Sunday.
- Trying to see a main act up close? Get to that stage early. Like, really early. You’ll need to park yourself up front for the opening acts and just wait it out, otherwise you will end up in the back. That being said, don’t be grumpy if you get packed like sardines and shoved around – you made that choice!
- Designate a meetup spot and time in case you get separated from your friends (Example: “After Dierks Bentley, we all have to meet near the burger stand in the food court.”)
- Print the set times and locations on paper, because your phone will die or overheat.
- Use the golf-cart taxi service! For just a few dollars (cash only) you can hitch a ride around the campgrounds. The distance from the farthest campsite to the other edge of the festival is about 8,000 feet. A mile is 5,280 feet. Save yourself the miles.
- Take advantage of the radio stations’ booths. Artists will sometimes hang out there, and stations may give away backstage passes. Also, they usually offer shade and swamp coolers or even air conditioning.
Tips for camping
- People with campsites can arrive as early as 9 a.m. Wednesday, April 5. Get there early to secure the perfect setup. Anyone looking to park or camp can arrive only between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, but can leave at any time.
- Try to build a group that has multiple campsites. Then you can arrange your vehicles on the entire perimeter and put all of your camping and hangout gear in the center. This helps stake out your territory, making it feel both safer and more fun.
- Many people highly suggest splurging to rent a trailer or an RV.
- Remember that most campsites offer no electricity. Bring a power inverter to charge your phone from your car battery, or bring a bigger portable charger.
- Bring canopies, even if you’re also bringing tents. You need the shade! Bring tarps or spare sheets to hang on the sides to block out the sun.
- Bring games such as cornhole and a portable speaker to pass the time until festival gates open.
- Bring earplugs for sleeping. Some people will keep partying until the time others are waking up, so it will never be that quiet.
- Bring a flashlight – your phone might die or you might need something stronger
- Bring money, toiletries, flip flops and towels for the showers, which are $7 this year. Word on the street is lines are shortest in the early-morning hours and sometimes right when festival gates open around 1 or 2 p.m., otherwise lines can take an hour or more.
- Bring extra blankets if you’re staying in a tent. The desert gets cold!
- Bring tables and chairs. Where else are you going to hang out or play games?
- Project Shelter’s General Store on Market Street will be selling anything you forgot, but it will probably be expensive.
About the campsites
- Of the 14 campgrounds, Crazy Coyote is home to the most parties. We even heard it’s home to an enormous teeter-totter.
- The Premier, Roadrunner Family and Starlight Preferred campsites have quiet hours beginning at 1 a.m., while the others officially begin at 2 a.m.
Tips if you’re driving in and out every day
“Realize how far away Florence is. I thought it would be fine just to drive out each day and stay” in Chandler, Republic reporter Jessica Boehm said.
“It was not a great decision: About an hour each way and traffic was awful the first day, probably took three hours. I would definitely want to stay out there if I did it again. Plus the campsite area is where all the fun stuff happens!”
Campsites are already sold out, but some are available via third-party sites such as StubHub or Craigslist. Also, there’s no limit to how many people can stay at a campsite… so maybe start asking around.
Above all else …
“Most important bottom line advice: If you think you packed enough of something, pack more,” said Alyssa De La Sierra, 25, from Prescott. This year will be her third Country Thunder.
“Don’t be afraid to take breaks. That’s the beauty of camping festivals, that you can go lay down without having to leave the festival for the night.
“Last but not least, share with anyone who didn’t come as prepared. You could literally make someone’s weekend and you never know, they might help you too!”
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