Going to a music festival when you love the music, don’t like crowds, and are out of excuses

This past weekend, I went to Ultra Music Festival for the first time. I have been wanting to go for years but there were so many things stopping me until now.

I have always loved EDM as it is commonly called now, to the point where it was almost a running joke with most of my friends who didn’t know any of the artists that I liked. “Oh, James again with that music. We know who made this playlist!”

Some of it grew on them, and the favorites on those playlists became theirs too. But outside of personal enjoyment, a club or bar situation, or a video game with with a good soundtrack, my fandom stopped there. If I am at a concert, I am usually the one onstage — not seated in the audience; or the show has assigned seating and no one gets up.

Recently, my circumstances have wildly changed for the better. The following limitations are no longer a factor for me:

“I was in so many performance groups that I was usually IN a performance or rehearsing so frequently that I didn’t have enough spare time to go to other shows.”

After a cross-country move, I am no longer part of an organized performing or choral group singing other composers’ and artists pieces — I am making my own original music. Composing, playing the notes, singing and recording, and mixing all entirely on my own. I am also a board chairman for a professional choral ensemble. These are behind-the-scenes at this present moment and do not require me to meet at set times with other people to practice.

I am currently in spectator-mode. If I want to enjoy a concert that is not of the “assigned seating” variety, I don’t get a special seat reserved, I don’t get to stand in a performer-only area or on the side of the stage to watch other acts, and I certainly do not get to watch the audience from an elevated platform or much hope of the luxury of personal space. I am also classically trained — but now creating in a new genre, so it will be awhile before I have enough work to perform.

“Being low-income=SO FRUGAL. I wasn’t a hermit, but I picked my few luxuries very carefully and did them as cheaply as humanly possible. Concerts that I wasn’t in (read: FREE for me) did not make my budget.”

Fortunately for me, being in spectator mode comes at a time in my life where I am able to afford the luxury of paying for a ticket that costs above $20 without any sort of massive personal financial collapse, and can afford paying for a flight and a shared hotel with friends. This also means accruing miles and points that will cut future costs. Another KEY reason that larger concerts weren’t a frequent thing was that I simply could not afford to attend. Most times, I could barely afford to buy the music itself and just had to use Pandora and listen on YouTube.

There is a privilege that comes with being able to enjoy live music, especially major mainstream music — it is always worth going to see an artist practice their craft, even if the performance isn’t the best, but if you can’t afford a ticket, or food amd drink minimums, or are not involved the show in some capacity, then you may not be able to go.

“Common public opinion says that people who go to EDM festivals are ALL ON DRUGS ALL ON DRUGS DRUGSSSS EVERYWHEREEE. This is alarmist and stupid and simply not true. Not trying to cause Granny “a mac attack” when she lives far and watches the news.”

The news and media still scare the shit out of me. The state of journalism today is very difficult and there is a lot of fear-based stuff that is lacking factual evidence and real research. This stuff does a good job of masquerading itself as reputable news and information. The media stokes fear and drums up violence, hate, negativity that once hid in the shadows, it plants seeds for bad ideas in impressionable minds, and places worrisome thoughts in faraway elderly family members who miss their kids and grandkids. DAMN.

My grandma is my closest living family member. Fortunately, I am in closer proximity to her after that cross-country move, so it is much easier for me to tell her, in person, all about my music festival adventures and how not everyone there is drugged out and no one is going to be able to peer-pressure me into anything.

My rules on drugs: if someone can take or keep me from having a job because drug-related things come out when they test my pee, then I will not try it. It isn’t worth the risk at all. I have been low-income for a most of my natural life. I have clawed my way up hard to get as far as I have that I could even go to this damn concert. A sad pee test is not going to mess me up. I won’t go out like that.

Also, I am still definitely too low-income to buy drugs, even if I wanted them LOL.

The LAST Excuse. R.I.P

Massive crowds and some social situations can give me panic attacks.”

This was the only excuse left. The only excuse that I could start working on control relatively quickly.

Let these be a key words: relatively quickly. I had control over the above excuses, but in order to get to the point where I could personally make them go away, I needed to play the long game and create the situation that would allow me to fully exert my control over my life and end in a result that would yield maximum benefit. It took YEARS of sacrifice, practice, and HARD work [Hustle|Blood|Sweat|Tears|Missed Bar Nights and Brunches|Failed Relationships] in order to gain the personal leverage and the skills I needed to execute my plan to remove these limitations. See, these limitations and their related antidotes had effects or were based in every other aspect of of my life, too, not just my ability to attend a large concert.

This concert, for me, was a symbol of removing my limitations.

This excuse could be eliminated relatively quickly because it required much less time to get to the first step of action. Whereas before, those other items were real problems for me and could severely limit my enjoyment and impair my ability to have a good experience, now, all I had to do was:

  2. Just click BUY NOW on StubHub
  3. Click BOOK NOW on American Airlines
  4. Click RESERVE on the Hotel
  5. Literally SHOW UP at the places listed on items 2, 3, and 4

Sounds easy right?

Well, much easier than all the other stuff, because having an inner battle with your anxiety can be done anytime. I mean all the time. -__-

I tried to think about what really caused me to feel anxious and upset:

  1. Not having what I need: enough water, enough food, enough toilet paper, enough money
  2. Not having enough water and fainting in a crowd of people.
  3. Not actually being able to see the show because the audience is too deep — watching the concert out of someone else’s cell phone sucks. Especially while they are bumping into you and sweating on you. It’s not their fault, it just happens, yaknow?
  4. I always get sick when I day drink. 2 beer max until the sun sets around actual 5 o’clock in my time zone.

I realized these were all easy fixes.

Ultra has rules for what you can bring into their event. Most large-scale events have rules. How could I make my life easier — is there anything I could bring with me to do that? YES!!!!! Ultra allows you to bring plenty of stuff, as long as it’s in a clear PVC purse/bag, a purse the size of your hand, or a small fanny pack. That is an easy fix.

So, I declared myself the “Festival Mama Bear” and resigned myself to the fact that I was going to be bringing in a big-ass clear tote bag. It might be annoying to carry, but I might have a better time.

What did I bring?

  1. 2L worth of water bottles (full and unopened. nalgenes are not allowed because they are opened. Water bottles there were $5 for 16oz if you didn’t bring one, but you could refill the bottle for free at stations)
  2. Travel Baby wipes (because the bathrooms run out of TP. $1 well spent for sure.)
  3. Travel Kleenex (outdoor allergies)
  4. Spray Sunscreen (coming back with a sunBURN from vacations means that you are a no0b — just PUT ON SOME SPF 15 OR 30 and reapply. You will come back tan and sexy, instead of like Rock Lobster and in pain, I promise. Spray sunscreen also feels cool when you spray it on, which will be welcome in the Miami heat.
  5. A portable phone charger.
  6. My concert schedule of must-see artists with stages written down on old fashioned pen and paper. I didn’t use the app to save my cell phone battery for pictures, Snapchat, and finding friends.
  7. A diposable rain poncho (which I oddly forgot on the one day there was rain)
  8. More than one hairtie.
  9. I also dressed according to how I knew I could be comfortable and happy. I came for the music, to see good friends and some shiny lights, fireworks, pyrotechnics.
  10. I promised myself that I would leave a large crowd if I started feeling unwell and get fresh air.

I realized when I got there that next year, I will be able to bring a MUCH smaller bag and all of these things would totally still fit. The good thing was though, that all of us in my group of friends could keep our belongings safe from the rain, and this came in handy too in case we wanted to get merch.

But just making these little changes and additions allowed me to easily ENJOY this huge and amazing event. It is okay that I am a little late to the game. What matters is that I showed up, even if I had to do it as the Festival Mama Bear.