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How to Get to the Barricade at a Music Festival, Without Being a Jerk

posted by Joshua Johnson on March 05, 2014

Photo via Christian Bertrand 

One of the best things about music festivals is how flexible they are to any concert-going strategy. Whether you want to run around the festival grounds and see as many bands as possible or you're content to sit on a blanket away from the stage and watch all the craziness unfold, it’s all good. Maybe you just want to paint yourself in bright neon colors and rave for 12 hours. That’s cool, too. 

However, some strategies are not as feasible. For example, you may be like me and only want to see full sets while being as close as humanly possible to the stage for each set. You see, when I was at the tender age of 12, my father took me to my first concert. We arrived at the Grog Shop in Cleveland, Ohio a full three hours before doors. Not knowing what else to do, we stood in front of the venue for those three hours. Once we were allowed in, we sauntered up for the edge of the stage and decided to stand there for the rest of the night. Being the impressionable young lad that I was, I thought to myself, “Huh. I guess this is how concerts work.” 

I soon found out, however, that my personal concert ritual was not very compatible with the festival setup. The sheer amount of bands, stages, and, most importantly, people, made it impossible for me to be on the barricade for every act I wanted to see. Now, the most obvious solution to this problem is to camp out at one stage all day to guarantee your place in the front row for your favorite band at the festival to play - a great idea, but only in theory. Standing in one place for the entire day takes it’s toll. Imagine standing in the hot sun for eight hours straight while occupying the area every single person behind you would seemingly do everything short of murder to attain, all so you can be in the front row for one band. Plus camping out means missing all bands you want to see on other stages. 

Doesn’t that seem kind of, well, insane? 

Don’t get me wrong, camping out can be a lot of fun. In addition to guaranteeing your spot on the barricade, the front row often forms a sort of camaraderie over the insanity they’ve willingly chose to partake in. With your new found friends you may even have a The Breakfast Club moment or two. Still, it’s a physically punishing and rather inefficient way to attend a music festival. So are there any other ways to get to the front without sacrificing yourself at the altar of one stage? Why, yes there are! 

Through my festival-going experiences, I have come up with a few tips on how to get closer to the stage. Now, wading through the meat of the crowd can be tricky, and if done incorrectly, you’ll seem like a huge jerk. So, here are four tips on how to get to the front at festivals without behaving like a jerk.

1. Accept the fact that people will think you’re a huge jerk, but be polite anyway

Look, what you’re doing here is inherently dickish. Pushing through the crowd to get to the front will elicit a lot of eye-rolling and dirty looks. So kill your fellow concertgoers with kindness. The only things you should be saying as you drive towards the stage are “please,” “sorry,” and “thank you,” in that order. “Excuse me” is also fine, as long as you say it sincerely and not like you might say it to a slow family of tourists in Times Square. People will still think you’re a jerk, but they’ll at least think you’re a polite jerk.

2. Take advantage of the post-set shuffle

The absolute best time to enter a crowd is when the band previous to the band you want to see is about to end its set. Once that band finishes, tons of people will leave the area in order to pursue their next music festival adventure. This creates a sort of concert power-vacuum, where all the former audience members have to be replaced by new concertgoers. Your goal is to ride the wave of new audience members to the front. Be warned: this post-set shuffle only lasts about three minutes before the crowd becomes stagnant again. Luckily, music festivals are usually pretty good at running the sets on time, unless, of course, Kanye West is involved, so it’s fairly easy to figure out the best time to make your move. However, if you miss your opportunity, your next option is to…

3. Flank ‘em 

I knew I took Military History in high school for a reason. The best way to enter an already formed crowd is from the side. The crowd is much thinner on the edges, and moving horizontally is less actively obnoxious than pushing straight to the stage. Plus, if you’re one of those people who’s only happy with a hand on the barricade, there’s often rail-space available at the edges of the stage towards the earlier part of the day. You’ll be able to move quite close to the front with the flanking method, but eventually you’ll meet the group of people camping out for the headliner. If you’re also at the stage for the headliner, this is about as far as you can go. However, if you’re at the stage for a band playing before the headliner, you have one more option.

4. Make friends with the campers

Remember those people I (affectionately) called insane earlier? Yeah, you want to make friends with them. They are the guardians of the barricade, the keepers of the rail. So strike up a friendly chat. Any topic is good, although I’d probably steer clear of the weather, since the campers are probably all painfully aware of the hot sun beating down on them. Then, slip in how you’ve come to see your favorite band ever and you’d love to be in front, but that’s pretty tough since everyone there is camping out for Outkast. And then, lo and behold, the festival gods smiled upon thee as the camper graciously allows you to stand in front of him or her, but ONLY FOR THIS SET! Of course, you reply, and there you are. At the barricade. 

Congrats, fellow festivalgoer! I should note one small detail: I’ve never seen this last strategy actually work. I’ve seen it fail, but I’ve never actually seen a successful attempt. I’ve heard legends of success, yes, and they are spoken in hushed tones across the festival landscape. Maybe if you’re lucky, you can join the legends place your name in barricade lore.

See Also: 

Eyn Phone Storage Case: A Festival Essential
9 Signs You're Ready for Festival Season
8 Punk and Alternative Festivals to Check Out in 2014