How to Make Friends at a Music Festival

[Originally published on Virgin.com, June 2014]

Are you a little on the shy side? A self-proclaimed introvert? Put aside those silly anxieties, because making friends at a music festival is not only easy, it’s fun. We at Virgin have attended our share of festivals and have compiled an arsenal of tested tactics to help you return to civilization with more friends than you brought along.

High five everyone

Let’s start with the basics. This classic festival move can be executed in two ways: 1) Keep your hand in the air at all times. You don’t even have to do anything – the high fives will just happen. 2) Find someone you want to meet, walk up and say, ‘High five’! Works most of the time.

Apply water liberally

In particularly hot environs, a cold spritz of water is more than welcome. If the festival allows them, arm your friends with water guns and start a friendly battle. The masses will practically beg you for refreshment.

Represent your town

Like a moth to a flame, wearing your team logo is guaranteed to earn a few high fives (or boos, but whatever). And the more obscure the reference, the better the reaction. Trust us.

Share a ride

If you’re driving your car to the festival, life must be nice. If not, try joining a stranger’s ride share (but be smart about it, of course). After a few hours of swapping your life stories, you’ll arrive at the festival with an enviable head start on the friend-making.

Share a compliment

This is a really easy one. As in the ‘real world’, you catch more flies with honey than with, well, whatever else. And with so many people around, you’re bound to see something new and interesting on a fellow festival-goer. Like his tattoo? Tell him. Does she have amazing sunglasses? Ask to try them on!

Share anything

Because we’re humans, we love free shit. Offer candy, glitter, hugs, or whatever else (interpret as you will) and watch the new friends roll in.

Bring an extra poncho

Rain in the forecast? Pack some excess ponchos or umbrellas. When it starts to pour, pick the most unhappy-looking person in the crowd and watch your foresight turn that frown upside down.

Embrace the wet

Didn’t take those ponchos like we suggested? Might as well start a convo with someone equally soaked. Misery loves company, after all.

Be bright

Wear something outrageous. Anything will do, really: a fancy dress, a spandex bodysuit, neon tutu, or enormous headdress. In sum, something totally impractical and completely fun. You’ll be hard to ignore – and that’s the point.

Dance funky, dance hard

And we can all learn from this gentleman.

10 Acts to Catch at Bonnaroo 2013

[Originally published on Virgin.com, July 2013]

Among America’s music festivals, Bonnaroo continually flexes the most muscle. With a monster four-day lineup including everyone from Paul McCartney to Pretty Lights, culling a list of ten must-see acts was ridiculously difficult, but please enjoy our selections below.

10) Action Bronson

Portly, ginger-bearded rapper Action Bronson – no relation to Sir Richard – will be midway through his festival rounds by the time he reaches Bonnaroo. His rhymes are sure to deliver an irreverent New York City edge to the sweet southern crowd, jolting awake all passersby from their lunchtime beer daze. We hear Bronson doled out some green to the Coachella crowd on 4/20, but don’t expect any special treats at Bonnaroo (other than the performance itself, of course).

9) Superjam with RZA, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Schoolboy Q, Earl Sweatshirt, Solange, Chad Hugo & Special Guests

The potential for mind-blowing synergies abounds when hundreds of talented musicians converge in the middle of nowhere (no offense, Manchester, Tennessee). Last year’s Superjam with Questlove brought us D’Angelo‘s first public performance in over a decade, and this year’s collaborative rap-and-soul unit, impressive enough alone, will no doubt delight the audience with its own surprises.

8) Animal Collective

If we weren’t excited enough to simply catch this Maryland team of mammalian-monikered psych wizards, their late-night slot promises an experience beyond the norm. Animal Collective will take the stage from 2:00am to 4:00am, when our bodies will be tired but our minds fresh for a swim through their seascape of synths and layered echoes. That right there, that’s good scheduling.

7) Wu-Tang Clan

Iconic rap supergroup Wu-Tang Clan will no doubt put on one of the more  rambunctious sets of Bonnaroo. Even festival-goers less familiar with the Clan’s over 20-year history at least know some of its members, including GZARZAGhostface Killah and Method Man. We can’t envision any other band properly able follow their set, although perhaps Paul McCartney can do the job.

6) The Mowgli’s

This eight-piece Los Angeleno garage-pop group may not be anywhere near the top of Bonnaroo’s monstrous lineup, but expect them to climb up there eventually. Their catchy, feel-good ditty ‘San Francisco’ has been winning hearts left and right since the release of debut EP ‘Love’s Not Dead’ last fall. We’re predicting sing-alongs, silly stage antics, and a lot of “Wow, these guys rock!”

5) The National

Headlining major festivals is nothing new for melancholy Ohioans The National, who return to Bonnaroo following a celebrated set in 2010. New album ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ delivers another wallop of pensive emotion through lead singer Matt Berninger’s unique baritone, and we expect to see these songs wash over the crowd like aloe on a sunburn.

4) Death Grips

It’s mid-afternoon, and you’re feeling a little lethargic. Maybe you’ve just eaten a giant burrito, or maybe you just saw The National. Into your ears floods a heavy barrage of noise from Death Grips, and all of a sudden your nerves start tingling again. Described as a combination of rap, punk and straight-up electronic adrenaline – equipped only with drums, keys and singer MC Ride’s deep yell – the northern California threesome will undoubtedly deliver one of Bonnaroo’s weightier performances this year.

3) Foals

Alt-rock fans have been celebrating this British group since their mainstream emergence several years ago, and new album ‘Holy Fire’ provides many reasons to rejoice, including the infectious electric guitar hooks of ‘My Number’ and ‘Inhaler’. The only decision you face, dear fan, is whether to catch Foals or equally revered genre-mate Grizzly Bear, who play the same time-slot.

2) Bjork

For a touch of Cirque du Soleil in the middle of Tennessee, we recommend a visit to Bjork’s set on Saturday night. The experimental Icelandic songsmith used unconventional technologies to create her music on latest album ‘Biophilia’; indeed, Bjork’s specialty seems to be innovation through both sight and sound. Even for fans unfamiliar with her expansive catalog, the rare audio-visual experience alone will be worth the trek to her stage.

1) Alt-J

Arguably the year’s band-to-know, British foursome Alt-J promise to impress. Their Mercury Award-winning debut album ‘An Awesome Wave’ features song after song of unpredictable, fresh rock musicianship, showcased through favorites ‘Breezeblocks’ and ‘Tessellate’. Don’t be surprised when the entire crowd sings along to ‘Fitzpleasure’, and it will be at this moment when you realize a Bonnaroo wristband was one of your smartest investments this year.

10 Things We Learned at Bonnaroo 2013

[Originally published on Virgin.com, June 2013]

1) Time management skills are invaluable.

With an unbeatable lineup, Bonnaroo offered perhaps too much of a good thing squeezed into four days. Planning the daily schedule was an exercise in sacrifices and painful prioritizing. To see Foals or Grizzly Bear? Purity Ring or Django Django? To catch half of one and half of the other? Only the headliners afforded us a true break in planning, when no other acts were scheduled. We generally had to settle for quantity over duration in order to catch all our favorites, but duration is what real concerts are for, right? Who needs ’em.


2) There are new reasons to be excited about music!

No matter how cynical you may be about “new” music, Bonnaroo showed us that we have nothing over which to fret. After all, while the headliners were no doubt stellar performers in their own right – that Paul McCartney guy seemed fairly talented – it was truly the meat of the lineup that delighted and inspired. New-ish bands like Alt-J, Twenty One Pilots and Lord Huron, and really new acts The Mowgli’s and Alice and the Glass Lake, gave us an encouraging glimpse at all the blossoming musical goodness on the horizon.


3) Bonnaroo is birthday-suit-friendly.

Boobs. Everywhere. Some painted, some with pasties, some just bare and flopping free. After a while, we stopped saying “boobs!” each time a pair walked by; it’s not that the novelty wore off, but pointing them out just became unnecessary. They have this weird way of finding your eyes first, especially when they’ve been painted to look like eyes.


4) Everyone loves a surprise.

This one comes with an asterisk: Mumford & Sons fans may not have enjoyed surprises as much as the rest of us this weekend. The band decided to pull out of the festival at the last minute in light of bassist Ted Dwane’s recent surgery. Luckily, Jack Johnson was on hand, incidentally, as a surprise guest for ALO’s late night set. The festival organizers asked him to fill in for Mumford as a headliner, and even though Johnson hadn’t played with his band in over a year, he flew them out for a more-or-less impromptu headlining slot on only a days’ notice. If that isn’t impressive musicianship (and bravery), we’re not sure what is.


5) Never forget to bring your stage antics.

One thing we noticed this weekend was that, no matter how great a band might be musically, if they can’t put on a good show, they may not belong at Bonnaroo. This is tough love, to be sure, but several performances left us shrugging in indifference. Cat Power, for one, belted out an impressive vocal range, but she shuffled around so awkwardly on stage that we ended up feeling a little uneasy and embarrassed. Luckily, many of Bonnaroo’s acts actually charmed our pants off: Action Bronson sauntered through the crowd and bought drugs off a fan; Macklemore & Ryan Lewis talked smack at us like cool older brothers; and Bernhoft helped shave a female fan’s head onstage. You got our attention, fellas.


6) Don’t rely on the stage antics.

In some cases, good musicianship does matter more than stage antics, and this is especially true when standing too far away to actually see the act. We’re thinking of Bjork here; the experimental songstress absolutely killed her set on the main stage, but only if within 300 feet could one even see her do it. Rather than a live feed, the jumbo screens instead projected animated scenes from her ‘Biophilia’ album, making for a somewhat dissonant experience, but one for which her knockout musical performance easily compensated.


7) Hawaiian shirts are coming back?

We have some awkward news to report, and it’s that oversized hawaiian shirts are coming back into vogue. Or, perhaps not into vogue, but into that gray area where irony is celebrated and ugliness is accepted as chic. Ladies and gents alike brought aloha spirit to the Tennessee farm with boxy tiki florals, some knotted at the waist, some buttoned with shorts, some left open. After spotting the first few, we had to ask ourselves, “Is this a thing now?” Well, it’s a thing. It’s weird, and it’s a little late to the Beach Boys performance of Bonnaroo 2012, but whatever.


8) We may be in the early stages of an Australian invasion.

Name a band from Australia. Do it. You probably can’t think of more than four or five if you try hard enough. This may change, however, as Bonnaroo brought several impressive Aussie bands to our attention this weekend. Psych-rockers Tame Impala, while not particularly new, have been gathering stready momentum in the States, as evidenced from the huge crowd captivated by their evening set.Fivesome rock operation The Rubens, buoyed by newfound popularity in Australia, made their debut in the U.S. just days before their Bonnaroo slot; and electro-pop outfit Empire of the Sun drew a sizable crowd to its trippy late-night set. Spreading diplomatic goodwill in the form of live music.


9) When the going gets hot, the hot dress better.

Whereas the humid Bonnaroo heat forced most attendees to wear as little clothing as possible (see item…..), others bucked all practicality in favor of absurdly warm attire. Spandex morph suits, animal costumes, furry boots, and even a fur coat, which Macklemore coaxed from a fan, wrapping it around himself onstage and dubbing it a dead “Tennessee bobcat.” We’re guessing this sort of extraordinary dress is merely intended as a conversation-starter (it worked for the Macklemore fan), because there is no other explanation for such masochism.


10) Attitude is everything.

Music festivals like Bonnaroo are wonderful in part because of that which the people bring. No, we don’t mean drugs.. this time. A festival can easily be defined by the shows you catch, but it’s the people around you that define the experience of attending the show. Some people covet their personal bubble. Across the board, we found that those with the most carefree attitude had a better experience. High fives abounded, those dancing smiled the most. We find Roo to have one of the most natural community environments, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.