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.

8 Things We Learned at Sweetlife 2013

[Originally published on Virgin.com, May 2013]

1) Everyone loves a badass.

Two words: Karen O. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs front woman had everyone wishing they could throw off their own inhibitions and attempt half the moves she made at Sweetlife. The newly blonde, yellow-suited and Chuck-Taylored singer gesticulated and gyrated through a set full of hits like ‘Zero’, ‘Maps’ and ‘Gold Lion’, at one point soliciting snippets of lyrics from, literally, each member of the front row, one by one, with her microphone. Once she walked off the stage, we experienced a moment of confusion, realizing the headlining band was at least two acts away; no disrespect to PhoenixPassion Pit or Kendrick Lamar intended.

2) Down with the flower crowns, already!

When we saw that full display of floral headdresses in Urban Outfitters the other day, we were like, yeah right, no one on the East Coast will buy that crap. Oh, were we wrong! At Sweetlife, the pseudo-hippie retail chain successfully infiltrated the 16-24 female festival-goer market with fabric flower products, which frankly stood out on a day with little sunshine and few real hippies in sight. But, if nothing else, we were comforted to see the festival spirit alive and well at a burgeoning annual event. Sweetlife was, after all, as close as most would get to Coachella this year.

3) Embrace the mud.

Sweetlife also got a taste of Glastonbury this weekend (or Shaky Knees, to keep things domestic). We all saw the gloomy weather forecast, but only some guests planned ahead, donning rain boots and packing ponchos. The rest of the hapless bunch had no choice but to embrace the afternoon downpour during the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ and Foxygen‘s sets, as Merriweather became a big mud slick. Even the press area was pocked with sloshy pits. If you didn’t come home after Sweetlife with mud-caked shoes, you probably weren’t there.

4) More of that local stuff, please!

The motto of Sweetlife this year was “Passion x Purpose.” A passion for sustainable, delicious local food, and, we assume, the purpose of rocking our socks off. Booths of the best Beltway cuisine imaginable lined the grounds, and we ate and drank to sounds of new DC bands, like spunky rockers Shark Week. “DC has a small creative community. Everyone is very collaborative with each other,” says Jonathan Neman, founder of the festival and health-food company Sweetgreen, and who, incidentally, used to have his hair cut by Shark Week frontman Ryan Mitchell. “For our first few festivals, it was just U.S. RoyaltyWill Eastman, all these local guys that were playing for free. They would play for salads, essentially. It’s cool to see a lot of those people grow with us.”

5) Nothing like a music festival to make you feel old.

Well, it’s settled. Some of us might be too old for music festivals. Not because Sweetlife wasn’t awesome – it was – but good grief, the kids just keep getting younger and younger. We swear that last time we attended Sweetlife, we were in a pretty average demographic, but somehow the years passed and so did our age. Crazy how that works. So, when one whippersnapper politely approached to ask if we might buy him and his friends some beer, we laughed. Beer? Ain’t nobody got time for that line. We’re going to see Solange.

6) Goosebumps are the best.

Feeling tingly? Are your arm hairs standing on end? You’ve got yourself some goosebumps, my friend, otherwise known as the main symptom of feeling unmistakably alive. Patrons at Sweetlife had several acts to thank for that sensation this weekend, including Gary Clark Jr., who received a standing ovation after an epic set of raw, electric rock, and Lindsey Stirling, whose unique blend of violin and dubstep was mind-bending.

7) Bands up close > bands far away.

Merriweather Post Pavilion provides a great outdoor experience, even for those sprawled out at the very back edge of the amphitheater’s lawn. But we found many pro’s to being in the pit at Sweetlife this year: 1) not getting soaked by the rain, 2) making eye contact with Kendrick Lamar and 3) helping Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars crowd surf. We recommend splurging for those pit tickets next time.

8) Make room in your calendars for next year.

Sweetlife is still green as far as festivals go, but expect to see it blossom soon. Founder Jonathan Neman hinted that an expanded event might be in the works, saying, “That’s the vision, to really make [Sweetlife] a full experience, more than just a 1-day event.” We can’t wait to set up camp.

10 Things to Crave at Sweetlife 2013

[Originally published on Virgin.com, May 2013]

We’re about to enjoy a dish of tasty music and healthy food this weekend at Sweetlife Festival in Maryland, where PhoenixPassion Pit and Kendrick Lamar will headline. Here are the ten things we’re craving…

The Yeah Yeah Yeahs

It’s sacrilegious just how much we worship Karen O. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman and her two bandmates recently released new album ‘Mosquito’, an edgy alternative-dance-punk trip down the same musical road the band’s been traveling for over ten years. Not that we’re complaining. We’re picturing beer, blanket, and song ‘Maps’ echoing up the lawn and through the trees, and we can’t think of anything more perfect.

Lindsey Stirling

Imagine sitting in on a high school band practice. There’s this quirky girl playing her violin; she’s pretty good, might even give you goosebumps. And then someone’s dubstep ringtone goes off. At first you’re like, “turn that thing off! Show some respect!” but it keeps ringing, and, actually, it meshes kind of well with the girl’s violin. Really well. Wow – this sounds amazing! That’s Lindsey Stirling.

Sprawling on the lawn at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Those outside the Washington/Baltimore metro regions may only know Sweetlife’s venue from the name of that one Animal Collective album. But the place is real, folks, and there are few other amphitheaters like it. Seating is limited to a covered pit, but the expansive sloping lawn provides not only a view of the stage but also its own show, if you’re into people-watching, that is. While spacing out to Phoenix, see how many people you can spot stumbling down the hill, one too many beers in hand, trying to find their picnic blanket in the dark. More than you’d think.

Solange

Queen B’s younger sister sure is making a name for herself. Maybe one day, writers will stop referring to her as Beyoncé’s little sister. Until then, Solange continues to endear herself to lovers of that ubiquitous 80’s club sound, lending her pliant vocals to synth- and drum-machine dance-pop that not everyone enjoys, but to which anyone can move.

The healthy, local food.

Sweetlife Festival gets its name from DC-based healthy food chain Sweetgreen, whose owners decided to do something fresh and bring immense joy to area music lovers in the process. Sweetgreen is known for its local, organic ingredients and innovative salads, so, there’s something to look forward to when you’re just not feeling the pizza and burritos anymore.

Phoenix

These French lads barely made it onto the list, not because we aren’t excited to see them, but because it’s such a given that we’re excited to see them. Providing the night’s last bit of ‘Entertainment’, we’ve sworn to not drink too much, too early so we still have energy to dance to ‘1901’ and ‘Lisztomania’. Be prepared to give your sleepy friends a scornful look and say, “Leave early? Dude, Phoenix hasn’t played yet”. In all likelihood, none of your friends will want to leave early, anyway, knowing that Phoenix is still waiting in the wings

Youth Lagoon

Providing some relief from what’s sure to be a day full of dance-worthy tracks, meet Youth Lagoon. Fans of Deerhunter and Local Natives will appreciate Trevor Powers’ understated, moody alt-pop (for lack of a more apt genre), and those unfamiliar with him will be thanked by their ears. This is that set where you and your friends huddle on the blanket and bust out whatever it is you brought with you. Ahem.

Being green – it’s easy!

In other news, the people behind Sweetlife have made it clear that they’ll ensure the festival is as green as can be, figuratively. The main stage will house solar panels on its roof and the utensils will be compostable. Not a recycler? You’ll be one at Sweetlife. Hold onto your (and all your friends’) empty bottles of Yeungling and go redeem them for something cool, like sunglasses or a poster. Do it during Passion Pit’s set, when they’ll be too busy dancing to notice.

Gary Clark Jr.

No matter how you feel about The Black Keys, there’s a dearth of good roots rock these days. We know that makes us sound old, but there ain’t nothin’ like a sweet, heavy blues riff to shake your bones and make you feel alive, and this is exactly what guitarist Gary Clark Jr. does best. Like he says, you’re gonna know his name by the end of the night.

The amazing new acts on the lineup.

The font of their names might be smaller, but the second half of Sweetlife’s lineup represents a pretty impressive group of emerging talent. From Los Angeles psych-throwback band Foxygen and electro-pop crooner Robert DeLong, to word players Twenty One Pilots and the fuzzy, Florence-esque MS MR, there’s a new buzzworthy artist for everyone’s palate. We have a good feeling we’ll come away from Sweetlife with not only new memories of our old favorites, but some new favorites, as well.

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.