We’ve just returned from a long-weekend spent at ‘Bluesfest’, a mammoth five-day blues & roots music festival held near Byron Bay.

It’s kind of a Mitchell family Easter tradition, Jai has been to it every year since 1996, his Mum has been to every festival since it started in 1990), and our little girl was born about five-days after Magda attended Blues, heavily pregnant, and has been to and loved the last two festivals as a one and two year old.

We’ve honestly lost count of the number of festivals we’ve had these kids at, between Bluesfest, Woodford, Island Vibe and Mullumbimby Music Festival.

Festivals have a pretty special place in our hearts. We met at Woodford Folk, and got married there during the festival exactly five years later. We’ve probably attended at least a couple of festivals every year for the eight-or-so years we’ve been together.

Now, with kids things are no different. Well, everything is different – but our love for spending a week amongst the dust or heat or mud, watching live music, consuming kofta, corn on the cob and jungle juice remains. It’s all just a little more challenging.

The pace is much slower, there is far less drinking and late night dancing, though we’re not completely convinced we can blame these things on the kids so much as our own (nanna-esque) evolution.

It’s important to us that we expose our kids to all the goodness that festivals have to offer, to the whole collection of colourful characters, cultures, art and of course music. Even if they don’t always love the music, we want them to grow up seeing how much joy great music brings to our lives and that power it has to bring people together.

We were pretty confident going in, and we’d planned to document the week to share it here. But after our second absolute shocker of a day with the kids in the festival, our planned ‘how to’ guide was simple:
“How to do festivals with kids? DON’T”.

However, we did manage to simmer down, repack the double pram and tackle day 5 of the festival, and the kids eventually grew to love it. So we thought we’d share some tips for what to do, and what not to do, in case you’re thinking of bringing the kids along on your next festival adventure.

  

Plan to have no plans

Gone are the days of studying the program pre-festival and deciding who to see and when. Some days you will leave early, other days you’ll arrive late, and sometimes you’ll have to split up so one of you can catch the end of a single set.

As our fellow festival parenting friends Ben & Suey said: “Just being at the festival is great, and anything else is a bonus”.

 

Commit

Woodford folk festival is our all time favourite festival (and a fab one for the kids), but at 7ish days long, it is a fairly hefty commitment. However when you have a comfy base camp to duck in and out of all day, an esky full of food, somewhere for the babes to sleep, and the option to just hang out at camp on days when you (or the kids) are not in much of a festival mood, it just makes it all much more manageable.

Turning up as a day tripper with a day full of stuff packed in under the pram, a full schedule, no where to retreat, plus the added subconscious pressure of ‘seeing all the things’ just leads to a whole different (more stressful) festival experience.

Embrace

There is going to be dust, and heat, it will more than likely rain and be muddy, there could be a torrential storm or cyclone (E.g. Woodford ’08 and ’11).

The only way to tackle it is get amongst it. Letting the kids play in the dirt and run barefoot or slide down the hill on their bum is all part of the fun.

Actually, that piece of advice goes for the adults as much as the kids.

Pack light

We don’t mean pack light for the entire festival, because we all know that leaving home for any period with kids practically requires hiring a trailer for *all of the things*. But, when it comes to actually leaving camp and heading in, we like to bring as little as possible and just duck back to camp as much as we need or have a bag packed with ‘all of the other essentials’ in the car.

That said, there is a few things we’ve learned to always have on hand, including:

  • Ear muffs for the kids. A worthy investment to keep their ears safe and to help with sleeps (I totally recommend EM’s for Kids). Negotiating them onto the ears of little people though is another story.
  • Baby carrier. We always take our Ergo (sometimes we even borrow a second one so both kids can be carried). Helpful for late night adventures, naps on the move, or keeping the kids close whilst venturing into the big crowds.

  • Snacks. Our kids definitely take after us in one key way – their mood can be completely manipulated through food. We used to feel bad about the occasional food-based bribery, but in the big picture if it gets us a few minutes longer watching one of our favourite artists, or snaps one of the kids out of a screaming fit that has the musicians and soundies trying to isolate a weird feedback frequency, it seems worth it.
  • Screens. This is another thing we’ve sometimes felt a little guilt around, but have come to see that the benefits far outweigh the cost. Keeping a fully-charged iPhone or iPad on hand (with some educational games installed) may just be the difference between keeping festivals in our lives and giving up on them altogether while any of our kids are anywhere close to the age of three.

In all honesty we’re writing this for ourselves – as a checklist for the next festival, and to make ourselves publicly accountable to keep doing these kinds of things with out little family. As we’re finding with much of parenthood, it’s not always easy, but it’s always rewarding.