I’m an independent guy and I love to travel. Plus, I’m a diehard music nerd. And yet, I’ve never been compelled to attend a music festival with any less than three or four like-minded friends. Because happiness, as the English poet Charlotte Bronte once wrote, can scarcely be called happiness when it is quite unshared. Or, as Incubus frontman Brandon Boyd once sang, it’s so much better when everybody’s in.
Over the years, I’ve missed some pretty cool shows just because I couldn’t convince anybody to go with me. Sometimes the venue is too far or the band is too obscure, and I have to settle for YouTube the next morning.
But maybe I’m just not as independent as I thought I was. In my travels across the live music frontier, I’m always a little fascinated by the characters who are there on solo missions. So for this story, I set out to pick the brains of three such characters. Here’s three takes on three festival giants, Coachella, Electric Daisy and Hangout, by three people who traveled very far to prove Incubus wrong…
At 20 years running, the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California, is still the biggest name in the industry. Nick is a 37-year-old graphic artist from San Diego who’s been attending Coachella every year since 2004.
Nick: Way back in ’04, I was supposed to go to Coachella with a big group of friends. Then my friends dropped out, and I went alone, only because I was dying to see Radiohead and I didn’t want to eat the ticket. The first day was hard, I felt very self-aware. But as the sun went down, I loosened up and mixed in with some amazing people, and eventually I had the best weekend ever, and Coachella became my annual solo vacation.
CC: I would think that after 15 years, even in a crowd of 100,000, you probably see some familiar faces every year.
Nick: Sure, I definitely have Coachella friends that I bump into year after year. But as a rule, I never make specific plans with anybody, because if I do, the festival would become like any other day of the week: Gotta be at this stage to meet this person by this time. Coachella is the one weekend I resolve to turn off my phone and be present.
CC: I feel like that’s a new theme at big concerts. I’ve seen a lot of artists tell the crowd, “Let’s all put down our phones and enjoy one song together.”
Nick: Exactly. Coachella is a great place to stand back and look at culture, and I feel like there’s a cultural shift happening back in the other direction, away from technology. It’s becoming uncool to hold up your phone Snapchatting everything. Last year, I saw more people unplugging and getting lost in the music.
CC: OK, but there must be moments when you’re watching a great band all by yourself, and you wish you had your close friends there to share it with.
Nick: Yeah, sure. But if you’re traveling with a group, you’re probably standing farther back and not having the same experience. It’s so much easier to wiggle through the crowd and get close when you’re alone.
Speaking of crowds. The Electric Daisy Carnival is one of the biggest destinations for EDM fans, drawing over 400,000 concertgoers to Las Vegas every May. Matt is a 31-year-old marketing exec who traveled all the way from Brooklyn.
Matt: My job keeps me on the phone literally ten hours a day. So I started making little road trips by myself, just to unwind from all the talking. And I’ve always wanted to do Electric Daisy as my own little excursion, but honestly, I picked the wrong event. It was too much.
CC: Too much as in too expensive?
Matt: No, I just think (Electric Daisy) has gotten way too big. Instead of controlling the attendance, you can tell they’re just trying to sell as many tickets as possible. The lines and the traffic were unmanageable. There’s nothing worse than waiting for a bathroom or sitting in traffic by yourself.
CC: And Las Vegas can be exhausting. I can’t imagine navigating that place alone.
Matt: And it was cold, and very windy. I had this fantasy that I was gonna step off the plane and step into this big colorful party, but the reality was more like a cattle car. I still love the experience of traveling alone. It’s something that everybody should do on a regular basis. Buy a ticket and get out of your comfort zone once in a while. But if you’re looking at music festivals, you definitely need to seek out online reviews from real people, and not just look at, like, Instagram hype. A bigger crowd does not necessarily mean a better time.
On that note, The Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama is still one of the best events in the business. Shira is a 25-year old bartender who traveled all the way from Milwaukee, to make Hangout her very first music festival.
CC: So this was your first festival, ever. Why Hangout, and how’d you get there all the way from Milwaukee?
Shira: I really liked the lineup, and the fact that it was on a beach. The trip there was pretty rough. I drove to Chicago, and then flew to Mobile, and then split an Uber with somebody that I met at the airport. So it took me eight hours, maybe more, and the traveling was pretty tedious.
CC: That’s over a thousand miles by yourself.
Shira: Well, to me, going to shows by myself isn’t a radical thing. People often say to me, “That’s so brave, I would never do that.” And honestly, I don’t understand why. My priority is seeing the performances and being there for the music. Whether or not people go with me doesn’t matter that much.
CC: I think people call it brave, because most people, including myself, start to feel a little awkward if we don’t have some friends there as a social buffer.
Shira: At the beginning, it was a little overwhelming to be there alone. It’s a big festival and a lot of people. And then about five minutes after I got there, Bishop Briggs came onstage, and she was incredible, and then I was great for the next three days.
CC: So how does a big festival like Hangout compare to other concerts that you’ve seen?
Shira: Oh, wow. I was blown away. There was something about so many people being in one space, with this enjoyment and appreciation of music, that blew my mind completely. If there’s a decent lineup next year, I’m absolutely there. I really appreciated how genuine and friendly the locals were, and it didn’t feel like they were just putting it on for the guests.
CC: What do you say to somebody who wants to visit that big faraway festival, but can’t convince their friends to make the trip?
Shira: Go anyway. There are certain things that I did differently because I was by myself. I was more careful about my surroundings and how much I drank than I would have been if my friends were there. But (Hangout) is the kind of environment that fosters connections. And so many people go with an intention of meeting new people and making new friends that if you look for it, you will find friendships.