Ah, the Austin City Limits Music Festival!
I am particularly excited about this year's ACL because: 1.) I am not pregnant. 2.) It's in mid-October, so maybe it won't be over 100 degrees. 3.) I have new sassy rain boots and a bright orange poncho to wear in case it rains. 4.) My firm is co-sponsoring a backstage VIP area (free drinks and snacks and clean portable toilets). And 5.) Both of my kids are finally old enough to go for at least a few hours.
Here are some bossy and somewhat judgmental observations about attending the festival with young kids:
Know and respect your family's limits. Do you really think your 3-year-old can handle the full 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. day? In the heat, rain and/or noise? Getting stepped on by staggering college kids in the dark? I think you know the answer.
Consider this schedule: Get there when the gates open for some noncrowded fun. Start out in the covered CLEAR 4G tent for some rousing gospel tunes and then spend a couple of hours at the Austin Kiddie Limits area. Last year, I actually had more fun there than anywhere. It's shady, the bands are fun, there are all kinds of art and other activities for the kids and it's next to the shaded volleyball sand pits, which are turned into a "beach." Walk around a bit to hear parts of some non-kid bands, have some late lunch, maybe head back to the "beach."
Then right as the kids are about to get to their grumpy place, take them home (or better yet, have them retrieved at Shady Grove or somewhere else close by), leave them with a family member or sitter, and go back out to have grown-up, throw-down time. Or, if the back-and-forth travel isn't an option, consider having one day be "for the kids' sake," design that day totally from their perspective and then go on the other day with just adults.
Though I am generally of the "Just try it!" mentality when it comes to adventures with kids such as dining out in nice restaurants, camping, airline travel or sitting through a full-length church service, I also believe you have to know when it's time to throw in the burp rag. If your monkey has completely lost it and is showing signs of dehydration, I don't care how much you paid for that ticket or how badly you want to see the Black Keys, pack it up and get her home ASAP.
Hydration, shade and sunscreen. Duh. Obvious but had to mention it. I've seen some bad deals in past years. As in I-should-probably-have-called-CPS bad.
Respect other festivalgoers.Please don't make all the other parents look bad by, for example, wheeling your massive BOB double-stroller up and parking it where you know darn well the dance pit is going to be. Please do not change poopy diapers right there in front of everyone. I know you are tired and you worked hard to position your blanket just so, but go over near the portable toilets or behind a tree to do that. Don't let your kids run madly around and bother people who are there without kids, because they don't have them or because they are paying someone $150 to keep them all day so they can enjoy the festival. Common sense, parents, common sense.
Food. Food at ACL is generally pretty fantastic for festival food, but it's expensive, and kids don't always like it, which can make the $7.50 per sandwich investment painful. Feed them a huge breakfast and last-minute snack, and then it won't be such an issue. Oh, and the sauce on those yummy Hudson's chicken cones is spicy — watch out for that.
Don't be confined to the kids area.This might be a bit contrary to the first piece of advice, but let the kids try enjoying some "grown-up" bands if things are going well. Just don't be a jerk, and don't try to force them to tolerate wall-to-wall sweaty stranger bodies or standing in front of a blaring speaker because you want to be close to the action. We tend to hover around the edges of the crowd. Dance, world music, gospel (the clapping! the swaying!) and hip-hop were all generally popular choices for my preschooler even if she wasn't familiar with the act. I guarantee they will love the Jack Johnson sound-alike Donavon Frankenreiter. My girls think Jack Johnson is a kids' musician. And they kind of have a point there, don't they?
Be prepared, but don't load yourself down too much.I have seen some families make a Beverly Hillbillies thing of it and have one parent camp out at the "kids beach" with loads of supplies and sand toys and chairs and whatnot, and they use that area as a home base for their festival exploration operations. I think this might work OK if you have a group of several parents and slightly older kids than mine (ages 3 and 5), but I like being mobile.
My ACL bag will have water, one snack per kid, sunscreen, lip balm, wipes, hand sanitizer, a fully charged cell phone, maybe a small camera, cash/cards/ID, bandages, a copy of the schedule, one insect repellent towelette, and maybe some rain gear if that looks to be necessary. No blanket, no chairs. I even go stroller-free, but I am that way.
Take advantage of ‘Tag a Kid' or similar festival resources.There's a booth where you can sign up your child for a security band. Before we had children, we used to joke and say this would be better as "Tag a Drunk" in order to keep track of loser roommates and boyfriends with a predisposition for passing out, but now I totally get it.
Relax some limits and get a little goofy.Let the kids get really dirty, let them have the extra sugar and the lemonade, let them get inappropriate temporary tattoos. Let them see you cut loose and dance wildly in the rain. It's just one weekend.
Laura Merritt is a mother of two and a lawyer. She blogs at Fuss Bunnies on the Town at austinbabies.blogspot.com.