How to Go to Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, a Primer

I can't believe that next week will be August. It feels like the summer's just begun! But here I am getting geared up for Falcon Ridge Folk Fest, and that's always signal that 2/3 of the summer is behind us. I've been humming "Gentle Arms of Eden" (video below), and I've been going over my packing list. I'll be making a run to Costco over the weekend to pick up some snack foods and batteries. I ordered a new sleeping bag -- each year I try and augment my camping equipment with one new thing. Last year I had to replace my tent. This year it's the new sleeping bag. I feel I'm totally justified, as I got the last one in approximately 1992. It's time. (I also acquired a head lantern at the end of last season, and I'm thinking of adding a solar phone charger if I can find one at a decent price with good enough reviews.)



Camping

I must make it known that I love to camp. I must also put the qualifier on there that I am a car camper. I'm not a backwoods, carry everything you need on your back, kind of camper. I have plenty of gear and a car to haul it, and I make no apologies. I camp. I don't suffer. My ex used to make fun of the way I treated camping like "playing house." But that's really how I think of it. I like to be somewhat organized and set up areas for the different tasks that need taken care of. So here's my packing list, organized by room (note -- I may have forgotten some stuff, but I'll come back and edit/add as I think of things):

Bedroom
  • You need a tent. You don't need the best, fanciest tent that REI sells, but you do need a decent tent. You can pretty much count on it raining at some point during the festival, and a leaky tent is no fun at all. Trust me on that one. When you go to buy a tent, realize that when the specs say "4-person tent," they really mean that there is room for four people laying side by side to sleep. Those measurements don't take into account that you will likely have gear in your tent, too. Look at the dimensions. Look at the height, too. I personally like to be able to stand up in my tent -- makes changing clothes much easier. (A tent requires a tarp underneath it -- and you'll want a few extra tarps to cover things up when it rains.)
  • You'll also want some kind of sleeping setup. You'll see inflatable mattresses, but I have a self-inflating sleeping pad that I like a lot. It gets me off the ground just enough to provide insulation and a little cushioning, and it's mostly waterproof (see the bit about flooded tents). I put a sleeping bag on top of that, and then I usually have another blanket shoved in my sleeping bag, too. It can get cold up there in the Berkshires. And don't forget your pillow!
  • Clothes... The days are hot. T-shirts, shorts, sundresses, comfy skirts, tank tops... that kind of thing is what you'll see a lot of. The nights can be chilly. That's when you'll want to bring out jeans, sweatshirts, socks, and maybe even hats and mittens. Whatever you bring, though, expect it to get dirty, sweaty, and potentially lost.
  • More clothes -- sleeping clothes (other folks will see you in your PJ's if you go to the bathroom during the night or when you emerge from your tent -- keep modesty in mind if that's important to you!), undergarments, swimsuit (there's apparently a swimming hole a few miles away -- I've never been there, but I know others have).
  • More on the clothes... You'll probably want to bring a lot of clothes. If it rains and you get wet, you'll want to change. I usually change at night into something a bit warmer before heading to the evening music. In the heat, you'll sweat a lot. You may want to change clothes to freshen up a bit. You'll also want to leave some of your clothes in the car so that if you have a tent-flooding event, you'll have something dry to put on. I like to pack my clothes and such in a big Rubbermaid bin that I then shove in my tent. With the lid on, it serves as a table for books/lantern/etc. And then it keeps my clothes all in one place and dry.
  • Bring a bag for dirty/wet laundry. You won't want to mix it with your clean/dry stuff.
  • Bring a hat. I don't care if you think hats look dorky or whatever excuse people give for not wearing hats. There is a lot of sun and at some point you will want to keep it off of your face and neck. You'll want sunglasses, too.
  • Footwear... I usually bring my KEEN hiking sandals for my primary shoes, a pair of flip flops for the shower and my campsite, and a pair of sneakers that I usually leave in the car. You probably won't want to hike all over the festival in flip flops -- you'll want something more substantial. I also invested in a pair of rain boots a few years ago. It can get really muddy if it rains, and the boots are nice for getting around. Depending on where you camp, it can be a 5-15 minute walk to the stages, and in the mud one year, I was stepping out of my shoes every third step! The boots are great. Just hose those puppies off and they're good as new.
  • I also like to have a big battery lantern for the tent. I just like to be able to see where I'm going. I also have a couple of smaller flashlights, and a lot of folks have head lamps. No fire inside your tent, so make sure it's a battery lantern, not propane.
Bathroom
  • Toiletries... toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, deodorant, comb, brush, soap, shampoo, hair styling goo, contact lens solution
  • Toiletries you might not ordinarily use at home but may want while camping... baby wipes, hand sanitizer, a partial roll of toilet paper in a plastic baggie that you can take to the port-a-potty (in case the provided TP has run out)
  • Medicine... any prescription or non-prescription drugs you take on a regular basis, advil/tylenol, and then I like to bring a small container with a couple of doses of meds that it's unlikely I'll need but would like to have if I do -- immodium, benadryl, cold and allergy medicine
  • Sunscreen, aloe vera
  • If you plan on using the festival showers, you'll want to bring a bag to carry a few toiletries down to the showers. (When you're standing in the shower line, bring a book to keep you occupied. It can be quite a wait.)
  • Condoms... I'm all for a little tent-sex if you wanna... so long as it's respectful and safe... which means being prepared
  • A couple of towels and washcloths (it takes a while for them to dry in the sun, so you'll want a second towel so you can rotate)
Kitchen
  • A good cooler. You can keep food good and cold for a long time if you keep replacing the ice in your cooler. Drain off the water a couple of times daily and then add more ice (it's sold on the campgrounds by folks in trucks who yell "ICE!" in a much less cooler way than they did 5 or so years ago). 
  • A camp stove -- it's not necessary, but with a camp stove you can prepare a few simple things at your campsite and save yourself some money. Even just a single-burner propane stove gives you the flexibility to boil a kettle of water or cook something in a frying pan. (Of course, you'll need to bring a kettle, a frying pan, and any utensils you need -- I got a fantastic old kettle at the thrift store that just lives in my camping gear right now... I got some cheap, plates, cups and bowls at an end-of-season picnic section sale... and I have a box of old silverware, a ladle, a spatula, a corkscrew, a bottle opener, a can opener, and a knife that I've accumulated over the years... I did purchase a set of pots and pans new, but I camp enough each season that they get used a bunch)
  • If you're cooking at your campsite, you'll need to be able to clean up, so you'll want a couple of dishpans, a small container of dish soap, and a sponge. (You can also use paper plates and plastic utensils to save on the need to wash up.)
  • Paper towels, napkins, sandwich baggies, trash bags
  • A good water bottle to carry around with you. (It's nice if you can attach a carabiner to it so you can hook it on your backpack/belt loop/etc)
  • Food -- whatever you need for any meals you want to prepare (I usually do a combination of cooking food and purchasing from the vendors -- there are a lot of good eats offered!) -- there are tons of recipes online for meals that are easy to make on a camp stove
  • Food -- snacks -- fruit, trail mix, dried fruit, crackers/pretzels/tortilla chips (I like to have something salty as it helps remind me to drink more water), granola bars, hummus, raw veggies, non-melting candy or cookies if you'll want something sweet (though ice cream, baked goods, and sweets in general aren't hard to come by from the vendors!)
  • Drinks -- In addition to your water bottle, you'll probably want some more beverages. I usually bring juice boxes, some soy milk, a few cans of soda, some tea bags, and a gallon of water. There is potable water on the festival site, but if you bring a gallon or two along with you, you provide yourself with containers for carrying water. Remember that caffeinated beverages and alcohol will dehydrate you, so plan to compensate with more water if you partake. (I know I'm talking a lot about hydration. It's just that it's HOT during the days, and you have to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.)
Living Room
  • Furniture -- You'll want a chair for the campsite and maybe a folding table. You'll also see inflatable furniture, hammocks, and just about every configuration of camp furniture you can imagine.
  • Shade -- There is virtually no shade on the entire festival site. It's a really good idea to bring a canopy of some sort for your campsite or to make friends with someone who does have shade. At some point, you'll want need to escape the sun.
  • Furniture for the stages -- a blanket and/or tarp to sit on, a chair that's low to the ground, a small beach shelter/canopy/umbrella if like me, you get completely exhausted by too much sun.
  • Toys, gadgets, books, knitting, journals, crosswords, deck of cards, and other things for amusement and hanging out.
  • Electronics -- there is cell service on the ridge (there is an FAQ out there online from maybe 8 years ago that says there's so-so reception up there -- oh, how things change in just a few years), and phones can be great for finding your friends. Lots of kids/families will have walkie-talkies. You may want an iPod if you need some white noise to fall asleep. Don't forget your camera -- there are lots of great photos to be had. Be careful about using your car to recharge things -- it's easier than you think to drain your battery. You may also want a radio for the campsite -- they broadcast the main stage.
Other Stuff
  • If you're a light sleeper, you may want ear plugs
  • Bring your musical instruments! There is plenty of singing and playing at the campsites after the lights go out on the stages. If you want to play, there will be a place so long as you're not timid about asking.
  • A bag or back pack to carry during the day. You'll want to have certain things with you most of the time -- wallet, phone, sunscreen, water -- and you may end up purchasing trinkets and CDs
  • I try and pack some plastic shopping bags so I can protect things in my backpack from getting wet either from a leaky water bottle or a rain shower
  • It's useful to have a mallet and extra stakes when setting up your tent
  • Clips and bungee cords and twine can come in handy
  • If you've got a shaded area set up, you might consider bringing a dark colored bed sheet (or something similar) to hang on the side of the shelter to block the sun as it sets/rises
  • Glow sticks are fun! Plus, they're useful for marking guy lines on tents or your seats on the hill at night.
  • A bandanna is nice to have. You can wipe the sweat off your brow, cover your head when you sleep, and wrap it around the handle on a hot kettle. I bring one for each day.
  • Think about bringing an extra car key. If you lose your only key, it will be really tough to find it, and you'll be up a creek.
  • Phone numbers -- especially if you have internet friends that you'd like to meet up with, exchange phone numbers ahead of time and text meeting places when you arrive
  • A budget -- Estimate how much money you want to spend ahead of time and then stick to it. There's lots of fun stuff to buy. Just be reasonable. If you only have $50 to spend on souvenirs, then that's what you've got. Plan for it. Also, don't forget to budget for your ticket, gas, tolls, food you bring, food you buy, last minute camp supplies, and ice. Bring cash. Some vendors will take cards, but  festival food and ice will require cash.
Taking Care Of Yourself

Falcon Ridge is a fantastic time. In many ways, it's magical. In a very short amount of time, you set up a little camp city, settle in, hear a ton of great music, meet a lot of great people, see and hear and experience incredible things, and then pack up and go home. It can also be a bit overwhelming. I find that it's really important to make a point of taking care of myself while I'm there.

A beginner's mistake is to try and do it all. You have to just accept that there is so much going on that you'll never be able to do it all. It's impossible. It's just the way it is. So if you miss something you wanted to try and see because you're in line for lunch... well... that's just how it goes. If two of your favorites are on two different stages at the same time, you'll just have to make a decision. It will all be OK. You might miss something amazing, but chances are better than not that you'll see something different that's amazing. 

It's OK to spend time away from the stages, too. I'm prone to being overstimulated, and so I find that I occasionally need to get away from everyone and everything and hide out in my tent for a little nap. I'm also prone to being overheated. One year I went and sat in my car and turned the AC on for a little while just to cool myself down. I felt guilty about just running the engine like that, but in retrospect, I did what I needed to do to keep myself healthy and functioning. Listen to your body. Sleeping and eating are necessary, and relaxation comes in lots of different shapes and forms.

I'm saying it again... you need to drink plenty of water. The sun is brutal. Drink up and protect your skin, too, with clothing, hats, and sunscreen. 

Try and discover a new artist. It's fun to see all of your old favorites, but this is a good chance to discover new musicians, too. And it's OK to "break the rules," too. At most concerts, it's rude to get up halfway through a set and walk away, but here it's OK. If you want to see two things at once, then do it. Spend a bit of time at one stage and then head to another. A lot of the normal rules are suspended. 

And the final thing I think everyone should know about Falcon Ridge is that it's not some kind of folk Mecca. For several of years, I thought it was. But then there was a year with some drama among friends and some heat exhaustion and I went home feeling really... drained and disappointed. Don't get me wrong. It's fantastic fun. It's a beautiful place with beautiful people and beautiful music. If this is your first music festival, you'll find it's an experience like none other. But it's unrealistic to expect that it's going to be a perfect experience. Take the good and put it in a locket and carry it with you. Let the less-than-good roll off your back and just leave it behind. My memories of FRFFs past are to be treasured. Reasonable expectations will help ensure that there are more treasured memories to be made. 

OK. I was mistaken. There is one more thing you need to know. Go back up to the top of this entry and play the video again. Learn that song. "Gentle Arms of Eden" is like an unofficial Falcon Ridge anthem. The song will make you feel good, and when you hear it at the festival, you will be able to sing along.

This is my home, this is my only home. This is the only sacred ground that I have ever known. And should I stray, in the dark night alone, rock me Goddess in the Gentle Arms of Eden. (Dave Carter)

2 comments

  • Fred Miller

    Fred Miller Jersey City

    Great post, but I would add two things to "Taking Care of Yourself" -- especially as the forecast for this year is for a hot and sunny (and dry) festival. 1. Hydrate! Keep drinking water. One of the things I first thought great at my first fest -- around FRFF #10 was that the festival provided free water. A lot of outdoor venues don't. The last few years, my young son has loved that they provide free bug juice (outside the medical tent.) One thing I miss from older festivals is the discontinuation of the misting tent. That happened a long time ago. Just keep yourself hydrated 2. Sunscreen. In the earlier days of smaller festivals that was also available free at the Medical Tent. It hasn't been for years, but again, basic health if you are planning to spend daylight hours at the Workshop or Main Stage. Other than that.... I have always experienced Falcon Ridge as a (usually) wonderful pop-up community and when anything troubles me, I just ask what sort of community I would like to be part of.

    Great post, but I would add two things to "Taking Care of Yourself" -- especially as the forecast for this year is for a hot and sunny (and dry) festival.

    1. Hydrate! Keep drinking water. One of the things I first thought great at my first fest -- around FRFF #10 was that the festival provided free water. A lot of outdoor venues don't. The last few years, my young son has loved that they provide free bug juice (outside the medical tent.) One thing I miss from older festivals is the discontinuation of the misting tent. That happened a long time ago. Just keep yourself hydrated
    2. Sunscreen. In the earlier days of smaller festivals that was also available free at the Medical Tent. It hasn't been for years, but again, basic health if you are planning to spend daylight hours at the Workshop or Main Stage.

    Other than that.... I have always experienced Falcon Ridge as a (usually) wonderful pop-up community and when anything troubles me, I just ask what sort of community I would like to be part of.

  • Andra

    Andra Vermont

    I've attended FRFF a dozen times, and always pack a light-colored sheet to take with me to the Main Stage. Light colors reflect the sun, and I can cover up with my sheet to keep from getting burned and overheated. Also, you'll need to buy Funny Money for food purchases, and you can do that with a credit/debit card. So, there's no need for cash. The swimming hole is wonderful, and I tend to hit it at least once a day. It's quiet, cool, and lovely. There's a place to park right outside of the actual park, where you don't have to pay (which you will have to do, if you park inside the park), but it can be crowded. There are changing rooms and bathrooms, as well as picnic tables. Have a great festival!

    I've attended FRFF a dozen times, and always pack a light-colored sheet to take with me to the Main Stage. Light colors reflect the sun, and I can cover up with my sheet to keep from getting burned and overheated. Also, you'll need to buy Funny Money for food purchases, and you can do that with a credit/debit card. So, there's no need for cash. The swimming hole is wonderful, and I tend to hit it at least once a day. It's quiet, cool, and lovely. There's a place to park right outside of the actual park, where you don't have to pay (which you will have to do, if you park inside the park), but it can be crowded. There are changing rooms and bathrooms, as well as picnic tables. Have a great festival!

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