We’re in the thick of summer music season. The good news for parents? There are plenty of opportunities to introduce your kiddos to live music. The bad news? Many of them are outside in the summer heat. We checked in with a few longtime music lovers and parents for pro-tips on how to survive and hopefully enjoy an outdoor music event with your kids.
1. Pack the essentials. Most festivals and events will allow you to carry in two factory-sealed bottles of water, along with empty water bottles you can replenish at filling stations. If you’re going to be out for more than an hour, consider freezing the bottles, as it’s easier to hydrate kids with cold water.
Hearing protection is a close second to water, headphone style for the little ones and regular ear plugs for older kids. Not only is it important to protect young ears, but small children can be overwhelmed by the sound levels at outdoor events.
And don’t forget something to sit on. “I have a go-to blanket that I always take that I’ve had since when the kids were babies,” says Celeste Quesada, event architect and mother of two girls ages 10 and 6. Other parents recommend packing folding chairs for the grown ups and blankets for the kids.
Other essentials include sunscreen, hats, hand sanitizer and baby wipes. If you’re heading out in the heat of the day consider an umbrella or parasol for shade and bubbles to entertain the little ones. If you’re going to be out after dark consider picking up some glow stick bracelets, necklaces or crowns. Not only will it make the experience more magical for your kids, it makes them easier to track when the sun goes down.
While no one’s likely to wrestle a bag of Cheerios out of your baby’s hands, outside food is technically not allowed at events where alcohol is on sale. Many outdoor events have food on site but it’s a good idea to make sure little ones have relatively full tummies before heading out. Otherwise you might find yourself negotiating limited (and often pricey) options with picky eaters on site. Having said that, it’s always worth it to budget for treats (bribes) that could buy you an extra 20 to 30 minutes of good behavior.
2. Manage your expectations and be flexible. Your kids may be troopers, but they’re most likely not up for a long stretch of live music in the heat, so plan accordingly. Quesada says her go-to strategy is to arrive at events early and leave early. Angela Jenkins-Bey, longtime Austin music fanatic and mother to three children ages 10, 12 and 15 recommends setting a maximum of two hours for excursions, especially if your kids are young. “If they melt down, it’s time to go,” she says.
“I try very hard to have my goals be general (‘have fun, spend time with my kids, make them laugh,’ ‘talk to interesting people’) rather than specific (‘if my son doesn’t see Tune-Yards I will be a failure,’ ‘if we don’t see at least an hour of music this will be a waste of my money’),” says Bill Childs, host of the KUTX kids show “Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child” and father to two children ages 14 and 17.
Childs says when his children were younger he learned to listen to them about what was and was not working. “If I’m not cool with their needs/interests at least sometimes trumping mine, then going to a music event with them is probably a bad idea,” he says.
3. Make it a group outing. These days, Dan Redman’s sons, ages 16 and 17, are as likely to be onstage with their band Residual Kid as they are in the audience, but he’s been taking them to shows since they were very young. In the early days, Redman’s family tried to coordinate outings with other families who had kids of the same age. Having friends to play with made events more entertaining for the children while freeing up parents who would trade off childwatch duties. This worked particularly well in larger festival settings like Austin City Limits Festival. “If somebody really wanted to see a show and not focus on the kids…we just sort of figured out groups that might want to go and others who were like, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll just hang with the kids.’”
Related to keeping an eye on kids, if you have young children, talk to them about what to do if they get lost before you leave the house. When you arrive on site make sure to point out event staff and police.
4. Give your older kids freedom to roam, but use technology to keep track of them. Parents of teens we talked to said they began allowing their kids to wander off briefly by themselves at outdoor events around the time they were 10 or 11. “We sometimes stay together at events now that the kids are older, but often don’t,” says Childs. “But we have as a baseline requirement that we can find them any time — in particular, we use the ‘Find Friends’ app on the iPhone and require that they leave it active.”
With older kids clear communication about expectations and pre-designated meeting places are key. Don’t be afraid to set very specific guidelines, “you can go to x stage and you will be back to this location at y time.’”
“Trust that you’ve given them some level of sense, and a backup phone battery,” Childs says. His teenagers both carry an external phone battery that they can only use to contact their parents “not just to have more Tumblr/Instagram time.”
5. Don’t forget to pack a sense of humor and also a few mild-mannered threats.
Guess what? Your kids might not love music events. Sometimes you take your kids to Austin City Limits Festival and all they want to do is play in the sand by the beer hall. Sometimes you take them to see a band in a neighborhood park and you can’t tear them away from the swing set for more than a song. It happens. Don’t take it as an affront to your own ability to raise cultured kids and try to negotiate to make the experience enjoyable for everyone (this is where that bribe money we mentioned earlier comes in handy).
Quesada says she always keeps a couple “mild-mannered threats” at the ready. “Number one without fail: ‘If you don’t stop whining, we are not going to P. Terry’s on the way home.’ Number two: ‘If you don’t stop talking to your sister that way, no Netflix when we get home.’”
“Works like a charm!” she says.