Festival Guide: A List of Don’ts for the Lady Music Writer


Arts & Culture

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  • Don’t be fun. “Fun” is your former life. Now you are expected to responsibly imbibe all of the complimentary beverages available to you over the course of the ten hours (per day) you are attending live sets (even if they are stone boring), factoring in an extra two to three hours set aside for the after- and after-after-parties. If you insist on remaining fun, you should be sober, like, one-beer sober or recovering-alcoholic sober. And if you’re sober and not semifamous, be aware there is a forty percent chance that band people will be less inclined to chat with you. It’s all right; they’re going to give the hastiest interview possible. It’s a festival.
  • Don’t be a music journalist when you’re broke, even if it’s the primary way you earn income from your writing. Among other reasons, if you’re broke, you’ll drink the free alcohol. Too much of it, probably.
  • Wear sensible shoes. A festival is an unfamiliar-city-navigation-themed amusement park and you have miles of concrete and mulch to schlep. You aren’t transported around in a golf cart sponsored by an artisanal tequila distillery. Those are the PR girls for the tequila distillery. You’re a writer; you’re not one of them.
  • That being said, let the requisite pony girls be the pony girls. A “pony girl” is a stunning, intentionally bedraggled-looking boho goddess. She has the longest hair and the tallest shoes and the best jewelry. She superhumanly manages to attend all the hype sets you go to, and has priority access just like you do, even though she is not even a journalist/musician/girlfriend/model, and she will be at every single exclusive event and after-party you will be. She’ll probably bring the coke. If she doesn’t, she will be the first person spending twelve minutes in the bathroom with the guy with the shaved chest in that L. A. psych band because he’s the person with the coke and she knows this. She has coke sense. You cannot compete with the pony girls.
  • Never try to wash nonreusable dishes in the bathroom sink at the boutique hotel. Just throw them away. More specifically: never dump your uneaten microwave oatmeal in the sink, unless there are two sinks, because that sink drain is out of commission now and you must not let room service in to discover that you’ve inflicted damage on the comped hotel room. This means letting your trash fester the entire five days you’re staying there. No one wearing a starched vest may enter that room until you have split town.
  • If you’re talking to a guy in a band you like and he is drunk, be less drunk than he is. Just do it. Otherwise, you will not remember any of the hilarious parts, and when he reaches out and snatches the front of your bra through your sundress and pulls you in close to in what seems to be a searing glower directed at your teeth, you will not be able to properly recall how the conversation got to this point.
  • If you happen to run into them again, don’t be surprised if the people from the band don’t remember who you are, even if it’s the next morning, which is technically three hours later, or if you shared a blunt in somebody’s car and stayed up all night talking about Lewis Lapham and ate tacos together that morning. You should basically assume that you are never making an impression on anyone. You are a journalist, and you are invisible.
  • Never forget about water. Keep at least two plastic, gallon jugs of drinking water in your hotel room. You can purchase these easily at a gas station within walking distance.
  • Just as in life, you probably shouldn’t be one of the last three people at the after-after-party. Exceptions (read: deep conversation with mad famous person) may apply. Also, if you are alone, never let anyone see you leave with someone of your preferred sex from the after-after-party, even if that person is just walking you to the hotel. Mysteriously, this is the only time you are not invisible. Someone will, indeed, ask you about it later. If they ask, and you care about their opinion and/or don’t want them to try to sleep with you, deflect with an unclever excuse about that person being your designated purse-holder while you puked behind a parked car or something similar.
  • Never drink the wine at the after-after-party. It is the worst wine ever vinted in the history of alcohol, donated wholesale to this event with the intention of destroying you and preventing you from meeting your deadline. You’re not supposed to be lying around in a bathrobe watching Hot in Cleveland between barfs and painting your nails; you’re supposed to be seeing nine bands and writing about them. Drink the stupid beer instead and eat all of the free food you can find. You’re going to be bloated this week so just deal with it. You’re a professional.
  • Take advantage of the fact that you are alone and strike up conversations with people you need comments from. It doesn’t hurt to cold open with a compliment to a musician, even if it’s false. Don’t be shy. People will feel sorry for you because you’re a woman by yourself at a massive social event with nothing but a lanyard and a cheap notebook. It’s the nature of the American universe, so make it work for you.
  • Don’t do this for a living if you love music too much, or if you’re uncomfortable fielding the late-night version of people you’d otherwise respect, or if you can’t handle a call from your editor at two A.M. asking you to cover something totally inconvenient that you had no intention of writing about. Remain open to wonderment and that glittering-shaft-of-light feeling you get when you see a truly electrifying set that defies expectations. But be able to distinguish if it was the actually the quality of the music, or the euphoria of late-in-the-day exhaustion, or the fleeting reward of finally getting into the showcase and not having to wait in line for another two hours in the unexpected cold front that’s making you feel this way. If you are easily susceptible to disappointment, that might make you a good critic but a bad journalist. The thing that nobody tells you is that it requires an ardent and dedicated bravery to binge on and interact with a thing that can be so curiously personal, if you’re inclined to take it seriously. And if you’re one of us who are worn away slowly by the embedded lechery, or one of us who drink too much out of nervousness, or one of us who feel like there’s far more of a fight to put up to reach the truest experience, just remember it’s okay, baby, for you to sit this one out.

Natalie Elliott writes the film column “Miss on Scene” for the Oxford American. She currently lives in Bergamo, Italy, with her husband.