What time should I get to a music festival?

  • Music festivals are notorious for bringing in A-list headliners that fans want to see up up and personal.
  • I’ve attended a number of events throughout the years, most notably the Governors Ball in New York on Friday.
  • Here are some pointers for going near to the stage for a spectacular headlining performance.

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Music festivals provide the opportunity to see many massive artists give impressive live performances, all in just one day. But, for many festival goers, A-list headliners are the main attraction.

Although many fans like to bounce between stages, sit with pals in picnic areas, and simply enjoy everything a festival has to offer, others are keen to acquire a good place for the night’s last performance — and it requires more devotion than it seems.

Indeed, instead of paying for a day-long event with a host of other acts, these fans could just join the headliner’s own tour. A music festival, on the other hand, provides a rare opportunity to witness arena-sized acts in a general admission environment rather than a seating venue. Nevertheless, if you play your cards well, you may wind up much closer to the stage for the same price as a stadium “nosebleed” ticket.

Billie Eilish, for example, stole the night as the Friday headliner at this year’s Governors Ball in Queens, New York.


Fans in the rear can view the performance thanks to large screens placed up on each side of the stage.
Callie Ahlgrim/Insider

For her “Happier Than Ever” tour, she will return to New York City in February for two sold-out shows. General-admission pit tickets for either show at Madison Square Garden are listed for resale online for more than $300. The cheapest seats at the venue’s top are presently approximately $170.

A one-day ticket to Gov Ball, on the other hand, costs just $130 plus service fees.

This weekend, Gov Ball continues with headliners J Balvin and A$AP Rocky on Saturday and Post Malone on Sunday.

Other upcoming festivals include Rolling Loud, which will take place at the same venue as Coachella and will feature headliners 50 Cent, Travis Scott, and J Cole; Austin City Limits in Texas, which will feature Eilish, Miley Cyrus, Tyler, the Creator, and others; and Coachella, which will return in 2022.

If you’re determined to be in the front row for a headliner, consider the following advice from a festival veteran.

Front-load food and leisure at the beginning of the day

I try to arrive between 12 and 2 PM — even if there aren’t many early performers I care about — to beat the late afternoon crowd and make sure I’m making the most of my ticket. Here is when I refuel, relax, and check out the retail tent.

Some die-hard festivalgoers may arrive early and go directly to the main stage to camp out for the day. This is not something I would suggest. Certainly, you’ll never get to the head of the line, but you’ll also reduce your chances of dehydration and tiredness.

Take some time to eat a large meal and drink plenty of water. On Friday, I splurged on these chicken nuggets with truffle fries from a food stand called “Dank Nugz” — topped with scallions, bacon, and parmesan cheese — because I knew I wouldn’t eat another substantial meal until after Eilish’s performance.


This meal put me back $18, but it was worth it.
Callie Ahlgrim/Insider

Please note that it’s highly important to eat a well-rounded breakfast before leaving for the festival if this is the route you choose. Energy and nutrition are essential!

Go to the main stage just before the penultimate performer’s set

Festivals use a rotating schedule on several stages to reduce sound leakage and give each crew adequate time to set up.

This means the second-to-last artist who performs on the main stage will finish an hour or two before the headlining set begins, sometimes more. It may seem inconvenient, but it is your greatest chance to be near to the stage.

If you leave between performances, you’ll be caught behind the ever-growing crowds jostling for the same perspective you want.

On Friday, I made my way to the main stage just before Kehlani was scheduled to perform at 5:30 PM. (Fortunately, I was intending to watch Kehlani’s set anyway since I adore her. “All Me” is a banger.)

I was around 25-30 rows back when Kehlani joined the stage. However, people often shift and leave in the middle of a set — to use the bathroom, eat, catch another show, or simply because their legs are tired — which gave me a few chances to move forward.

During Kehlani’s hour-long performance, I bobbed and weaved. By the time she played her final song, I’d advanced five or so rows.


My perspective at the start of Kehalni’s performance, left, and somewhat closer towards the finish.
Callie Ahlgrim/Insider

Now, this is where it gets competitive.

The audience always shifts dramatically once the last artist exits the stage. A large number of individuals will go, but an equal number will rush forward to fill the voids. Hang on to your luggage and brace yourself for a shove.

The throng will calm after a few minutes, but this will not be permanent.

Kehlani’s set ended at 6:30 PM and Eilish was scheduled to take the stage at 8:45 PM. It meant that those who wanted to be near to the stage had to stand and wait for more than two hours.

People will often wear out during this time period and depart the throng, giving you additional opportunity to shift and move ahead.


My perspective at 6:45 p.m., after the massive surge when Kehlani exited the stage.
Callie Ahlgrim/Insider

Make sure you brought water, and take little sips throughout the waiting period

Nothing ruins a headline performance like leaving in the midst to pee – unless you’re dehydrated. Your goal is to walk the line between these two, so you won’t have to lose your spot to go to the bathroom, but you also stay hydrated and healthy.

As you approach the throng, make sure you have water on hand. Security will sporadically distribute water to the rows near the stage, but it’s not guaranteed you’ll get one.

Most festivals provide free water refill stations, but you’ll need to purchase a bottle beforehand or bring your own reusable bottle (as long as it’s empty when you arrive).

These water cans were $5 each at Gov Ball, apparently because aluminum is more recyclable.


It looks like beer, but I promise it’s water.
Callie Ahlgrim/Insider

Take little sips while you wait, saving the bulk of the water for the 30 minutes before the headliner arrives. It keeps me hydrated but also not overburdening my bladder, as I’ve discovered. (Note: I am not a doctor and I do not know whether that’s how it works. Please leave the crowd and get water if you need to.)

Keep your knees bent, and do small stretches every 20 minutes

This seems like a silly tip, but it’s important.

As we stand for lengthy periods of time, most of us lock our knees. You will almost probably be hurting as a result of this. Every 20 minutes or so, remind yourself to bend your knees and stretch. The crowd will likely be tight, but you can do small things, like rolling your neck and ankles.

If you want to stay in the audience and enjoy yourself while the headliner performs, you should maintain your body as flexible as possible.

Just before the headliner takes the stage, there will be another sudden push

As the lights dim and the music begins, there will be a quick rush to the stage.

I do not know how this happens or where the extra space comes from, but in my experience, it happens every single time. Prepare for it so that others do not rush ahead of you.


On Friday, Billie Eilish performs “Ilomilo” at Gov Ball.
Callie Ahlgrim/Insider

You’ll probably finish up three or four rows closer to the stage after this push. After everything I just described, I’d estimate I was 10 rows back when Eilish arrived to perform “Bury a Friend,” her explosive show opener.

Several headliners will also have a runway in the middle of the audience.

You’ll have a better view of the performer when they utilize it if you can approach near to the middle of the stage.


Eilish performs “Oxytocin” on the Gov Ball runway.
Callie Ahlgrim/Insider

The most important tip is to listen to your body. If you need to leave the crowd, do so.

No performance is worth being ill for. If you feel lightheaded or dizzy — or maybe your feet are just a little too sore — leave the crowd to hydrate and rest. Festival performances are meant to entertain a large audience, so it will be enjoyable from every angle.

Related Questions

  • What time should you arrive at a concert?

    Unless there is an opening act that you detest (happened too many times in my life), then you should arrive around 9 ish. Whenever you feel at ease. You may come at the last minute and avoid standing in line. You may also come early and visit the merchandise stalls.

  • How early should I go to a concert to get front row?

    If you have general admission tickets, arrive as soon as the doors open. Sometimes it’s just an hour before the concert starts, and other times it’s many hours. Depending on how serious you are about securing a position in the front row, you should arrive as early as possible.

  • Is 27 too old for music festivals?

    You’ll undoubtedly feel like you’re too old to go to a music festival at some time. Secondly, allow me to speak for a sizable proportion of those reading this when I exclaim, “Quarter-life crisis?!” Indeed, you are not too old to attend music festivals. That said, you’re never too young to feel old.

  • How early should I get to a concert for the floor?

    For any general admission event, arrive at least 1-2 hours early. If you’re not stoked on the front row, it’s still recommended that you show up at least 1-2 hours early in order to find a decent spot on the floor. Otherwise, you risk being seated at the back, unable to view the action onstage.

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