America spoils us. We live in a country with no borders between its subdivisions and an interstate highway system that transcends geographical boundaries. In perfect traffic, a pair of drivers can pull onto I-80 just outside of Manhattan and make the straight-shot 2,900 miles to San Francisco in just under two days. It’s phenomenal. Whether you’re a road-trippin’ rock show rookie or still sleeping off that last four-day Phish-concert bender, we have something to talk about. It’s time to talk about that next fantastic voyage. It’s time to scout a concert-heavy schedule. Yes; it’s time to plan a rock concert vacation. It’s time to Road Trip … like a Rock Star.
How to Plan a Concert-centric Itinerary
For the duration of this article, I want you to sideline your political affiliations, your questionable romantic life and your mounting panic about a regrettable email you sent your boss this morning. The only things you’re allowed to feel are your heavy right foot and the bass kick thrumming through the stick shift and up your forearm.
Following a Single Band
As traveling to see live music can manifest in a handful of ways, I’ve dissected our discussion into three parts. In this first discourse, we’re going to dig into a form of rock roadshow that’s often referenced but rarely attempted (at least by the working world) – following a band.
Yes. I’m talking about ‘Groupies’. Use other words for it, if you find that term overly stigmatized, but I call it like I see it. If you’re going to spend your summer with a single act in your scope, here are some pointers to keep at the top of your chart.
Perhaps this goes without saying, but if your travel is centered around a single artist’s schedule, the tickets have to come first. Depending on the band, this can be a challenging and expensive undertaking. Foresight and technology are two of your biggest resources here.
Scout the Sale
Know when the tickets go on sale and buy early. Generally, ticket prices spike dramatically the closer you get to showtime. I always check out the tickets from the official venue website to get a base-line price for comparison.
3rd Party Vendors
Sites like Stubhub and SeatGeek are good resources for buying tickets closer to the concert date, especially for big venues. Be aware that they make a lot of money off of the mark-up and often hide these fees in the ‘check-out’ process between when you scope the seats and slide your card.
This is a tricky business and, in my opinion, not worth it. Not only is this generally illegal (depending on the price and circumstances), but it leaves you vulnerable to being ripped off. Use as a last resource.
Transport & Lodging
Unless you’re taking your own vehicle 100% of the time and are comfortable sleeping in it, you’ll need to tackle at least one (and probably both) of these biggies. As with the tickets, earlier is better.
Transportation: Getting There
‘I wasn’t the kind of person that liked waiting for autographs or following them, I just liked to go to the shows, study their records, driving many, many hours to different states to go to concerts.’ – Lenny Kravitz
Unless your treasure map is strictly up and down the North-East Corridor (DC to Boston) or in a very tight geographic area, some sort of vehicle is desirable to maximize your versatility. Consider your companions when you choose your vehicle. It’s preferable that everyone can take a turn at the wheel (so probably an automatic) and that you have enough space for at least one of you to catch some sleep while in route (SUV or van.) Concert schedules can be grueling, so you’ll need to multi-task the rest and relocation to maintain enough energy for each show.
Where you stay will largely depend on your budget, the number of your party and what your relationship is (e.g. family of four, two couples, four single ladies). In terms of both budget and location (walking distance to the show), Airbnb can be a very good resource for larger groups, especially if you don’t mind sharing common space with strangers. If one of you has a travel rewards credit card, I suggest using that for booking.
Some of the best travel credit cards for beginners offer the ability to earn points, miles, or even cash back for flights, hotel stays, and transportation. You can use one credit card to earn points/miles/cash back and everyone else can chip in with cash or a service like PayPal. This will minimize confusion and help build up benefits.
Planning for Downtime on Your Rock Concert Vacation
Understand that one potential consideration for a single-artist trip is that your concert schedule will not be uniform. The band takes breaks, the tour travels outside your radius or you just can’t get (or afford) tickets for all the shows. This will result in some downtime away from home. Plan for this too. Not only will this result in good memories (that you can actually hear), you may find some new favorite places for your next non-concert roadtrip.
The More (Bands) the Merrier
Since most people don’t prefer (or can’t afford) to follow a single artist on tour for their rock concert vacation, our next section describes planning a road trip based around a multi-artist roster. While many of the same best practices apply, this does simplify a few things while presenting a couple of fresh challenges.
Stick to a Genre
Admittedly, this is a preference, but I also have some practical reasons for this suggestion. Although I enjoy a variety of musical genres, personally, I’m only in the mood for one at a time. Agreeing on a specific genre will help you pick everything from your travel companions to your wardrobe.
In a very populated and extremely interconnected world, selecting a genre can help you narrow your focus when scouting and pre-purchasing tickets. Once you’ve exhausted your mental Rolodex of bands in your target areas, use an app like Bandsintown to hone your search by genre.
Set Your Budget
While a single-band roadshow may have a fairly consistent ticket price, the price point for a myriad-artist tour can run the gamut from free concerts to hundreds of dollars a seat. Start planning with your total budget in mind, split off what you need for food, lodging, and transport. Then subdivide the rest by the number of shows you want to see. Then, as with the previous section, book your tickets first. You can’t ’Road Trip like a Rock Star’ without the ‘Rock’.
Plan Your Itinerary
A multi-artist road trip has a LOT of factors including financial, geographical, and social factors. Planning may seem contrary to the gypsy spirit flowing through the hard-core, punk, new wave, hip-hop or whatever it is that you’re out there running down, but trust me, it’s necessary. Do yourself a favor and book the tickets, lodging and transportation in advance. Communicate clearly between all parties. There will still be plenty of unexpected adventures (like it or not), and you’ll have ample opportunities for foolish, Almost Famous-esque spontaneity.
Music Festivals for Your Rock Concert Vacation
Full disclosure, this last section is not my particular brand of chewing tobacco, so to speak. However, from Coachella to Comstock, outdoor concerts and music festivals have a HUGE appeal and entice road trippers from all over the country. Like the two previous categories, this one has some topical overlap and a few unique aspects.
The type of lodging available for and preferred by denizens of a music festival varies widely depending on the venue and the surrounding geography, both natural and urban.
Many outdoor music festivals involve camping on the property. While this is less expensive (and allows participants to travel between base camp and stage), it presents some formidable issues. Depending on the set-up, your campground may be extremely crowded, noisy (either from the stage or other revelers) and odorous.
Many music festival attendees, especially those older than 30, prefer to attend the concert and then retreat to a hotel, Airbnb or another more civilized dormitory. If you’re going this route, make sure to investigate the venue’s policy on re-entry and multi-day passes.
Health & Hygiene
Probably the biggest health issues related to music festivals are heat exhaustion and dehydration. Pack like you would for an athletic hike and a day at the beach: sunscreen, a hat and lots of water. If you’re partaking in drugs or alcohol, always know what you’re ingesting and be mindful of the possibility of exacerbating other conditions. Before you get too into the music (or other forms of recreation), scout the nearest first aid tent, restroom facilities and access to clean drinking water.
Hygiene matters more if you’re going to be at the venue for multiple days. Big concerts expose you to a lot of risk factors from air and water-borne illness to infection. Mostly, just be mindful of your own health (and your friends’) and don’t be afraid to make a graceful retreat if one of you starts feeling bad.
There are a lot of people at concerts and music festivals – and generally a lot of drugs and alcohol. I’m not being a teetotaller here – do what you want to do – but understand that this mass lowering of inhibition can lead to some serious safety concerns. Know where the security tent is, and don’t be afraid to bring them into the picture. Be aware of your own physical limitations and those of your crew. Smaller, younger, or more commonly targeted people should always take a buddy and everyone should check in frequently with each other.
Closing: Leave It All on the Highway
As rock-show road trips are one of my favorite pieces of Americana, I certainly don’t want to end on that last somber note. I’ll now return you to our former level of pre-show live music electricity. I’m glad you’ve read my article, and I’m even more pleased that you’re considering a journey of arena-quaking proportions.
My only real advice is to do your planning now so when you’re cranking down the windows and popping that first tape in the dash (rhetorically speaking), you have nothing on your mind but warm-up acts, encores and backstage passes. Always be learning. Always be living.
And always keep it cranked to eleven.