The Van Mag Guide to Doing Festivals in Your 40s (and beyond)

Yes, you're still cool—but no, you won't get your fellow festival goers in their 20s to admit it

June 29, 2016

By Neal McLennan / Photo: Greer McLennan-Ross

We sent three generation-spanning teams up to Squamish last year to see if music festivals really are for everyone. In other words, it’s worth a read before you book you Burning Man tickets (PS: if you’re over 40, why are you buying tickets to Burning Man?)

Self-awareness is the kiss of death for the concert goer.

That’s why in my twenties my overarching concern before a show was where was the best place to stash a flask on my person. And why by my thirties I was searching out pre-concert dinners at places with great wine lists (and also improving on places to stash my flask).  And it’s now why, as a man solidly in his forties about to hit a multi-day festival with my teen daughter Greer, all I can think about is choosing a pair of shoes that won’t embarrass either of us.

While sourcing the right pair of Nike Flyknits may seem trivial, it’s the type of detail that may just enable me to skirt though the next few days, because, let’s face it, no one wants to see old people at a concert. It’s a truism we all inherently knew and felt in our youth, but as we get older, we start a decades-long process of self-delusion that for us it’s different. “We’re the cool type of old people,” we say. “The type who wear the right shoes.” But deep down, no number of glasses of California Cab will ever erase the memory of our 20-year old selves bristling at the old people killing the vibe at that Pixies concert back in 1992.


And so, while I know the difference between A$AP Rocky and A$AP Ferg, I’ve come to the realization that old people going to concerts is a zero sum game. For every dozen middle-aged accountants that hit Coachella this year, there’ll be an equal number of 20 years olds—whom the festival is meant for—that will have a terrible time because of said accountants taking all the Ubers and driving up the costs of hotel rooms.

So my plan for this concert? Consider it the sequel to the Perks of Being a Wallflower (ironically, a movie I didn’t see because I’m too old).

  1. Usher said daughter safely into the concert area.
  2. Cut said daughter loose.
  3. Stand off to the far side, preferably leaning against a fence and subtly—inwardly—rock out.

View from the outskirts

The problem comes halfway through the aforementioned A$AP Rocky’s set. As he finished up the hit “Hella Hoes” (sample lyrics: “We got hella hoes, hella hoes,” repeat), I heard the unmistakable shrieking siren from my youth as the A$AP Mob launched into House of Pain’s 1992 hit “Jump Around. Surely, I thought, this was a free pass, dangling in front of me, to join the kids. Clearly my fellow quadragenerians agreed: I watched them pour out of the luxury boxes to get down with the young ‘uns.

But in my lucid state, I held fast, linked my fingers to the chain link for support, like Indiana Jones (a character in a movie from my youth) avoiding those ghosts in the Ark of the Covenant (an artifact just slightly before my time). And just when I felt I the urge to join the herd subside, the music shifted again, into the instantly identifiable opening chords of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and I was done for. Before I realized it, I was floating towards the stage, one arm locked above my head in a bobbing motion that seemed invented by a generation that hadn’t seen enough Leni Reifenstahl films. And for those three minutes I rocked out. Hard. Occasionally I’d catch a glance at a gaggle of horrified 18 year olds in my proximity, and while I briefly thought about explaining that this was my song, not theirs, I knew that it was pointless because I was at their concert, not mine. As the song died down I snapped back to reality and carefully slunk back to my fence. I recognized one more song—the catchy “Goldie”—but for the most part the spell, thankfully, was broken.

A$AP and his “hella hoes”

The night played out and my daughter was awesomely oblivious to my presence. We snuck out before Drake was finished and drove back to Whistler while she regaled me with stories of how great the show was and I nodded without saying much—exactly the way it’s supposed to be.

Seriously, don’t stay on site. Firstly, after a day a fighting the impulse to dance in the sun, you’re beat and you deserve a nice place to relax. Secondly, if you take a room in Pemberton that means some deserving 27 year old who works at Hootsuite can’t have it, and that doesn’t seem fair. I went for Nita Lake Lodge: luxe, away from the hustle of the village (a day at the festival has plenty of hustle already) and spacious. And makes you look like a wheel with the daughter. I elected to stay sober and drive between the festival and the hotel, but if you’re an organized type, private cars can be booked months in advance.

Just spend what you need to spend to recharge your body. Staying at a nice hotel makes it easy—plenty of breakfast options that will satisfy you more than the odd granola bar while camping—and you can even order lunches to go if you want to avoid the lineup at the festival’s food trucks.

Read about doing a music festival in your 20s here >>>

Read about doing a music festival in your 30s here >>>

Get the Newsletter

Own your city with Vancouver’s thrice-weekly scoop on the latest restaurant news, must-shop hotspots and can’t miss events. Rest assured your email is safe with us.