Music festival season: How to cope when you’re drinking less (or not at all)

The music festival season is upon us, what with Coachella Festival in California and Roadburn Festival in Sweden having just finished on Sunday, boasting varying social media shots of glitter-clad girls with flowery headbands and sequined hot pants, or sweaty long-haired dudes melting faces with heavy riffs. Both provoked feelings of FOMO or inspired the need to get some festivals booked in for many people across the globe.

So whether you’ve got your golden ticket to Glastonbury, or you’re off to sunny Primavera in Barcelona, or you’ll be moshing to Jimmy Eats World at Slam Dunk, or goth’ing out to Nick Cave for a day at Victoria Park (ahem) or running around naked in the desert building sculptures at Burning Man…there is always a way to get through it with either less booze or no booze.

BUT HOW?! I hear you ask.

The golden rule

Well, I’ll start with the most golden rule: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, live music doesn’t need alcohol to make it good. If you’re bored with whatever you’re listening to without being drunk, then maybe you’re not as into it as you thought you were. I once went to see Rihanna at the O2 and I got so drunk that I have absolutely no memory of it and one of my friends fell down and broke her front teeth on the balcony banister. Turns out that I’m actually just not into Rihanna, or the O2, so I would have been bored out of my brain if I hadn’t sneaked in a bottle of vodka (soz O2 security).

Watching Sabbath, however, or Slayer, or any other band on a long, long list of various metal bands, has always been amazing and throughout the last four and a half years, I have always remembered it. There’s something about standing in a crowd full of people, no matter how big or small the crowd is, all of whom are fully engaged with what their senses are experiencing.

The assessment

So, if you’re at the point of booking a festival then it’s at this point that you can make the following assessment, to make sure that you’ll have the best possible time:

  1. Do an honest assessment of the music that’s playing and how you feel about it. Do you enjoy enough bands/musicians on the lineup or are you just going out of habit or because your friends/partner like them?
  2. What’s your sleeping and general living situation? Will you be stuck in a grotty, overflowing campsite where the overlapping tent ropes are reminiscent of a dank spider-webbed filled cave, in which it’s easy to turn to booze to feign survival? Or are there showers and flushing toilets? Are you in a cosy camper van or a teepee? Or, even better, are you staying in off-site accommodation? There are plenty of options these days, so don’t be afraid to lead your crowd on this decision, even if it means paying a little extra – everyone will thank you in the end and you won’t get pissed on in the middle of the night. I slept in the back of a van in a layby outside of the festival once and it was beautiful.
  3. Other than music, what else does the festival have to offer? Perhaps there’s a chill-out zone, or massage tent, or yoga, or spoken word, or an art exhibition, or some sort of creative hub which you can go and check out when things start to get tricky. It might even be easy to leave the festival to go and explore something nearby.
  4. What’s the food and drink like? It can be quite hard to check this out before the festival starts, but if you’re brave enough then make some calls – or ask people who have been before.

How to cope when you’re there

If the festival is already booked, then here are some tips on how to deal with above corresponding points:

  1. The music. If it’s a festival consisting of one main genre and you’ve decided that you’re not really into it, then the reaaally simple option is to sell your ticket. If that’s not an option, then look at what else is going on, go exploring when you’re there and then just find somewhere to sit and watch the music from afar – it’s surprising how much easier it is to handle when you’re sitting down. If the festival is mixed-genre or not as music-focused, then it’s easy to find something you like on some level – and there are usually some sort of activities to get involved with.
  2. Sleeping/living situation. If you DO end up in a campsite that you hate, then you will be more aware of your surroundings but you also won’t be dealing with it hungover – which makes everything so much easier. You can get up early before anyone gets to the showers/toilets, go and search for breakfast and find a nice spot to hang out. If you’re staying somewhere comfortable then this is your safe space for when things get too much in the main areas – come back and take some time out when you need it.
  3. What else the festival has to offer. When you’re not perpetually hungover or drunk, your curiosity will be a lot more active so you’ll find you do a lot more exploring than you would have done in the past. It’s OK to break away from your group and do your thing, just have a landmark that you’ll meet at once your phones have died.
  4. Food and drink. Food is often replaced with booze when we’re hungry or bored, and it’s rare that there’s not at least one incredibly tasty food offering at a festival – so get eating. If you’re moderating, shandies are a great shout for sessionable drinking and they’re perfect for warm weather. It’s also pretty rare that there’s not something you can make a shandy-esque drink out of – I got through Hellfest drinking weak lager mixed with tropical red bull – I believe they’re called “Turbo-shandies”! If you’re not drinking at all, then there’s always tea and coffee available to get you started and now that healthy options are in much higher demand, you’ll usually find some decent sodas and alcohol-free cocktails around somewhere too. Alcohol-free beers etc may not be on the agenda but if you’re in Europe in areas such as Spain, then you might get lucky. If in doubt, take your own – just check what materials are allowed on site before you go, as glass will often be taken away (cans usually fine). Day festivals are trickier, particularly London ones, as they search you on entry and may take away anything they feel like – so be prepared to lose your stash or argue your way in. Ladies – we’ve sadly realised that saying you’re pregnant is the most accepted reason for not drinking, so there’s no shame in a bit of acting! 

The key message here is planning. If you can’t plan everything to the finest detail before you go, then do so when you arrive. Find a map of the festival, get a programme, do a tour of the site, the food, the activities, the drinks and the surrounding area so you can get comfortable and plan your stay. The psychological and social connection with fun and alcohol is stronger than the reality once you put it into play, you WILL have an amazing time!


If you’re thinking of doing a sober sprint, would like to cut down your drinking, stop for a while or quit completely – you can sign up to our FREE mailing list for advice, inspiration, events information and more. You can also join our private Facebook group to access our webinars live and to share stories, advice, and support with like-minded people on different stages of their journeys. Want to keep socialising but not sure which places are good for alcohol-free drink choices? Head to our Club Soda pub guide where we list the best places for mindful drinkers.

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