One Love Fest, which took place at Lake Perris the weekend of October 20-22, was as family-friendly as a festival gets. With plenty of climbable art installations and a sprawling parakeet-green lawn, bringing kids to this event felt as natural as partying until dawn—a place where doing either or both was completely acceptable.
This is a growing category on the scene. It’s not for kids, but kids are welcome. And their presence doesn’t make things any less fun for the grown folks.
As long as I’ve attended festivals, I’ve gone in knowing full well that a weekend of debauchery, rowdiness, and downright deviancy was in store. Away from the stuffy scruples of the default world and out in nature among the freaks and weirdos, scantily-clad and glitter-glazed attendees can play in peace. There’s music, there’s booze, there’s drugs, there’s sex, there’s lights, there’s hula hoops, there’s dancing, there’s madness.
But skipping about in perfect, untainted wonder just below our radars, there are also children. Lots of them.
Accustomed to seeing kids and their forward-thinking parents at festivals all over the world, this came as no surprise. However, when my friends decided that they wanted to bring their two kids—a four-year-old girl named Maddie and a seven-year-old boy named Noah—I have to admit that I was anxious about sharing a camp with a family.
I’ve camped next to families and had plenty of profound single-serving encounters with them at various festivals, but this was different. I would actually have to think about the welfare of two wee children, rather than just which sequined jacket I wanted to wear or what kind of cocktail I was going to make for breakfast.
Frankly, I wasn’t sure if I was prepared for that kind of festival experience.
Turns out, I was prepared. All nerves melted away upon arrival to the campgrounds. As we set up camp and the kids scurried about in the darkness, thrilled to be somewhere new, my perspective shifted. I was no longer afraid of the kids dampening my experience but rather realized how they were going to enhance it. Actually, it was no longer about my experience at all—it was about theirs.
Despite it being well past midnight, we packed up the kiddies and headed into the festival for night one with the intention of wringing every last drop of fun out of the weekend. Immediately Noah and Maddie were tapping into the energy they reserved during the car ride — bouncing, running, and clambering all over a lime green, geometric jungle gym sculpture. There were adults on it too; one of them was doing back flips.
“Sounds like unicorns,” Noah replied when I asked him what he thought of the ever-present thump of house music emanating from the Charlie the Unicorn stage/art car. “I think I like it.”
As the night went on, instead of repelling passersby Noah and Maddie attracted all sorts of colorfully dressed festi-people in various (harmless) states of intoxication. Music festivals are a prime place for people to trade in their adult uniforms for onesies, tails, costumes, glitter, masks and silly hats. It’s no wonder they felt so drawn to the kids when they were trying their hardest to be kids themselves.
Daytime at One Love Fest awakened an entirely new array of childhood wonders. Hang drums bobbed in the lake as dazed waders tapped angelic tunes from their surfaces. All manners of floating apparatuses grazed on the water including a unicorn and an inflatable mechanical bull (aptly named the “Inflat-A-Bull”). Noah ran and swam tirelessly with new friends and in the lake, a gaggle of girls surrounded Maddie.
Proudly watching from the beach, we lazily sunned and sipped on mimosas. The clear, cobalt water of Lake Perris tickled the pebbly shore to the delight of splashing festival-goers in various states of undress. A few yards away, a man donning a thong was doing yoga inversions and it made Noah blush.
Everyone—including the kids—was merrily coexisting and bonding with one another. All the while, bass music rumbled in the distance like the approaching footsteps of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. It was a vision of utopian splendor.
Great freedom, however, does not come without its challenges. For adults, festivals are a place to be one’s truest self — which often entails nudity, gratuitous partying and drug experimentation. Not, by society’s standards, an ideal environment for children. But sharing this place of radical self-expression with children does teach them other tenets, too. Like to be fearless in your authenticity and to live playfully.
While you may not want to teach your offspring about the marvels of an LSD trip or the joys of all-night benders, there are plenty of valuable lessons to be learned at festivals for people of all ages. Compassion, generosity, respect, creativity, self-reliance and self-expression come to mind along with many other qualities I have yet to learn.
Yes, there’s debauchery, but I found that the festival ethos provides perspective and balance. You are showing children a world where grown-ups still believe in magic and play with hula hoops. I’m not a parent, but to me the risk seemed worth the reward.