Confession: I’m a Phish Head. Like, a really big fan. Like 119 shows under my belt, big fan. Before I had my daughters, I used to see the band a couple of dozen times a year. These days, aside from our annual trek to see Phish on New Year’s Eve regardless of the show’s location (thanks, amazing grandparents!), I’m lucky if I make it to one night of summer tour.
Phish isn’t exactly a kid-friendly concert… or is it?
Sharing my passion for music with my girls was a parenting goal for me from the get-go. I was schooling my firstborn, Violet, on the Beatles while she was still in the womb. My youngest, Sabine, knew all the words to “Hey, Jude” by age 2.
So this past Fourth of July weekend, when my husband and I found ourselves without plans and with my favorite band playing a three-night run in nearby Saratoga, New York, I decided it was time for us to make Phish a “phamily” activity.
Based on my adventures, here are a few tips to help you plan a successful kid-friendly concert experience:
Number 1: Be Prepared to Miss the Show
This is, without a doubt, the most important rule when it comes to attempting a concert with a 4- and 2-year-old in tow. Widely known fact: Toddlers are unpredictable. You never know when the next meltdown is going to happen. In general, you can expect a 50-50 chance of tantrums on any given day. Throw in a break from routine, a hotel, and a big crowd with loud music, and you’re up to a tantrum-likelihood rating of 80-85 percent. So, yes, it could get bad enough that you have to leave two songs into the first set. I’ve seen Phish over 100 times. I’m not going to lose any sleep over having to leave a show (or not making it there at all, should it be a torrential downpour that night). So pick the right show to bring your kids to. A Guns N’ Roses reunion that you paid over $300 a ticket for? That’s NOT the right show.
Number 2: Pick the Right Venue
When I first became pregnant with Violet, some of my fellow mom-and-dad “phriends” introduced me to a group called Little Ragers. The group aims to create a supportive environment for fans who want to bring their kiddos to shows, whether Phish or other bands. One of their goals was to create family zones in outdoor venues, which offer a sectioned-off, smoke-free area for parents to keep their little ones safe. In general, I don’t recommend any indoor shows for small children — they are too crowded, too smoky, and too loud. Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), which is an outdoor venue made up of a covered pavilion and an expansive lawn, is a wonderful location for kids, especially since they allow strollers. Plus, it has a huge family zone so far back on the lawn away from the main stage that the sound is totally safe for babies and toddlers. Which brings us to our next topic…
Number 3: Use Ear Protection (Usually)
We were able to skip the ear protection at the SPAC concerts due to the low volume in the family zone, but this is pretty rare. At most venues, you will want to make sure you have appropriate noise-canceling headphones to protect those tiny ears. There are lots of products out there that range in size from newborn to school-age kids. Here is 2-month-old Violet rocking her Baby Banz at her first concert ever, Wilco in Essex Junction in 2012.
Number 4: Bring All the Snacks
Unless you’re ready to let your kids eat fries and nachos all night, you’ll want to pack heavy in the snack department. I’m talking Goldfish, fresh fruit, pouches, rice cakes, whatever you can fit. Of course, I’m not judging if you go the nachos route, but be prepared to spend a small fortune, since concessions are way overpriced. I learned this the hard way when I spent close to $50 on chicken fingers, fries, and waters. Oh, yeah, save yourself $6 and bring your own water, but wait until you get through security to open it. Speaking of security…
Number 5: Avoid the Sheep Herd
The thing about that family zone oasis that awaits inside the venue, you have to funnel through a shoulder-to-shoulder human traffic jam of smoky gross hippies to get to it… or not! You have two choices: Either go into the venue super early while the rest of the crowd is tailgating in the parking lot or wait until after the show starts to casually stroll inside. I prefer the latter, since option B cancels out the “when is it gonna start” whine. As for exiting, no encore is worth squeezing two tired kids through a rowdy crowd. As soon as the band leaves the stage, leisurely walk out of the joint. Bonus: You’ll skip the traffic as well and you’ll still be able to hear the encore from the parking lot anyway.
Number 6: Bring Fun and Comfort
Glowsticks, bubbles, and stickers, oh my! Music and dance are amazing, but concerts can get long, so it doesn’t hurt to add in some fun items to share with other kids, too. For your sleepy concertgoers, don’t forget some blankies and pillows. Turn those strollers into beds or, better yet, bring in a wagon. Note: Not all venues allow strollers and wagons. Make sure to check on policies and choose accordingly.
So there you have it. Will I bring my kids to every Phish show from now on? Absolutely not.
We are blessed with two sets of grandparents who love spending time with the girls, so concerts will continue to be adult time for us. But after a beautiful family weekend in Saratoga, we are hoping to make it an annual event.
It’s not for everybody, but with the right venue and the right community, there is a place for children at concerts. Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio certainly thinks so.