This past summer, my 16-year-old daughter spent most of her weekends at music festivals, watching rock bands and buying souvenir T-shirts, all accompanied by a loyal friend. That friend, I confess, was middle-aged me.
The scenario above would be many parents’ idea of an afternoon in Hell. But I’d spent a decade working as a talent scout at a record label before becoming a full-time writer; rock festivals had been my comfort zone, complete with their obligatory mud, loud music and sweaty crowds. As my daughter’s passion for music has grown, the idea of a festival tour seemed like an ideal way to bond— not to mention a good excuse for me to reconnect with that part of my life and see some great bands.
But this called for compromises. We have different tastes in music, so I promised that we could see her favorite band, The 1975, as much as possible and that I wouldn’t force her to watch my beloved Radiohead. It also called for a little mommy upgrade. I insisted on no camping—I’d slept on the ground enough in my 20s—and planned on bookending each loud fest day with a pre-concert spa session and comfortable bed afterwards (with age comes wisdom). Another caveat was only attending concerts in cities so we could tack on mother-daughter museum-going (she loved Alberto Giacometti at London’s Tate Modern) and our shared guilty pleasure of designer shoe shopping.
At our first fest, Boston Calling, I was reminded of how wonderful it feels to stand outdoors in a crowd of thousands, enveloped by music you all love. My daughter and I sang along together to all kinds of bands (including, yes, The 1975). We even ate fresh lobster rolls, a huge improvement from the limp fries of the ’90s. Still, I was one of the older people there.
As we went to more festivals, we certainly enjoyed a lot together, but our differences were clear, as well. I focused solely and passionately on the bands onstage, as I always have, but for my daughter, texting and posting photos is an inherent part of the experience. One windy afternoon at the Community Festival in London, she spent more time looking at her phone than at the bands. My silent disapproval made me feel judgmental, and painfully cognizant of our generational gap.
By early August, my daughter admitted that she was festivaled-out. Not me. I was ready for more, and headed off alone to Lollapalooza in Chicago. Other than Lorde, she said, the lineup was what she not-flatteringly calls “Mommy’s music”—bands like The Shins, which would have sounded at home on college radio in 1993. At first I missed having her by my side, but as I noticed plenty of attendees my own age, I started to truly enjoy being part of the crowd, dancing along without the unspoken responsibility of keeping an eye on my daughter. Turns out that after a summer of feeling like an ancient fan, and noting how the world had changed, going alone enabled me to tap into, as one of my most favorite artists might have put it, my teen spirit.
Rachel Felder’s latest book, Insider London: A Curated Guide to the Most Stylish Shops, Restaurants, and Cultural Experiences, is widely available in bookshops.