How to enjoy classical music alfresco

For classical-music veterans and novice newbs alike, the summer festival season represents a vacation in multiple senses, as rising temperatures flip the script on just about every stubborn social convention of the art form.

Suddenly, the stuffy dress code of the concert hall (that only sort of exists) ceases to pertain: Your loud Hawaiian shirts and gigantic sun hats are perfectly appropriate on the lawns and fields of most fests. Ditto those old rules against snacking and drinking during the concert, tossed out like paper plates as picnics prevail. At summer festivals, you can roam as freely as the music, rather than stay put in your seat. You can opt to watch the conductor striking up the orchestra or gaze upon the stars winking in the sky. The music remains the center of attention but in the same way a campfire might.

Like any trip into the wild, however, festival attendance requires a fair degree of preparation. To fest with the best you need to pack your bags accordingly. Let me help.

Getting through the gates at your summer fest of choice is only the first step. Next, you must sort out your secondary parking challenge: a place to put yourself. Many fests offer a choice between assigned seats and a free-for-all in a field, and if you’re in the latter camp, I’m here to tell you that a picnic blanket alone will not cut it. A trusty seat cushion can soften the impact of two hours on the ground, but the wisest festgoers I’ve observed roll with their own good seats. A standard lawn chair will do the job and preserve your tailbone, but I recommend splurging for something deluxe: cup holders (or little wineglass caddies), side-mounted coolers, leg rests, matching side tables. Some sets even come with a handy cart for towing the whole kit and caboodle. Oh, and bring a little tarp for under the blanket. Thank me later.

In the concert hall, one (i.e. me) must furtively shuttle loose M&M’s from pocket to mouth when feeling peckish in the middle of the andante movement. Alternatively, at the last classical festival I attended, I put back a little over a pound of potato salad before intermission. Most fests have some sort of cafe or dining hall situation, but do not rely on them. I prefer a proper picnic to a burger hardened by a heat lamp. On the lawns of Tanglewood this past summer, I spotted lavish potluck dinners laid out across elegantly appointed folding tables, complete with candelabras. One caveat: The rules surrounding food at festivals may be more relaxed, but your consideration of others should remain the same: Abstain from loud crinkly bags of chips, don’t go popping your champagne at inopportune times, and, for the love of Bach, pick up after yourself!

Know before you go that your choice to go open-air will probably mean sitting in direct sunlight. As a result, no place is more popular at classical festivals than spots underneath whatever happy little trees are lucky enough to grow there. It will probably fall upon you to throw your own shade: Overdo it with your SPF selection of sunscreen. Invest in a giant straw hat and sunglasses (and maybe even consider bringing out the caftan). And when it comes to overhead protection, opt for an umbrella rather than a chair-mounted canopy, so as not to obstruct the view of fellow concertgoers. (Also handy to shield yourself from passing showers.)

There is perhaps no festgoing tip more vital than this one: Hydrate! Fill that giant Stanley tumbler up and make it your bestie. These concerts can be long engagements with lots of trekking, schlepping and baking in the sun. It can take a lot out of you. Pack a packet of Liquid I.V. (i.e. electrolyte booster) or two just in case. Listen to the music, yes, but also listen to your body. Not even the orchestra can compete with an ambulance.

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