Breaking Tradition: Skipping Early Sets Are A Festival Goer s Biggest Mistake

Yes, you read that headline correctly.

“But Yog, that’s when I sleep! I party all night and catch the sunrise sets at festivals. Nothing important is happening during the early afternoon.” – you, maybe

“WRONG.” – me, definitely

Among the myriad of experiences at a festival, one often overlooked gem is the early afternoon sets. Perhaps I’m biased because that’s when majority of the indie rock bands are slotted on the schedule, but bear with me here. The magic of music festivals happens during the unplanned moments of delight. It’s the times when you’re headed to a set and someone pulls you in a different direction for an artist you’ve never heard of, only for you to be blown away and glad you pivoted your plans. It’s the moments when you discover a hidden, Easter egg-like piece of art to take pictures in front of with your disposable camera. It’s when you find a secret stage or an artist pops up on a park bench for an acoustic set. These moments occur at the intersection of curiosity and surprise. They are defining and what keep us coming back, looking to scratch the itch of serendipity.

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Photo: Kayla Christine

Early afternoon sets offer a unique advantage to festival goers looking for that ~ magic ~ — less crowded performances. While many attendees are still recovering from late-night revelry or are taking their time to arrive at the festival, the early afternoon shows often have smaller audiences. This creates an intimate atmosphere and allows for — you guessed it — mobility. During a late night set, if you go into the crowd, good luck getting out. Clawing your way to the exit of a densely packed, sweaty audience is an arduous effort, especially when there are 50,000+ people surrounding you at any given moment. Early sets afford you the agency of easily bouncing around when you want, where you want, how you want.


Photo: Bonnaroo, Andrew Jorgensen

This freedom to sample diverse acts creates a dynamic and enriching experience, perfect for expanding one’s musical horizons. It is during these moments that festival goers often stumble upon exceptional up-and-coming artists who may soon take the music world by storm. By indulging in the early afternoon sets, attendees enhance their chances of discovering the next big thing. What’s more, if you come across an artist during an early set and become a fan as a result, you get to live vicariously through that artists’ pursuit of stardom. It allows you the, “I was there” story telling power and bragging rights. I don’t know about you, but I get jealous when my Dad says he saw Queen before they were big. Some undercard artists will be at the top. Don’t wait for them to get there.

Now, I won’t lie to you, going to early afternoon sets can take some serious gumption and grit. Trust me, I get it, heck, I’ve lived it.

  • “I was out so late”
  • “Everyone else is asleep”
  • “I don’t know the band”

Save you excuses, partner, I’ve heard them all.

Last year at Bonnaroo I couldn’t convince anyone in my campgrounds to join me for The Backseat Lovers. Despite my best efforts to show my neighbors the light, their, “it’s too hot”s, “it’s too early”s and the “it’s too far”s won out. So, I went alone (as I do for most shows). Fast forward, the band jammed so hard during their 2pm set that I had tears in my eyes, despite me being sleepless and stone-cold sober. No other sets at Roo did that to me. Hot Wheels: Beat That!


Photo: Reddit

Later, that same night, I told my campsite neighbors about The Backseat Lovers’ show, using it as leverage to ultimately convince them to (begrudgingly) join me the next afternoon to see Flipturn (for what would be my 2nd time seeing them). Despite my neighbor’s hemming and hawing the next morning, I assembled a small army, where we stormed the gates for Flipturn. Sure enough — surprise, surprise — the set was phenomenal. At the end of the set, each and every member of my group individually conceded, “You were right” and thanked me for challenging them to join me. Boom. Let my anecdote and call to action serve as a catalyst for you to pioneer your own festival experience. Following everyone else’s normalized schedule isn’t the answer to peak festival fun — you’ll be doing that to some degree for most of the festival regardless.

Lace up, grow up, and go catch the afternoon sets. Thank me (and more importantly, yourself!) later.

-Yog, the self-proclaimed Undercard Czar ™

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