A few months ago, I had an epiphany that a good father would take his 12-year-old daughter to a super-cool summer rock festival like Coachella or Bonnaroo.
Instead of dragging her halfway across the country to stand in a field in the blazing sun for three days though, I gently nudged her into a practice run — on a Sunday afternoon in mid-September, we went to Riot Fest, a punk-rock extravaganza in the parking lot of Sports Authority Field at Mile High, a 1.5-mile bike ride from our house in Denver.
Rose and I have been to several concerts, but until Riot Fest, they were all geared to her tastes and not mine. We've seen Taylor Swift three times at the local basketball arena, including once when 9-year-old Rose hauled in a homemade sign festooned with glitter-paint letters and multicoloured glow sticks. We've seen Paul McCartney (she's a Beatles fan) and Imagine Dragons.
But this time, we carved out a portion of the festival that happened to contain dinosaurs such as Bob Mould and the Violent Femmes.
Mould and his super-tight (and super-loud) trio were heavy on Hüsker Dü classics like "Something I Learned Today" and "I Apologize" as well as Sugar's "Changes." He closed by flinging his guitar around and shouting "YEOW!" — but Rose was unimpressed. She spent most of his 45-minute set texting, and shooting video of her shoes on the pavement. I tried to explain why this incomprehensible noise was important — it's the link between the Ramones and Nirvana! — but a bald guy with a guitar isn't the way to reach her.
Next we wandered around the festival, tallying dudes with mohawks (three) and remarking on the profane slogans on kids' T-shirts. (She was intrigued that Riot Fest would sell "RIOT FEST SUCKS" baseball caps.)
We found ourselves sitting on a haystack — nice touch, although couches are cozier — listening to a Fort Worth, Texas, indie-rock band called the Unlikely Candidates. This was more Rose's idiom. They were somewhat loud, but smooth and catchy, and the singer had long hair, a goatee and a hunky manner. Unlike Mould, he sang words to "Kubla Khan" and a version of "House of the Rising Sun" so we could hear them.
"They're weird," she said, observing the drummer's face bathed in pink light. "Let's move up closer."
We checked in on a band called Touché Amoré, and after two seconds of loud guitars and aggressive shrieking, Rose made the universal "let's go" sign.
"Sometimes," she said, "I can tell I don't like a band if I sing other songs in my head while they're playing."
After two hours, we were dragging. I thought the Violent Femmes might be the cure — Rose likes "Blister In the Sun," and the veteran Milwaukee trio opened with this '80s smash — but their set was clogged with people. Three feet from us, a guy was smoking pot, and that made Rose uncomfortable. (Pot is legal in Colorado, but you still can't indulge in public.) By the time we moved to a spot far enough away from the Femmes to feel less claustrophobic, we could barely hear "Add It Up" and "Do It All the Time."
I'd hoped we could stay through the entire Femmes set, and maybe add on one or two other bands, if not stay for the school-night headliners, The National and Wu-Tang Clan. But by 4:15 p.m., Rose was done. She insisted she's OK with festivals, just not this festival.
"If Lorde, Taylor Swift, Two Door Cinema Club and Imagine Dragons were here at the same time, that would be amazing," she said. "And Ellie Goulding."
That sounds more like Coachella or Bonnaroo, so maybe next year.
And I'll be armed with these tips I learned for taking my pre-teen to a long, gruelling but frequently exciting rock festival:
— Build in escape routes. If you've committed to a $250 festival ticket, plus hotel and airfare, and your kid suddenly decides she's hot and hungry and doesn't like the music, resist the temptation to say, "But the Replacements reunion comes on in 15 minutes!" Be prepared to bail out at any time and, for God's sake, provide plenty of food and water.
— That goes for parking, too. You'll almost certainly be leaving early, so don't land in one of those lots where the attendants surround your car with three or four others. Pay extra for a VIP lot, or park farther away if you have to. Being trapped is the worst.
— Should you VIP? Yes, if you have the money. Some VIP packages are ridiculous. Coachella's $6,500 air-conditioned safari tents and Lollapalooza's $30,000 "Roll Like a Rockstar" tour-bus-and-gourmet-meal package may seem like the antithesis of rock 'n' roll, but some special treatment is worth it to give your kid comfort breaks. Some of the more minimalist packages offer private restrooms and air-conditioning.
— This is about your kid's musical enjoyment, not yours. You had your fun in the mosh pit at Lollapalooza 1993. It won't kill you to sit through Imagine Dragons when Beck is playing at the same time. Festivals are for fun, not for spooning out music-history medicine.
— Bring distractions. It sounds crazy that a music festival filled with carnival games, Ferris wheels and at least two bands playing at any given moment could seem boring, but sometimes overstimulation is duller than under-stimulation. Keep those phones charged.
— Whenever possible, avoid falling into the generation gap. Telling funny stories about the old days is one thing, but insisting that your generation is somehow musically superior because you listened to Wham! and she listens to One Direction is just patronizing. Then again, Bob Mould is great, and no whippersnapper can say otherwise.