When the Arroyo Seco Festival lineup was first revealed, it immediately felt like it would be a great, family-friendly event. That’s what clearly what festival organizers were hoping for, with a dad rock–heavy lineup headlined by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Mumford & Sons, and free admission for kids 10 and younger.
My wife and I had taken our 2-year-old son, Dylan, to Desert Trip in October with better-than-expected results. With that in my mind, I was given the green light to take him to Arroyo Seco alone. We agreed that if I kept him on some semblance of a schedule that interweaved music, playing in the kids area, running around, eating and staying hydrated, I could pull off Dylan's second festival without incident.
Throughout the week, I formulated an ambitious plan to introduce him to bands outside of what’s he learned in his music classes. A realistic goal — based on him being a champ in the desert — was for him to take in sets from Live, Dawes, Broken Social Scene and Alabama Shakes, before catching three to four songs of Tom Petty at sunset.
Upon entering the venue, we were greeted by an open green space under slightly overcast skies. He immediately demanded that I let him out of his stroller to run around. With several hours to spare before Live — the first band on our agenda — hit the stage, I figured we’d spend time in the Kidspace children’s area, and then I’d grab a drink or two, give him some of the snacks I'd smuggled in, and we’d be on our way. It seemed like plenty of time to accomplish all of these objectives. I was wrong.
The Kidspace play area was pretty much a toddler’s dream. There was a kids gym area, a place to experiment with bells and a Moog synthesizer, a make-your-own-guitar section and a photo booth. The photo area had a bunch of instruments as props, and within seconds, my son spotted an idle drum kit and sprinted toward it. With it being early in the day and quiet, he was able to knock the drums around like a young Keith Moon and get a great photo taken, as well. Once persuaded (or forced) to get up, he moved on to make a cardboard guitar with rubber bands as string. Then the drum kit opened up again and he was back at it. Soon enough, he started making some semblance of a drumbeat that left me grinning.
Nearly a half-hour later, we made it to Live just in time. We both rocked out — coincidentally, Live was the third headlining show I saw (they were my favorite band when I was 14) and now they were the first band at my son's second festival.
Once we got down from that rush, I figured we’d head across the field to check out Broken Social Scene. Wrong. Dylan plead and prodded: “Daddy, play more drums.” So I relented, figuring we’d be back for Dawes.
The Kidspace photographer from earlier was still in her spot. She gave me a look and said, “Back for more, huh?” I had no response. He banged on the drum kit with reckless abandon for minutes that felt like hours.
Even as time slipped away and missing Dawes became a reality, I didn’t get mad. Seeing the unabashed joy in my son's eyes behind the drum kit was overwhelming even for a curmudgeon like me. I’d never seen him so excited to rock like that and knew we couldn’t leave, so I had to roll with this change of plans.
One of the low-key important elements of the day was sneaking in snacks, which made it much easier for me to keep his stomach full all day and avoid any potential hunger issues. Add a steady stream of water being consumed every 10 to 15 minutes — essential on an 85-degree day under an unforgiving sun — and I had a happy, red-headed toddler.
Mercifully, the Kidspace finally closed a little after 6 p.m., allowing us time for dinner and to finally check out some more tunes. We ran into some friends along the way, which was great and provided familiar adult interaction for the first time since Live’s set.
Being away from Kidspace brought on his first signs of irritability, but Spicy Pie cured it in an instant. He downed a slice of plain cheese faster than I’d ever seen. This had me hoping that seeing Petty could actually happen.
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After he ate, the boy got wild. He got out of his stroller and ran around like a lunatic, nearly evading me and my cohorts. Once corralled and under watchful eyes, his wildness petered out, or at least so I thought. Then I caught him picking up dirt, which happens at a festival. When he snagged a loose cigarette butt, that meant a change of scenery was in order, and it was time to head to the mainstage to see Alabama Shakes.
Once we got there, I knew it was time. People flooded the path leading to the mainstage and dust clouds were starting to rise. I lowered the top of his stroller, where he was now comfortably resting. Between the growing crowds and Dylan's sleepiness — playing drums all day can be exhausting — the end of the day was rapidly approaching.
My lofty three-song Petty goal was kaput. But since Dylan had been so good (outside of annoying that poor photographer in the Kidspace area) and was starting to get cranky as Brittany Howard belted out vocals, I figured the least I could do would be to get him some $10 single-scoop chocolate ice cream. Unsurprisingly, it went about as well you’d expect with a 2-year-old at 7 p.m. Sitting on the ground, I fed him ice cream and snacked on some too, before it fell out of the spoon and smack dab on the crotch of my black pants. That meant it was time to go.
Outside of my phone dying and a 45-minute search for our car, the day was a rousing success. We survived and had fun, even if it wasn’t in the fashion I’d expected. The hardest thing about being a solo parent at a music festival is that the schedule is no longer in your hands. But coming to terms with that on the fly isn’t as tough as it sounds, so long as your kid is having a good time. Now that I’ve done it, the only thing I can say is: On to FYF!