A first-timers guide to family-friendly music festivals

Talk about street cred. The first time Darla Wright went to a music festival, she was 6 months old. The festival? The ultra-hip Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. The first band? The Flaming Lips.

Though she won't remember the experience, her mother, Elaine Tucker, does. It's one of her favorite memories with Darla, the two of them alone toward the back of the crowd, swaying and dancing to the music. (It was Dad's night to go closer to the stage.)

"It was such a beautiful night, and (the Flaming Lips are) such great entertainers," said Tucker, 33, of Clintonville.

Along with her 2-year-old sister, Daphne, Darla, now 7, has been to about a dozen music festivals, including Forecastle (Louisville) and Outside Lands (San Francisco).

Should the family want to recreate her first festival experience, they can do so closer to home this summer. The Flaming Lips will headline the inaugural PromoWest Fest in the Arena District.

And the options don't stop there. There are an almost-absurd number of music festivals throughout central Ohio this summer (see sidebar), giving music-loving parents such as Elaine and Mike Wright, 37, many more closer-to-home chances to see their favorite bands, kids in tow.

Whether you decide to do the same is a choice for you and your family. (It's not for everyone, and not every festival is as kid-friendly as others.)

But if you're rocking with a tike in tow, you'd better come prepared. Here's some advice.

1. Choose a festival you've been to before.

Sticking with the familiar ensures you know what to expect. You know how far the food is from the stage, how crowded the grounds can get at certain times, or where the best shaded vantage points are. Maybe you even picked up a thing or two during previous years from watching other couples with their kids. Most festivals allow children, though there may be age limits. To be sure, check the FAQ page on the event's website.

2. Bring a crew, but make new friends.

Having other parents or friends with you means extra sets of adult eyes, hands and feet-which is exactly as important as it sounds.

That said, encourage your kids to hang out with other kids, to meet new people. Darla, for instance, knows the people who sell tiaras at the Nelsonville Music Festival by name. And every year the vendors look forward to seeing her again.

3. Pick your can't-miss bands ahead of time.

At every music festival, the Wrights each pick one can't-miss band every day. During that first festival, Mike's was the Flaming Lips. So Elaine stayed behind with Darla.

"If all else fails, that person gets to go see that band and the other person gets kid duty," Elaine said.

4. Be flexible.

That said, if somebody is throwing a fit at the moment the band you want to see is going on, sorry. You'll always be better off if you take a time-out and see the band next year.

5. Have a place to crash that suits your family.

Yes, there's always home. But if you're traveling to a festival a little farther away, you'll need to consider sleeping arrangements. Some festivals, such as the Nelsonville Music Festival, do a great job of setting up family-friendly camping areas removed from the partying. Still, sleep can be fitful in a campground setting, so a nearby hotel might be a better option for some groups.

6. Play up the adventure.

Make homemade band T-shirts for the kids to wear, or bring special outfits or costumes to match the festival spirit. Take COTA to one of the local fests, or bike there. Whatever you do, the idea is to make the weekend extra special by playing up the adventure of it.

7. Snacks, snacks, snacks

Lines for food are notoriously long at festivals, and it's easy to miss hunger cues and slip right into hangry, for parents and kids alike. Pack twice as many snacks as you think you'll need, too.