Traveling overseas for a festival can be an intimidating experience. Between getting your tickets, your flights, and your accommodations, not to mention actually being ready to attend a major festival, there are a lot of moving parts to account for. So, to help you in all of your festival-going preparations, I sat down with festival-pro Karen Hernandez to dish on her top festival tips.
** Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the full audio interview!**
On Music Festivals, Travel, and Lemmy Kilmister: An Interview with Karen Hernandez
Taylor: So you’re a badass who likes to travel and go to music festivals and lots of concerts. Do you want to introduce yourself? A little what you do, what you like?
Karen: I’m Karen, I’m from Toronto, I’m 30 years old — crazy to think that I’ve hit the 30 mark. I’m a travel bug that follows music festivals around the world, and it’s been a fun ride, but the passion of music kind of drives us to where we’re going to go next.
Taylor: That’s why I wanted to interview you because you have such a cool perspective. You’re obviously a huge music fan, but you’re someone who seeks out music festivals in different places around the world and you have a lot of insight into that. So I guess to start let’s start about how we know each other a little bit.
So we met at Warner Music when we were both interns at the same time, you were interning for Roadrunner Records, I was over at Warner Chappell, and… I don’t remember meeting each other.
Karen: We didn’t meet each other right away which is kind of crazy. We were on opposite sides of a wall, and in different departments. But we only met each other once we both got some solid jobs afterward. And then we were like, woah, who are you? You’ve been here this whole time? [laughs]
But we never really talked or sat down until later. That’s when we started to hang out and talk, talk music, and we were like, you are so similar to me, how crazy?
Taylor: Rock music fans in the office!
Karen: Yeah! We were like the only little metalheads in the office, and that’s what we would talk about all the time.
Taylor: Especially around our age, and starting [work] around the same time, having the same experiences and taking it all in.
Karen: That was pretty neat. So that’s how we’ve met, and we’ve been in contact since then. And ever since then our lives have evolved to where we are now and we haven’t disconnected. We don’t work anymore together, but it’s still been a strong connection between us and we still keep tabs on each other. It’s nice to reconnect and here we are, sitting in Withrow Park, Toronto, chatting it up!
Taylor: So with that, what were some of your first musical experiences or influences? What started it?
Karen: So, growing up in a Spanish household — I was born here, my parents are from El Salvador — my mom loved playing Spanish music and always sang along. I probably got my singing voice from her, because every time she would clean or cook she would always be blasting Spanish music and singing along. Music was always a positive thing in our family and in our household.
It wasn’t until later in my childhood, probably around grade 7 or 8, did I really start digging deep into this whole other level of music that I never thought I would experience. And that was getting into punk, and rock and classic rock — that stem of music was coming from my dad and my uncle. I didn’t know this until years after when I reconnected with my uncle, but he was actually a big influence with my dad in the music he listened to, so my dad got the music from my uncle who loved KISS. From then on, it just kind of evolved with my dad when he was growing up, that he really started liking rock music.
When you’re in a Latin family, there is always some sort of music path that grows on you when you’re a kid. just didn’t know how far deep it had gone. So, yeah, my mom into the Spanish music, my dad liked classic rock, and the thing about my dad is he was a DJ back when we were kids.
He played some rock music, but he would play whatever music he would be booked for — dance, pop, r&b, Carribean — any music that was involved in weddings or birthday parties, things like that. He made his own handmade speakers and brought them to every show that he did — his DJ name was Black Panther, and he loved it. I learned a lot of different styles of music from him, he was always playing something I had never heard of. It wasn’t until later that I started realizing that he is actually a classic rock / old school metal fan. That really blew my mind, because I started getting into metal around grade 9.
It went from punk to rock to alternative, then I started to get more into the metal scene, and the metalcore scene. It started to get deeper, so that’s when things shifted and I knew I was going in my own direction.
Taylor: So, when you were that age — in 7th and 8th grade — what were some of the bands you started getting into?
Karen: My dad used to listen to Queen and Michael Jackson a lot.. Black Sabbath.. but at the time my ears were listening to it but it didn’t adjust yet because I was into the whole punk rock scene — Green Day, Blink 182, and Me First and the Gimme Gimme’s, and just in that area. And then I went from there on to more alternative stuff, so I started getting into Linkin Park and Ill Nino, and more Roadrunner bands, because a lot of the Roadrunner bands were featured in wrestling matches, like WWE. We were really into WWE as a family, and a lot of the Roadrunner bands were on as entrance music. That’s where I started to get a little more involved with heavier music.
In grade 9, that’s when I met my man now [Cesar], and he really liked Slipknot, he got me into them, and that’s when that era of music evolved. He was getting his musical education from a friend that he met at work, Darrell, and he was a big, big, metalhead fan. [Darrell] introduced him to so many bands that we now love. He really taught us a lot about music.
Taylor: I’m going to branch from there based on the knowledge I know about you, so you travel a lot and you go to music festivals. Your first big music festival, what was that?
Karen: The first music festival we ever did was Heavy Montreal. It was our first taste of a festival, but we had subscribed to metal magazines and it was crazy because we would see the metal festivals on there, the lineups, and thought it would be so cool to go to these festivals one day, but we were like, why doesn’t Canada have one?
Eventually, Heavy TO and Heavy MTL came to life, and it was the first festival we went to.
Taylor: What year would that have been?
Karen: 2012 / 2013?
Taylor: I remember when Heavy TO was happening, I think I went in 2011 or something.
Karen: MTL was earlier, so maybe 2009*, maybe? After that first one, we made a deal that we would come back every year ever since. That was our first kick of festivals and then we found Rock On The Range in Columbus, and Darrell came with us, and we made that our ritual every year too.
*The first Heavy Montreal was in 2010.
Taylor: What have been some of your favorite overseas festivals?
Karen: Hellfest for sure. That festival, in general, has been one of the biggest festivals we’ve attended. Every space in that festival has a different vibe. So for example, if you’re in the Warzone, it legit looks like a jail cell. If you’re in the fun area, you have rides and the Ferris wheel, and if you’re in the main area there are the two big main stages. The bar has pyro. They’ve now added a new food court. You walk in and it’s a metal town, the weirdest thing. You can go shopping — record stores, clothing stores, amenities. It’s crazy.
They also have Lemmy’s statue — just seeing that, we almost cried because they were showcasing it the first year [after he died], and we took a picture and you know, we said our thank you’s at the statue, we left something for him. Yeah, it was like we were saying goodbye to a friend that we’ve never met.
Karen: Yeah, he meant so much to the metal community, it was so great that they did that for him.
Taylor: And to be around like-minded people during that time. That is a great way to get that kind of closure, especially for someone you’ve never met. He was an LA guy for the most part, right? I remember seeing him probably a couple of months before he died and then going to the Rainbow in LA afterward and having much the same experience. So yeah when you were at Hellfest I can imagine it felt like…the place to be to figure out your feelings about it.
Karen: And that’s one thing I love about the metal community – no matter where you’re from, what color your skin is, what age you are, what you look like, how you dress. We don’t give a fuck. And we don’t stare either. If we do, we’re like “that’s so cool”, like no one gives a fuck.
Taylor: It’s so positive.
Karen: So positive. We embrace you. You are here to see the same band I’m here to see, we’re all singing at the top of our lungs. Our voices are done by the end of the night from singing along. And if you’re in the moshpit and you fall down, we stop the mosh pit and we make sure that you’re okay. We pick you up and make sure you’re okay. Someone loses a shoe, I don’t know if you’ve seen it but people will raise a shoe in the air and be like “SHOE, SHOE, SHOE”.
Taylor: It’s so true though. When I think about all the different music communities, especially within the rock genre, the metal community has always been the most gracious, welcoming one. There have been mosh pits in other genres that are actually scary…you’re like I do not feel safe here, I’m getting kicked around, but with metal concerts you know you’re good to go because everyone rocks.
Karen: Yeah and like we might look edgy or scary or scruffy or maybe stinky, I don’t know [laughs]. But like, we’re good. We’re very nice people. As soon as you see a metalhead, for the most part, we’re smiling, we’re happy. We’re so in our element and with our people. I think the best part of going to a metal concert or festival, is when you see a sea of black shirts and you know you’re in the right place. Just follow them you know where you’re going. It’s the best feeling.
Taylor: What are some tips you would give someone for at the festival? Stuff to bring?
Karen: I would recommend toilet paper rolls for sure, it always runs out. Hand sanitizer is the next one.
Taylor: Now is the time to be a germophobe.
Karen: The next thing is a water bottle for sure because festivals usually provide you with areas to refill your water. They actually recommend you to bring a water bottle that’s closed or bring a reusable one — they know they need to keep you hydrated. Another thing we ran into is facial wipes — sometimes it gets really busy at the washroom area depending on where you’re staying. You might have little access to a bathroom with a sink, so we want those [wipes] to wash our face. Another thing is gum, have gum with you — sometimes you don’t have time to go back to your tent and brush your teeth and you need a refresher.
Taylor: For everybody’s sake.
Karen: [Laughs] For everybody’s sake! Oh, and I think I mentioned also, a flashlight. Because when you’re going back to your tent, depending on where you’re staying, there are no lights in the camping grounds. Sometimes you’ll have your phone’s flashlight, but I recommend bringing a backup.
Taylor: It’s so confusing at these places too!
Karen: Yeah. And all the tents look the same for the most part. We usually opt for higher-end glamping, because it’s a bigger tent, plush mattress, and it’s a nice big space so we’re able to change there no problem. We have room to stretch our legs. And what we do is we put up our flags.
Taylor: So you know which one [tent] is yours.
Karen: Right, because they all look the same at the end of the night when you’re coming back to your tent, all like.. drunk and having a good time and you’re like.. “where’s my tent”. But because we bring our flags we find them so fast. And you bring your flag, everyone embraces it.
Taylor: It’s such a community builder.
Karen: The first thing we were talking about — what my favorite festivals are. My next one is going to be Grasspop, that’s in Belgium. That was a great festival because Belgium is so beautiful inside the city and outside. We had to take a bus to get to our festival ground. Just being in a bus filled with metalheads was such an awesome journey.
Taylor: That was from Brussels?
Karen: Yes, from Brussels. It was another well-organized festival, everything was perfectly planned. Grasspop was a mini Hellfest, which was really cool to see. A lot of the bands that have played there recently have been giving this festival props for that, the way their staff is so on point [with timing]. It’s so impressive.
Taylor: A well-oiled machine.
Karen: Yeah. And [the last time we went] we brought our Canadian flag. This time our glamping wasn’t in a tent, it was actually in a cabin-looking thing, and you could open the back and it would turn into a patio. And so our neighbors that night, they invited us over to eat with us. They saw our Canadian flag on the door and they were like “we love Canada”. They gave us beers, snacks, BBQ’d for us. They made sure that we were ok, and we were so grateful for that.
Taylor: It’s such a testament. When you think about travel, such a big part of it is the hospitality of strangers and being welcomed into a new community that you’re brand new to. And in this kind of situation, everybody is in the same boat, everyone is hospitable to others. It goes to show that the same mentality rings true when you’re at a festival like that.
Karen: Yeah like they just accepted us. We were all listening to music and we met some German fans, and they were like, we need to show you this band. So they hit play and Cesar and I just looked at each other and we were like.. we know this band. They were listening to Monster Truck, a band from Hamilton, and these guys loved them! They were like obsessed. So then we were like, we love Rammstein because come on.
When entering the battlefield, here’s a list of essentials you should bring to a Metal Festival:
Wear your favourite band tee or event tee
Reusable water bottle
Hair tie or clip
Credit and cash
Contact case and glasses
Eye drops in case eyes get tired
Small roll of toilet paper
Camera or phone
Taylor: Going back to festival tips, when you’re planning your trips, what are the steps that you take to get all of your ducks in a row with it? There’s just so much to consider.
Karen: There is a lot to consider. So, first of all, you need to really think about — if you have time to do a long trip. Do you have the budget?
Taylor: Especially if you want to be comfortable, to go for the Glamping or the bigger cabin.
Karen: Yeah you want to enjoy yourself at the festival. Just because you got a ticket doesn’t mean you actually have money for food and drinks. It’s all separate expenses. So what we do, if we know for a fact that there aren’t going to be enough shows at home, we save up our money and pick a festival. We look at each lineup, and decide which one we like the most and where do we want to go.
Taylor: So as far as planning your flights, or getting the tickets, getting your camping passes — what kind of order do you usually do that in. What’s your strategy?
Karen: Sometimes the festival will actually have a presale, where you can buy your glamping pass before the tickets come out.
Taylor: So you know you have a place to stay before you buy the ticket.
Karen: Yeah, and if we can’t get glamping, then we’ll look at getting a close-by hostel or an air bnb. So first we lock in accommodation, and then the tickets get released at a later date, maybe a month or two after the glamping is sold. As far as tickets go, we usually go for VIP because it gives us clean bathrooms, a different section for the food court, and a better viewpoint. But when I’m at a festival I don’t mind being on the floor, being in the vibe. The energy is just so impactful for me, so I’d rather be on the floor than being on an extra level.
Some festivals offer cashless cards where you can load in cash, or they give you tokens that you can buy in advance. So we map out how many times a day we want to eat and think strategically. Like, maybe today we’ll just hydrate on water then on Saturday we’ll get drunk because our favorite band is on.
Taylor: And that’s also a great way to budget — to know what days you want to go all out with the drinks. So you’re not constantly wearing yourself out too. If you go hard day after day, you don’t have the same experience if you’re constantly hungover.
Karen: You’d be on the grass, face-down, and that’s not a good experience [laughs]. When we’re in the festival too, if we want to buy something, we’ll plan that. What shirts we want to buy, if we see something in the market we might buy it eventually. We’ll put money aside for that just in case.
Or if we need something, like if our tent somehow rips open. I brought tape one time – that’s another good one that you should bring too — duct tape.
I remember, there was some glamping at a festival, I don’t know why they did this. But they made cardboard tents.
Taylor: A recipe for disaster.
Karen: It was because it rained the first night we were there.
Taylor: [Laughs] Of course it did!
Karen: It caved in and created a big hole, and all the metalheads were trying to help. It held out for a bit but everything inside was drenched.
Taylor: Have you ever run into any major hiccups at a festival?
Karen: Yes — make sure you have all your papers lined up before you leave [for your trip]. We usually do this, we usually have everything printed, all the papers in a folder.
So, I think it was our first big festival, we got to Sonisphere, we showed our papers, our glamping passes, but then they were like cool, you have your glamping, but where is your ticket?
Taylor: Uh oh.
Karen: And we were like, what do you mean? This is our ticket. And they were like, no… this is your glamping pass, you need a ticket to get inside the festival. We were like, what are you talking about, we bought glamping and a ticket? And they were like… no. This is glamping.
And this is a festival that is almost sold out. We were like oh my god, we just got here, after a long flight, a long bus ride over, a long walk to get here, and you’re telling us we have no tickets?! We were freaking out, like holy shit. How are we going to get in this place? It’s almost sold out!
So they spoke to a few people, confirmed that we did not get tickets. Thankfully there were a few left.
So we bought our tickets, we were like hells yeah, okay, we’re in. Not until they actually put the wristband on us and scanned through and got in did we believe it was real.
Taylor: [Laughs] You can’t be too trusting.
Karen: Yeah! So, that was a crazy experience. It has never happened again! Print your stuff, make sure you have all your papers.
Taylor: Buy the ticket!
Karen: Buy the damn ticket. Look at that with a magnifying glass!
Taylor: You work in the music industry. What’s your dream role? Have you ever considered anything in the live event sphere? You’re kind of a pro spectator.
Karen: I would love to connect with anybody from Heavy MTL. I’d love to take all my experience from these festivals and try to help elevate that festival. That would be rad. I’ve always been interested in maybe bugging the guys from Inertia Entertainment. They always bring all the metal shows that come in.
But in my role now, I think where I’m at, it would be interesting to try and potentially swerve into A&R. I used to want to do marketing, but I think with the knowledge I have I could bring something different to A&R. Oh, and voice enhancement. I’ve always wanted to learn about that.
Taylor: And what are you doing right now in your current role at Warner?
Karen: I work in the production and data operations department. It’s basically going to evolve into metadata and voice-activation enhancements. So anything that you say to Siri, to Alexa, to Google, we eventually want our domestic artists to pop up when you say you want to hear [a specific genre of music], or “give me that tune that plays that solo riff that I love so much”. And it will just play it. So stay tuned for that because that’s coming!
Taylor: Also, so on the side, this is not music related, but you are very much into fitness and wellness, and you have your own side biz going.
Karen: I do, I have a fitness page that I like to inspire people with, helping them to gain their confidence with movement and being active and positive. I’m just an overall happy person.
Taylor: By the way, plugging your handle — @karenh_fitness. And your tips on that page are great tips for the moshpit.
Taylor: Oh yes, do not headbang without proper stretching!
Karen: First you gotta stretch, then you gotta flow with the movement, and then you go into the moshpit.
Taylor: Haha yes! Well thank you so much for sharing all of your festival wisdom!
Karen: It was fun!
*All photos used with the permission of Karen Hernandez
Listen to the full audio interview via the player below: