How I Sneak Into Music Festivals

There's a reason why, even if the guards notice me, they don't pursue me.
Publish date:
June 29, 2016
coachella, free stuff, music festivals, sneaky, Asian American women

I'm absurdly good at sneaking into music festivals.

Coachella 2016 marked the fifth major music festival I've gotten to attend in the past two years for exactly $0.

The first time it happened was at a massive rave called POP at the Oakland Coliseum. My roommate and I had heard that POP was easy to get into if you just slipped the guards a couple bucks. This ended up not being the case, and we were left walking around the arena in the cold.

On our trudge back to the parking lot, we passed a side entrance at which a uniformed manager had been locked out, and was banging on the glass to be let back in. I stopped my roommate, and we approached the manager cautiously. When someone opened the door for him, we slipped right under his upraised arm and into the venue. He gave a shout, but didn't bother pursuing us.

Outsidelands was a whole 'nother story. Two friends and I ran past the scanners at the main gate, and within seconds, security was on our tails. They were able to latch onto my arm twice, but each time I managed to slip out and keep running. After cresting a small hill, I came upon a large crowd, and dodged and weaved my way in and around the masses. They gave up the chase.

As for FYF, I'm not sure anyone even saw us. A large chain-link fence surrounds the FYF festival grounds, and every 15 feet or so, a guard is stationed at the gaps in the fence. My friend and I came upon one gap that had been zip-tied shut but left unguarded. One kid figured out how to burn the zip ties off with a cigarette lighter, and then busted the gate open and ran in. We followed. No one chased us, despite there being dozens of people milling around the fence. As far as I know, no one even noticed.

Made In America in Philadelphia involved some sweet-talking; two of my friends were legitimate volunteers for the festival. I followed on their heels, and a guard let us in without asking for any credentials.

And Coachella? I came across a VIP pass through pure karma and luck. But even if I hadn't been lent a wristband, the guards at the main gate barely even glanced at me as I scanned in.

So, how does this keep happening to me?

From what I've read, heard and seen, the majority of people who sneak in are typically men, and they do it usually one of three ways: bribery, insane parkour skills, or a combination of speed and stamina.

I am a small, Asian woman. And I think this has everything to do with my "luck."

If you notice from the above stories, with the exception of Outsidelands, every instance in which I have successfully snuck into an event involves someone glancing over me, not noticing me, or choosing not to pursue me.

Asian women are stereotypically considered quiet and demure — we're not expected to cause trouble. Of course, "Asian women" is a broad term. There are Asian women at festivals who do stand out, adorned with bright beads, costumes, makeup and lights. There are Asian women who don country boots and white lace garments, like any other Coachella attendee.

But there's a way that an Asian woman can dress to guarantee being ignored. I know you know what I mean: sneakers, shorts, nondescript t-shirt, glasses. If you saw me at a bus stop, a cafe, or walking down the street, would you bother giving me a second glance? Would you even register my existence if there were just a few of us in the lobby of a doctor's office, much less at a music festival?

Societally, Asian women are simply passed over. Silently dismissed. She's there. She's sitting at the back of the classroom, quiet. She's a good student. She's just like the others. What's her name again?

For an Asian woman, it's possible to go through your day without any one person really noticing you. A passing over. A neglect. The mind reacts to that which threatens them. Asian women are perceived as fundamentally non-threatening. The mind will not process an Asian woman because it believes it doesn't need to.

I believe that my ability to get into music festivals is partly due to the fact that I am perceived as non-threatening. She's not any trouble. What's one more body to add to the masses? Let her go. Don't chase her. It's fine.

I'm positive that if I had approached the Coachella entrance with a large enough crowd, I could have easily glided in, no problem.

Here's another story:

Last summer, I was in Washington, DC, on vacation. I was walking back to the Metro station after an event, and I really needed to pee. The Metro station was still over half a mile away, and I was making my way through a residential neighborhood, with no public spaces in sight.

I kept walking, ready to burst, when I came upon an expensive-looking private high school. I noticed that the back door to one of the buildings was ajar. I entered and found myself in a large indoor-pool area.

To my right, a water polo team was practicing. To my left, elementary school kids were undergoing swim lessons. I passed coaches, instructors, janitors, and students on my way to the locker room. After using the bathroom, I went upstairs, trying to find my way out. I came upon some sort of lobby area, where two attendants sitting at a desk were checking people in and out of the pool and locker rooms. When I walked by, neither person even bothered to look up, and they continued with their chatter.

In all, I passed around 10 supervisory adults whose jobs were to prevent random strangers like me from coming in off the street into a private high school, using the locker-room bathrooms, and then wandering around the halls. The only people who looked at me strangely were some of the students themselves, who probably thought, WTF? This girl doesn't even go here.

It was as if no one even registered that I had come in. I was there, and then I wasn't.

This example, along with music festivals, are extremes; but there are countless times throughout my life when I have been able to get away with something because I went unnoticed or was considered not worth noticing.

But this doesn't just have to do Asian-American women. My ability to pass plays into larger societal themes of racial bias.

For example, if I were a large black man dressed the way I was — in casual California wear — there's no way in hell they would have let me walk in off the street into that high school. No way in hell would I have been able to waltz into a locker room without even a sideways glance. You can bet your ass the two people sitting in the lobby would have stood up and asked me questions.

If I were a black man, would the guard at Made In America have simply taken my word for it that I was there to volunteer? Would the guard at POP have let me slip in under his arm and go by without pursuing me?

I'm guessing that the answer to all these questions is "no."

Black and brown bodies aren't just policed in an official capacity. Black and brown bodies are societally policed, doubted, and prevented entry and access to certain spaces. In the same way that Asian women are passed over because they are perceived as fundamentally non-threatening, black and brown bodies are doubly policed because they are perceived as fundamentally threatening.

The Asian-American community, while dealing with its own very real issues, would be amiss to deny that we benefit off this system of anti-blackness. We are allowed to pass, at the cost of others.

If all you're thinking right now is, Gee, this girl is just trespassing all over the country, you're missing the point. The fact that Asian women go unnoticed and are dismissed is problematic in its own right. But we should also recognize that the biggest reason I am allowed to pass is because I benefit off a system of privilege that oppresses others. The way our societal perceptions are currently set up allows me to capitalize on the fact that Asian women can go unnoticed; at the same time, this system also actively polices black and brown bodies on an undeniable, problematic level.

But you want to know the best way to get into a music festival? Forget the system. Run like hell and don't look back.