Gen Xers embrace fitness to rock out at marathon music festivals

Whip It ... Into Shape is a group of music lovers who work to get or stay fit for all-day outdoor festivals

Reuters June 16, 2024


At 53, live music fan Ken Lawrence found his dance floor stamina waning and he wanted to do something about it. Lawrence started hiking and lifting weights. He then joined an online community called Whip It ... Into Shape, a group of Generation X music lovers who work to get or stay fit for all-day outdoor festivals. 

Over 14 months, he lost 47 pounds (21.3 kilograms). "I want to be the guy who's living his best life on the dance floor, or at a music festival, into my 80s," he said. The Whip It group, named for a song lyric by 1980s new wave band Devo, was founded a year ago by Southern California resident Melissa Kirkpatrick.

The 43-year-old had a desire to improve her own fitness for festivals that involve many hours or days of standing, walking and dancing. She thought there might be others like her, united by a love of '80s music. "I wanted a group for being accountable for getting fit," she said. "I let everyone know right off the bat that I wasn't a fitness professional, and that I just wanted to be their friend and we'd do this together."

Kirkpatrick launched the group on Facebook, where she serves as a cheerleader for over 350 members, chronicles her own progress and creates themed workout and wellness challenges. The Duran Duran-inspired Hungry Like the Wolf challenge encouraged healthy eating. Add It Up, named after a Violent Femmes song, called for weightlifting every two or three days.

To motivate each other, members post photos of themselves at the gym, often in band T-shirts. Others share 80s-themed workout playlists and words of inspiration.

"Sometimes, a random person on the Internet telling you they believe in you is all you need to hear to get you out the door, to the gym or a hike or a yoga class," said Lawrence, who posted pictures from his scenic hikes in and around Los Angeles.

Kirkpatrick said she "set a precedent to be really positive, and everyone caught on." Small victories were applauded, and no one was judged for skipping a workout.

Cruel world

This spring, Whip It members geared up for the annual Cruel World Festival, a showcase of '80s alternative rock, post-punk and other music. Performers have included Morrissey, Siouxsie Sioux, the Psychedelic Furs and Simple Minds.

A test of endurance, the nearly 12-hour event features three stages spread across a grassy golf course next to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. Band sets overlap, prompting some fans to sprint between stages to catch as much music as possible. Many attendees said they logged 20,000-plus steps during the day.

"The stages are really freaking far apart," said Whip It member Rachel Bove, explaining some of the day's physical challenges. "It's really hot. And I'm the type who's going to be on my feet all day." Bove, 53, said she works out five days a week because "I have no plans to stop enjoying my passions."

Heidi Nagel, a Whip It member from Michigan, felt her fitness decline after she was diagnosed with hip dysplasia and told to stop running. She adjusted her workouts and started physical therapy in January with a clear goal: to be able to walk for hours at the Cruel World Festival in May.

"It definitely worked," Nagel said. "I walked a whole day at Cruel World and was comfortable and not medicated." She added that she liked that Whip It members embraced people at all fitness levels.

People who were teens in the '80s, she said, grew up when schools emphasised organised sports rather than physical activity. Those who were into music often did not work out or socialise with classmates who played sports.

"I was a goth kid," Nagel said. "(Sports) was not what we did. It would have interfered with my clothing and my makeup." In the Whip It group, "we're just all coming from a different place and we're all trying to do our best," she further said. "Everyone is celebrated."

For Lawrence, his improved fitness enabled him to dance for nine hours at Cruel World. "If I had done the same thing a year ago," he said, "I may as well have been hospitalised."

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