With the first weekend of Coachella 2019 behind us, festival season is in full swing. Attending festivals can be a glorious time filled with incredible music, good friends, and positive experiences that create lasting memories. That being said, unfortunately not all festival experiences are pleasant, or even safe for that matter. Although this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are my top five safety tips for attending music festivals:
1. Take measures to protect you, your friends, and other festival attendees against sexual assault and harassment.
While it is important for music festivals to implement sexual violence prevention policies by hiring enough trained medical and security staff who are able to educate attendees and triage incidents, what can we personally do to help prevent sexual assault and harassment when attending festivals? I reached out to RAINN, the an anti-sexual violence organization, and they provided Blisspop with the following statement:
“Every 92 seconds another American is sexually assaulted, and sexual violence is a crime that doesn’t see race, age, or gender. A few ways festival goers can help keep themselves and their friends safe while enjoying the festival experience include:
- Make sure that you engage in continuous communication about consent with partners
- Respect your partner’s answer
- If someone is too intoxicated to communicate consent, that means no
- If you see something happening that seems off, check in
- Know where to find help, like a medical tent or contact RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800.656.HOPE or online.rainn.org“
2. Avoid music festivals operating in their first year or at a new location.
The first year of any music festival can sometimes be logistically unsound, particularly if there’s no established infrastructure on the festival site. It can sometimes take years for organizers to work out the kinks. A perfect example of this is none other than the infamous, hot mess that Fyre Festival turned out to be! Fyre Festival was a failed “luxury music festival” scheduled to take place in Spring 2017 on the Bahamian island of Great Exuma. However, the inaugural event experienced problems related to water, food, security, lodging, medical services, and artist relations, resulting in the festival being cancelled. Instead of the luxury villas and gourmet meals for which festival attendees paid thousands of dollars, they received prepackaged sandwiches and FEMA tents for accommodation. I think it’s a lesson learned for anyone attending a new music festival: buyer beware!
I also recommend avoiding established festivals that move to a new location. This spring, Ultra Music Festival moved from Miami to a new location in the Florida Keys. Allegedly, transportation was limited or gridlocked, resulting in thousands of attendees walking miles to get back to the mainland.
3. Provide your own source of transportation, rather than relying on rideshare services.
There are tradeoffs to utilizing rideshare services, such as Uber or Lyft. The benefits include potentially skipping lengthy queues for cars entering the festival. Plus, using a rideshare can help you and others on the road stay safe by avoiding driving under the influence (please NEVER drive intoxicated). However, the potential downsides of rideshare services are that it may be difficult to call a ride, especially with poor cell service. It can also be difficult to readily seek shelter when dangerous weather strikes or in crisis emergencies. When preparing to go to a festival it is important to weigh these options and come up with a safe plan for traveling to and from the festival.
For example, my husband and I attended Desert Daze 2018 at Lake Perris, California. Three songs into the headlining performance from Tame Impala, the festival was abruptly cancelled when the organizer interrupted the set and announced that attendees head to the exits and seek shelter inside immediately. With torrential downpours and explosive lightning, we reluctantly made our way to the exits and initially took shelter in our vehicle during the storm.
There were countless people stranded with no shelter because they took Ubers to get to the festival and there was a mile long backup of cars leading into the festival entrance (refer again to the previous tip to avoid festivals in a new location). This meant attendees were unable to rely on rideshare pickups.
On a note about severe weather: the safest place during a lightning storm is indoors, so those that were stranded could have posted up in the bathroom and shower structures constructed on the state park where the festival was organized. If there are no structures nearby, a car can act as a potential faraday cage, blocking out electromagnetic currents, according to the National Lightning Safety Institute.
But dangerous weather isn’t the only reason to seek shelter in your vehicle. Crisis situations can happen, especially if there is a prevalence of illicit exchanges in proximity to the festival. In the late summer of 2017, I was attending Not Fade Away music festival in Loudoun, Virginia. This was a smaller festival featuring several local jam bands and a mixed crowd of families and young adults. Midway through a set, security guards started bolting towards the woods adjacent to the stage. Suddenly, I heard the sound of what I initially perceived to be the pop of a firework being set off. I disregarded it until I started to hear screams from the crowd and saw people running away from an area a few yards from the side of the stage. The band kept performing, but you could sense something was terribly wrong.
I remember feeling confused and stunned until the organizer of the festival jumped on stage giving a chilling statement about how heroin is a destructive force and was responsible for ruining the wholesome, family friendly intention of the festival that day. It was after this startling announcement we decided to head for our car and leave immediately for our own safety.
It was later that I learned that this incident was allegedly a drug deal gone awry and, ultimately, private security intervened. According to the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, the perpetrator pointed the firearm at a security officer and attempted to fire the weapon, but it was jammed. He was taken into custody and charged with attempted second degree murder and willfully discharging firearms in public places. Fortunately, no one was injured, but in this instance, it is clear that the ability to leave quickly, on our own accord, was critical.
4. Bring your own water and dry food.
In June 2017, The Four Quarters Interfaith Sanctuary in Artemis, Pennsylvania reported that festival goers, staff, and artists became ill from a mysterious stomach illness at two festivals that took place over the course of two weekends. Billboard reported that, due to the impact of this illness, one of the festivals, Mad Tea Party Jam, was cancelled and several people were hospitalized. The grim reality is that this was an unfortunate circumstance that could potentially happen at any festival, and it was sad to hear this also affected several of my friends in attendance at one of the festivals.
For viral gastrointestinal (GI) outbreaks, which can spread from person to person, the CDC recommends that hand washing and frequent sterilization of surfaces where cooking or food preparation is taking place is a key preventative tool to combat the spread of a viral GI outbreak. However, it can be difficult to gauge the cleanliness of an onsite food vendor. According to the US Department of Agriculture, food borne illnesses are more prevalent in summer months because bacteria can multiply faster in warmer temperatures. This makes outdoor food preparation a more labor-intensive process. Thus, a common sense preventative measure is for you to pack your own water and dry foods for a music festival.
5. If you are going to party hard, test your drugs.
If you scan the headlines, countless reports cite fatal incidents of drug overdoses at music festivals all around the world. For example, according to a 2017 study published in The Journal of Psychopharmocology, MDMA, often sold as ‘Ecstasy’ or ‘Molly’, is commonly used at music festivals and is reported to be responsible for an increase in deaths over the last decade. The results from their study indicates that “pill-testing services are a legitimate harm-reduction service that decreases intent to consume potentially dangerous substances and may warrant consideration by legislators for legal protection.”
I agree with the study’s conclusions: it seems unrealistic to think that public policies can outright prohibit drug usage from happening. Despite bolstered security at festivals, festival goers are still able to smuggle narcotics into music festivals (ah yes, reminds me of how the nationwide, constitutional prohibition of alcohol production, importation, and manufacturing in the 1920s didn’t curb alcohol consumption one bit).
If you or someone you know are planning on using drugs at a festival, then consider testing it using services such as DanceSafe. According to their website, “DanceSafe is a non-profit organization known for bringing ‘drug checking’ to the rave and nightlife community in the U.S., and for distributing unbiased educational literature describing the effects and risks associated with the use of various drugs.”
There are many facets to consider when it comes to taking careful safety precautions at a festival. These range from preventing sexual assault and harassment, avoiding inaugural festivals, planning your transportation, leveraging legitimate testing kits (if you partake), and packing your own food and water to avoid illness, and many more. Ultimately, the more prepared you are for what to expect at a music festival, the greater chance you’ll be ready for any situation to come your way!