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There’s been more trouble at music festivals this weekend. Despite the PR machines bashing away, it’s all over social media. And in the wake of documentaries such as Woodstock 99, and Fyre Festival: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, should we wonder if large music festivals have had their day?
Flicking through the news stories this morning I’m seeing a slew of bad stuff going down at festivals. The final day at Reading saw mobs setting fires and brawling, with other safety concerns raised such as needle spiking, looting, and people throwing big stuff at each other.
A 16-year-old lad has died at Leeds Festival, possibly after taking MDMA. A rape has happened at Green Man festival in Wales. We’ve got arrests at Notting Hill Carnival for offensive weapons, sexual assault, and drugs; and this is over just one weekend. And only in the UK.
I guess if you lock young people up for a couple of years and then let them go berserk in a field with loads of alcohol, drugs, and loud music, some of this might have been expected. But if that’s the case, why aren’t there measures in place to manage this?
And what is the future of our festivals looking like?
She's moving to the arena but security are thin on the ground. This is orange camp off Little John's Lane pic.twitter.com/1VmP25xfLw
— Alison (@999bradders) August 28, 2022
Have we learned nothing from Woodstock 99 or Fyre?
Last weekend I sat down to watch Woodstock 99, and ended up binge watching the whole thing, my jaw falling increasingly south. Like most people, I could hardly believe was I was seeing. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s quite the watch.
As someone who owned an event management business for a decade, I was shocked and astonished at the appalling organisational tactics, mostly. And as a TV voyeur with a dark and twisted sense of humour, I confess to being absolutely glued to the whole debacle. I think I must have said “holy fuck” about twenty times per episode.
Off the back of that, even though I kinda knew the story, yesterday I watched the Fyre Festival one. Shocking in a different way, slightly more amusing because honestly, who the hell falls for that sort of PR based on an event that has never existed before? The fact that people parted with thousands of dollars for what was essentially a ponzi scheme, like Woodstock 99 also was, is appalling, of course it is. But this felt like a much more modern calamity, and I’m afraid I laughed anew at the cheese sandwich Tweet.
This stuff is so predictable, really
I was struck by a few things, watching both these documentaries. First and foremost, the ego – and astonishing charisma – of the men at the helm. To have pushed huge scale events that far forward without having everyone just downing tools is frankly astounding. You’ve gotta have some hutzpah for that kind of bullshit. Interestingly neither Billy McFarland (Fyre) nor the late Michael Lang (Woodstock) were the slightest bit repentant after the events. A psychologist would have a field day.
Secondly, how making things about money is never a great idea. Woodstock 99 was a scamola from start to finish, and Fyre was SO much about money, that people couldn’t even trust their own gut instincts about the whole thing until it was too late.
Thirdly, choosing the right acts is important. Who the hell thought Woodstock 99 should have a lineup that included Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, Rage… etc? What kind of vibe did they expect to create with that kind of music? Doesn’t look very Woodstocky to me – and Fred Durst has a lot to answer for, in my humble opinion. Apparently at Reading, the fights started breaking out when two acts with differing subcultural followings were mixed together, resulting in the modern-day equivalent of mods and rockers going at it. Jesus, first rule of large scale events – know your audience.
Fourth, if you treat people like animals, very often they’ll behave like animals. That’s in any situation.
Fifth, you can never have enough decent security, risk assessments, or medics. And I don’t just mean to keep crowd control, I mean to keep people actually safe. Stop them getting spiked or raped. Take care of them when they’re hurt or ill. Prevent people setting fires, and so on. When things get ugly in crowds, that vibe spreads FAST, motherfucker. Remember football violence?
Finally, it’s young, mostly white males who do this shit. Most people over 35 at festivals have zero energy or tolerance for this kind of crap. They’ve either got kids with them, or they’re not interested. They’re there for the music, and the vibe. And yeah, I know there are exceptions. And if I’m going to go with sweeping statements, I’m also going to bet that the boys do the damage, but often the girls egg them on. Come for me on that, I’ll stand by it.
So, should we stop letting in young people?
Now look. I’m out here fighting ageism, and that means in ALL its forms. So I don’t do the whole ‘young people today are so ghastly’ thing. Mostly they’re not. Mostly they’re brilliant. But I’m also 52 years of age and I’ve had my fair share of mosh pits and danger. If I go to a festival, honestly, I want a nice tent with a proper bed, some hot showers and clean lavs, decent food, great music, the chance to wear stupid clothes – that kind of thing.
I don’t want to set fire to others’ belongings, throw chairs at people who like folk music, fight with the vegan felafel vendor for not having bacon, or kick down a stage. None of these things feel like fun. Well, maybe kicking down a stage would feel kinda cool. But I wouldn’t do it. I’m there to have a nice time.
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But, yaknow, there are issues here. And the issues need fixing
We need better security – not just a ton of first year uni students volunteering so they get to see the bands for free. Properly trained people that cost actual money.
We need better first aid and medical support, better drug testing. There is no point telling people not to take drugs at a festival, but you CAN make them safer.
More security looking out for idiots with needles. This needle-spiking trend is grim. I honestly don’t know how to fix it, but how about stop looking for people smoking weed, and start expending more time looking for real wrong ‘uns?
And treat people well. They have paid good money to come to an event, put their trust in the organisers to look after them, entertain them, feed them… it’s not much to ask. And the prices are high – festivals are not a cheap ticket. If you treat people badly, they’ll behave badly.
Sam is Silver’s founder and editor-in-chief. She’s largely responsible for organising all the things, but still finds time to do the odd bit of writing. Not enough though. Send help.
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