It’s been many many years since I wrote a badly typed rant on this old blog.
But the demise of something I love has brought me back for this one off special.
I love festivals.
I’ve been to festivals, I’ve volunteered at festivals, I’ve worked at festivals, I’ve run festivals.
I’m a festival nerd.
Unfortunately festivals have been getting a pretty bad wrap the last 12 months, especially here in NSW. There have been a number of devastating fatalities and severe medical emergencies that have triggered a lot of media attention and political discussion.
The media have just discovered that people take drugs at festivals, and because Australian politics is more fragile than a chandelier in a caravan politicians had to act fast and astonished like they’d just been dumped in a day time tv soapy.
People take drugs at festivals, people have taken drugs at festivals I’ve attended, worked at and even the ones I ran. But the issue is not festivals! The common denominator isn’t festivals, it’s the first 3 words, ‘people take drugs’. People take drugs at parties, at work, at home, in the club, at the pub, on a boat, on a holiday………
It is absolutely terrible that people have lost their lives due to drug related causes at some festival recently. No festival team wants to hear that someone has passed away at or after attending their event. No festival team wants to hear that someone has been injured in any way at all. Unless it’s one of those scary death metal festivals where they encourage people to punch on.
The NSW Government was very quick to point the finger at festival organisers and say it was their fault. I think it was a knee jerk reaction and because the taboo topic of drugs were involved it was just a quick ‘drugs are evil, drugs were at the festival, it’s the festivals fault, SHUT THEM DOWN’.
I struggle to see how it is the festivals fault.
Festivals don’t decide how much policing or drug searching to have. The police decide that.
When you organise a festival you must acquire a bunch of permits and meet certain criteria depending on your site, size and type of liquor license. As part of submitting and applying for all your relevant permissions there is a consultation with the police who take into account the above but also how much hired security you have as well as traffic management plan (both pedestrian and vehicle) and your risk management plan, history and other factors they may deem important.
The police then tell you how many officers they want in attendance and they send you a bill for it. It’s known as user pays policing. The police are offered shifts at the gig generally as paid overtime on top of their normal roster.
I’m not saying that it’s then all on the police how many drugs make it into a festival site but it is genuinely a large portion of the responsibility. Of course festivals can launch anti drug campaigning and try to convince punters not to bring drugs , they can hire more security and make searches less random. But that still won’t stop people trying to get drugs in or taking drugs just before attending. It’s also worth remembering it’s a teeny tiny amount of attendees that get found in possession of drugs.
2 Festivals in NSW have had to cancel last minute in the past few weeks because the NSW Government has increased their policing requirements. Today Bluesfest founder and director Peter Noble has said he’ll have to move the festival out of NSW if the strangling continues. Bluesfest is by far the most successful and well loved festival in our Country.
Festivals are not unsafe, it’s in the best interests of the organisers to ensure safety.
The Mountain Sounds festival which canceled last week had 0.3% of attendees found with drugs last year. That is 16 people out of 5,500!!!!
Festivals are important, they’re unique and often memories you have for life. Pop up communities where thousands of people have shared experiences, relieving themselves of the daily grind for a few days. Personally I have never taken drugs or felt the need or pressure to ‘enhance’ a festival experience. The festivals we have in this country are world class with extremely high production standards, amazing artists line ups and very creative ways of executing events.
Events are fragile, it takes one crazy wet day or a key artist double booking to bring down a festival forever. But people keep putting them on because they’re worth it. They can provide unique experiences, brand awareness, regional financial gain and most of all FUN!
You want to stop people overdosing at festivals? Great, but to do that you’ll need to introduce pill testing, but more importantly invest in community wide drug education programs. Drugs are not a festival thing, they’re an everywhere thing.
Good or bad, that’s reality.
The best way I can think of ensuring festivals don’t die in NSW is to buy a ticket!
There are festivals for all tastes and types!