While this is no longer breaking news, the deaths this past weekend at Electric Zoo in New York are still sending shockwaves throughout the music community, and understandably so. I've been struggling with my thoughts and feelings for the last day or so as well, really trying to come to terms with what happened, why, but most importantly, where to go from here.
In full disclosure, I did not attend Electric Zoo 2013, so I cannot comment on the conditions at the event. However, both as media/press and a fan, I've attended many festivals, including one this weekend in Philadelphia, just a few hundred miles south of EZoo, The Made in America Music Festival, and I have to say, I'm saddened, but not horribly surprised to hear of the tragedies at EZoo.
Music festivals are euphoric, magical events where people of all walks of life can come together to in the pursuit of enjoyment, having their senses enlightened beyond anything they've experienced before and have dopamine course through their body like a freight train, no chemical assistance needed. Nowhere is this more apparent than at EDM shows and EDM specific festivals. Though most festivals this summer featured at least a few EDM artists, and really any festival looking to turn any kind of profit would be silly not to book any EDM acts considering the cash cow it has become.
This idea of profit is, unfortunately, where the problem lies.
Now I'm not going to make you read a feature about what went wrong in the deaths of two young music fans this weekend and who is to blame. I've heard it all: It's security's fault for not having strict enough bag/person checks. It's the lack of medical professionals on hand. It's the kids' fault for taking illegal substances. It's artists fault for not taking the collective EDM community's link with illicit substances seriously enough...
I've heard it. I've read it. I'm tired of it. Let's ALL take responsibility.
Far too often, we, as a society, fall susceptible to the (dis)placement of blame. As soon as something goes awry, we are too quick to say, "Not only is this not my fault, but I'll tell you exactly who is to blame..." I do it. You do it. The media does it. We all do it, and if you're reading this and thinking to yourself, "I've never done it, but I totally know that person," then, well... you're just wrong.
We can go around in circles to discuss who is to blame, and I can't say one way or another, but I will say this: I have been to too many festivals in recent years at which I have not felt like my health and happiness were the top two priorities of the festival organizers. This must change. Consider this my call to every single person, from organizer, to artist, to patron and everyone in between, to take actions to help promote this change.
First, my call to organizers:
The fact of the matter is it all comes down to dollars and sense. You, the organizers, will not put on an event unless you profit from it somehow, and I understand, everyone must get paid. However, the amount of money you charge for tickets ($500 for Ultra? Really? I can't even camp. I'll spend that much on a hotel room to boot), nourishment ($4 waters and $11 beers at Made in America. Yes, $11 Buds at a festival heavily sponsored, promoted, and organized by Bud. I'm not dumb, I see what's going on here), combined with the lack of necessary resources for the patrons (lack of free water stations, shade, and trained medical personnel) surely must be resulting in incredible profits for you that are beyong your wildest dreams. Ever think, hey, maybe you don't need that much money?
Though amazingly enough, this article claims Budweiser gets zero profit from the event. Not that I accuse them of lying per se, but... well... this just cannot be true.
I'm begging you, Mr. or Mrs. Organizer, find it in your heart to bring down the revenue stream just a tad in order to provide cheaper/more plentiful resources like food, water, and medical staff. Would a $10 beer kill you? How about a $2 bottle of water? In today's technological and social age, you'll find that you will get just as much business from the word of mouth of happy patrons, returning year after year and bringing their friends, as you would from people paying high prices, going once, slamming your event on blogs (heh) and never coming back again. I'm literally on my knees begging while writing this. These costs must go down.
Second, my call to artists:
Similar to my call to the organizers, I recognize you must make money. I am not a fool. I do not know how much money each one of you makes and/or demands for a performance, nor do I want to know, to be honest. What I do know is that you can help influence organizers and fans alike. The vast majority of you are the most generous, down to earth, kindhearted people with some seriously powerful resources. I'm not saying that you all have to be as fan-centric of as socially conscious as Bassnectar, but you could probably at least take a page out of his (as of now) figurative book.
As artists, you can call out to your fans and promote their responsible decisions. You can call out to organizers and ask/demand for the improvement of event conditions and provisions of necessary resources like water. Research a festival. Talk to promoters, organizers, fans, other artists. If a festival does not share your same philosophies and ideals, skip it, and tell your fans why. Afraid of the backlash from sticking it to the man? Really? You're musicians. It's what you signed up for. It's why you didn't get a "real job."
Finally, my call to us, the fans:
As concert and festival goers, music fans, patrons of the world, etc., we must realize that, because our favorite artists cannot live off of ramen alone, to see our favorite artists is absolutely a privilege, not a right. We must pay for this privilege. I am willing to pay for the privilege of watching an artist at his finest. I am willing to pay to experience this with other like minded music fans. But my disposable income is limited, and unfortunately, as a result of some recent tragedies, the cost of insurance for putting on such an event is going to increase. Guess who is going to see that increase in cost? Not the organizers or promoters, that's for sure. Think that $500 Ultra ticket is a lot? Wait until next year when it's $550 and, oh, at check out there's another $50 insurance fee.
Want ticket prices to drop? Be responsible. Make smart decisions. Go with your friends of positive influence.
Go for the right reasons. Go for the music. Go for the community. Go for the passion. Go for the love. Not for the trip.
So what am I going to do? Where are we headed? That's a tough one.
I go for the music, the community, the passion and for the love, and so I am increasingly discouraged from attending large festivals like EZoo, Made in America, and Firefly. They're taking advantage of us. And we're letting it happen.
I'm too often surrounded by people who are there for the wrong reasons. I'm too often reminded that it's not the artist who is bringing me their music, it's Budweiser or Axe who I should be thanking. I'm too often facing Sophie's choice of deciding which artist I'll get to see, and which artist I'll have to skip. And I'm too often left standing in long lines and paying too much money to do any and all of these things.
Will I go to more festivals next summer? Absolutely. Hell, my festival season isn't even over yet. They can be the best 2-4 days of the year and can create experiences and memories that last a lifetime and cannot be assigned a monetary value.
However, I will absolutely be more selective in the picking of my festivals.
My heart, of course, goes out to the families of Jeffrey Russ and Olivia Rotondo, and the 16 year old girl, reportedly a victim of sexual assault at EZoo. I cannot express the pain the community is feeling for these tragedies.
I love all of you who love the music, the artists, and the community, and who live P.L.U.R. for what it truly is and represents, not just as a tagline.
I just ask for all of you: Be safe. Be responsible. Demand responsibility. Have fun.