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Festival Policy. The Good, The Bad & The Useless.

Policies having to do with festivals are a tricky subject. Festival attendees treat a festival as a community. We go as packs, linking up and spreading out to meet new and interesting people. Festival goers are generally going to have a smooth and pleasant time with one or two hiccups along the way. Let's take a look at the amount of money people drop to go. When most people spend a $200 - $500 on anything they want to be happy with what they get out of it. This type of demand calls for a structure to be put into place. A Structure that tries to keep 10,000+ people happy and healthy, but most of all safe. Structure calls for governance to be in place which comes in the form of policies. Policies are setup to keep some sort of control over the masses and most are written to ensure that the festival can continue while trying to maintain the best possible time for the festivals attendees. Some policies are common sense and almost don't have to be written down or mentioned because most people naturally follow them, but others are written and added along the way in reaction to new elements the festival otherwise did not see coming. 

Let's break festival policies down into a few headings - Tickets and Price Gouging, The Environment and Trash, Health and Safety, and The Illegal. These may not be all the realms of festival policies but they certainly seem to be the ones that get discussed the most. How do we know this. The writer of this article, as well as many of his colleagues have been to several festivals and love to discuss what went down. Festi.World also took to reddit, /r/festivals to ask the opinions from other regular festival goers. He heard about the policies they like, hate, worry about, and think are completely outrageous and unnecessary. So let's get into it!  

Tickets and Price Gouging

Buying tickets is where it all begins. These days all it takes to purchase festival passes is opening your favorite internet browser, loading up the festival's website and going to the purchase page. It's fast, convenient, and reliable way for people to nail down their passes. Although, the physical act of purchasing passes may be easy, the mental side of it all can be a little harder for some. The pass price just starts to get larger and larger from what the sticker price originally told the purchaser. That little asterisk next to the price tag starts to stand out a little bit more when you realize that it's there to tell you that you are about to get slammed by the unholy behemoth that is...fees. 

The internet makes the act of purchasing passes very convenient for every party involved, the festivals can reach as many people as possible and the attendee can purchase them from the laze of their couch. But, that convenience does not come without a price tied to that $200-$500 pass price tag. Ticket fees are not a new thing, but the price hikes that we are seeing year over year are making it a harder pill to swallow, especially for people who like to travel to their favorite festivals, or maybe do several festivals in a year. Sometimes those fees can get pretty large too, and often festival goers are left wondering why you need to pay them. It's a tactic that ticket sellers use to introduce extra costs while you are purchasing the passes, At the point of realizing the fees you are cornered and you either go through with the purchase because you made it that far and really want to go, or, you don't and you don’t go. More often than not, people who make it to see the fees getting introduced to the total price end up spending the money because they made it that far plus their fear of missing out on the show. From there people commonly think to themselves "Is it a printing cost?” “Is it a manufacturing cost?” “Am I paying for the convenience of buying online?" mostly because the sites are very vague about what exactly the fee is for. Take a look at the below snapshot of Governors Ball's ticket page. 

Governors Ball 2016 Ticket Prices [10]

Governors Ball 2016 Ticket Prices [10]

Gov Ball does not even begin to try to explain to you what that $40 fee is for why you have to pay it. This what makes a large group of festival lovers uncomfortable with this experience. Now, anyone who has been to more than one festival knows that they are going to have to pay more than the sticker price. At least Gov Ball has the decency to tell you about the fee before you start the process. Some festivals don't show you the fees until you are at the checkout page! Fees are a unique cost as well because it is the only thing you have to pay for that gets you nothing in return from. It's the degree of separation that is commonly found on purchase pages. You see the ticket price, then under that you see the fees and realize that it is just a related toll to gain access to the wonderland of the festival, and that's it. 

Wanting to go to a festival has a lot of associated costs with that magical wristband. This is where price gouging on the festivals part comes into play. If you're driving, of course you need to pay for parking. If you are camping you need to pay for a camping spot, and of course you're going to want to eat and buy keepsakes. All the festival related costs really start to amount to a lot. The festival organizers need to make money, sure, but too many modern festival goers they feel like they are being taken advantage of. Some people get a feeling that festivals price gouge because their attendees absolutely need these things to access or enjoy the festival. 

What could help alleviate some of the stress of purchasing your way into the festival is a neat and easy to understand price chart where you can see the total price, with or without camping and parking and other related costs. As well as an explanation of what the fee is. Transparency is something that is becoming a lot more popular in modern business practices and fees are often a policy that isn't lightly hushed. People are paying and not knowing what exactly they just threw their money at. It's an issue that a lot of people want cleared up. The fees are usually going towards an amount that the festival organizers have to pay to the ticket sellers - Livenation, Ticket Master, Eventbrite, so on and so forth. Sometimes they are printing fees, or manufacturing fees that come from getting the tickets printed or those lovely pass bracelets made. A good amount of the time though, part of that fee is going straight into the festival, right into the amount the festival makes from your ticket. Why? Because usually a ticket price looks more appealing rounded off. So it will be rounded up or down to the nearest zero and what left over gets factored into the fees.

The Environment and Trash

It should go without saying, but the unwritten rule of all festivals is to respect the area. Be it a farm, city, forest, or even the desert. A lot of time and planning went into building the festival you are enjoying so much. Months before you even step foot on the festival grounds the organizers are out there planning where everything will be placed, from stages to waste baskets. It's very tactical and strategic. The strategic placement of everything throughout the grounds helps with crowd control, waste management, emergency planning, and so many subtle things that an attendee probably wouldn't even notice unless they were looking. Policy starts getting written up in those planning stages in regards to the environment, and it's usually to give the organizers a bit of a safety net. 

Some festival grounds are permanent, meaning the organizers own the land where the festival takes place at. Although, the majority of festivals take place on grounds that during the rest of the year are functioning cities, farms, camps, and so on. A lot of organizers rent the land, and have to buy insurance for the incredible amount of liability they (another change Woodstock ’99 helped charter is unsurprisingly, higher insurance rates). The organizers have to  promise the land owner that their land will not be devastated by the festival. It's an agreement that works both ways. The land owners are usually making a hefty chunk of change from the festival renting the land, and the festival would like to hope that they can renew their agreement year-to-year. This means that more and more protocol has to be created to make sure the land isn't ruined. 

Trash cans need to be widely available to everybody at a festival. Everyone who has been to festival had probably not been surprised by seeing trashcans overflowing with trash. That is a problem. If people don't have a space to put trash, then people will default to just tossing it on the ground. Trash on the ground is very dangerous for many reasons, such as sharp objects that are thrown away, thus creating the defining reason for a no glass policy at festivals. If that sharp glass or plastic makes its way onto the ground more people have a chance to step on it and severely hurt themselves. The festival shouldn't have to answer someone else's irresponsibility like that. That is not fair. Trash also can get people very sick if they are around it long enough, and anyone can guess what being sick at a music festival is like. 

A few festivals do a very smart thing; having staff or volunteers go around to campsites and hand trash bags to attendees. This not only helps them keep their camp ground clean, it also promotes the idea of getting trash to it's proper place, even when away from the campsite. Some festivals are adopting a something called a “leave-no-trace” policy. A policy that has been created in response to people just leaving their trash, or anything really, on the ground. The policy tries to make people leave the grounds exactly as they found them. The festival wants the attendees to pick up trash and help them out a little bit. Again, it’s one of those policies that work in multiple directions. The attendees can enjoy a clean festival, the festival has an easier time with clean up, and the land owner will allow the festival to keep its place. It’s really too bad that we as people have gotten to the point where we need to be asked to pick up our trash and clean up for ourselves. No one should feel above that principal. Some festival attendees have been doing this for a long time, even without the policy, but, let’s be frank for a second - try not leave trash on the ground. It’s dirty, unhealthy, and makes others have less of a good time. You do not have to be a tree-hugger to respect the land. It's the wrong rational if you leave trash on ground and say "It's someone else's job to pick up this trash. They hire people to do that." You made that trash, you take care of it. The 2015 edition of TomorrowLand, an offshoot of TomorrowWorld, was an immense example that kept coming up in the Reddit thread. Here is what Reddit user, and TomorrowLand attendee, charg0n had to say: 

Health, Safety, and the Illegal

Here is a fact that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone: Festivals are not the safest places on earth. The vast amount of people that come to festivals have the potential to bring loads of trash, harmful substances, less-than-desirable characters, weapons, glass, and other unwanted things. With all of that also comes the unknown circumstances the weather controls, as well as people getting sick, hurt, lost or in some cases, dying. It’s not often that someone parishes at a festival, but every year it unfortunately does happen to a few people. Because of all of these potentialities medical policies have to be written so these events can be dealt with. 

Festivals having medic tents, ambulances on-site, and places for people to go if they are having a “bad-trip” have become the industry standard at this point in 2016. Sadly, though, year-after-year, people are still getting hurt and dying. These medical emergencies are defining factors to if festivals are able to go on sometimes. In 2013, during the height of the United State’s MDMA era, a pair of deaths from the substance shut down Electric Daisy Carnival’s events. In recent years 6 more deaths have been tied to the festival [Domanick, p.1]. Estimates show that about forty to fifty people die every year at festivals [Gregoire, p.1]. You may think it’s for obvious reasons too. It’s hot, people are doing a ton of drugs, and they are not staying properly hydrated. While all that certainly is true, it’s usually only the top layer. Other, more in-depths reasons include the people may be doing these drugs alone, making it hard for anyone to tell how to help that person. Some people feel as though they would get the person in trouble, or sent to jail if they contact law enforcement for someone suffering from an overdose. Hydration is key at any festival and anyone not drinking enough has a much higher chance of passing out, so the amount of accessible water needs to be replenished often. If not, even people not on hard substances are in critical danger. Lastly, people are going to want to buy drugs at festivals, and a factor in that is buying from someone that tells you it’s one drug and ends up being another. In response to these drug caused deaths groups of people have been banding together to raise awareness. One of the most notable are a group of people known as the “Bunk Police”. Their primary mission is for people to have fun, and to be safe. Members of the group go out in to the masses of people selling cheap and reliable drug test kits so people can have a way to check the drugs for purity and check the dealers on their honesty. Drugs at music festivals will never stop, as much as people fight, they are going nowhere. So the bunk police are creating a much needed solution since law enforcement will not advocate for the use of drugs. 

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   Left: Bunk Police Chief Auctor with members of law enforcement at Electric Forest      Top: an example of the Bunk Police's test kit they sell

Left: Bunk Police Chief Auctor with members of law enforcement at Electric Forest

Top: an example of the Bunk Police's test kit they sell

Something that is a little bit newer than the bunk police that is helping combat the health dangers of going to a music festival are the groups of people that make it their duty to help people independently from the festival. They are generally carrying garbage bags with them that they will hand out to campers, but, along with those bags they give you a message and a phone number. The message is that these people will anonymously get help if you, or someone you know is in immediate danger. They are also spreading the word and raising awareness for festival goers so they know that if person is hurt or suffering from drugs, they will not be in any trouble if law enforcement needs to get involved. This is helping the notion of people thinking they will be in any type of trouble when law enforcement needs to get involved. Sadly, it is hard to track the amount of good these groups of people are doing because they are just that, groups of people. But, it is clear that they are helping people in some shape and form.

Policies on what people can and cannot bring into festival grounds is another health and safety protocol that people are often discussing. Some say that the policies surrounding this topic have gone to far, while others say that having these types of orders in place are a necessity. The unwritten festival policy is “better safe, than sorry” and it shows when organizers tell you what you are not allowed to bring into their festival. The obvious items such as firearm and other weapons should be a given, and no one should be bringing in items that are meant to cause physical harm to someone else. But some people believe that the policies have gone too far when the festivals start taking away glass, cigarettes, cigars, medicines, fold-up chairs and other items people wouldn’t normally think they have to worry about bringin. Festivals with a no glass policy limit people bringing their preferential items that maybe packaged in glass jars or bottles. Sometimes items like jam or peanut butter spread comes in glass rather than plastic. The policy limits people’s ethical standards when they would rather use glass to help with recycling and the environment. A no glass policy makes a lot of sense so the festival can cut down on the amount of littered glass that can harm people, but taking away things like cigarettes and fold-up chairs sounds a little…obtuse. It’s hard to see the immediate dangers those items put people in. 

Alcohol policies have started to become pretty standard. The mentioned glass policy stops most hard liquors from getting into the festival, which is good for health and safety protocols and, lessening the amount of drunk people getting hurt. But, these alcohol policies aren’t just looking out for the festival goers, they are also instated because legally festivals don’t have the proper licenses for these people to bring and drink their own hard liquors on their camp grounds. Festivals often have alcohol sponsors funding the events and they have restrictive contracts the festival organizers must sign that state attendees of the festival should be limited to buying their alcohol. The other alcohol policy that is not standard across the board is where people can go with the alcohol. Some festivals allow people to transfer their alcohol between the grounds and other do not. This policy is also built from the alcohol providers having a dominating presence over how people buy their alcohol. 

Some policies are built out of uncertainty on the festivals part and one that has been seen doing more harm than good are policies surrounding how, and if people can bring water into festivals. By now festival goers have figured out they need to bring their own water, and a whole lot of it. But, when people bring their own water they want to be able to drink their water whenever, not just while they are at their campsite. Festival goers have begun to bring backpack water sacks, such as Camelbacks, so they can fill up at their camp ground and bring hydration with them where ever they go. But, some festival, such as Bonnaroo, in the very hot Manchester, Tennessee do not let people bring in filled Camelbacks. This is because they say they do not know what could be in them. They make people pour out their liquids, causing people to loose money on the water they bought, which obviously greatly frustrates people. The worst part is they tell those people they can fill them back up inside the festival grounds, but, often the water stations inside the festival grounds are very busy, unorganized, broken, malfunctioning, or empty. This leads to people leaving the unorganized mess of the water station to go to shows without any water. Many people suffer from dehydration at festivals every year at festivals, and this policy is certainly a cause of that. Another factor that isn't helping battle dehydration is the rising cost of water at festivals. Festivals like Electric Daisy Carnival and Firefly are selling 16oz water bottles for $4-5! That is just incredible, and greedy. People literally need water to live and they are going to sell it to you for an arm and a leg, after you already gave your limbs to the exorbitant ticket cost.  

While all of these policies maybe a little annoying to deal with and to apply ourselves to, its good to know that after reviewing all of this that festivals are looking out for the audience’s health and wellbeing. If they didn’t there would be no one to come to the festivals, or worse, no one being able to put on a festival. While the policies are there for a reason, some do go too far with the amount of restrictions that are instated. Ticket policies should be more transparent and no one in the past has died at a festival from a rouge fold-up chair. The best thing to do to approach overly restrictive policies is to let the festivals know how you feel. That is where the miracle of social media comes back into play. In this new, budding era of festivals, organizers have to want to know what you think of the events, and if you tell them what you really think they have a chance to look back on if there is anything they can do about it for the next year’s edition. Granted, some polices will be a much harder boulder to move, but at least festivals can try to reevaluate and come up with something that will alleviate the stressor.