With this weekend’s music festival, Splendour in the Grass the topic on everyone’s lips, it got me thinking about my first festival experience and the festival culture. I was 16 when I attended my first festival. In Canberra, all ages’ events are few and far between, which meant everyone was going and I mean everyone. I couldn’t be more excited. As we got ready, my friend pulled out a bottle of vodka she had snuck from her parents’ cupboard. I was surprised, we hadn’t discussed this. I hadn’t drunk alcohol before and it was only 10am! Who drinks at 10am? My friend passed me the bottle, I sniffed it, gagged at the fumes and refused. She spent the next hour barraging me with reasons why I should drink, primarily, ‘because everyone does’. In the end she didn’t want to drink alone so decided to sneak the bottle into the festival and drink with our other friends.
As unexperienced festival goers, tricks of the trade were unknown, and the bottle was confiscated by security upon entry. She was upset. I cheerfully told her not to worry, now we can focus on the music. I was wrong. Surprisingly, our friends all shared her view. Many had pre-drunk and were denied entry to the festival. The few who got in spent most of their day failing to convince older people to buy them alcohol and in the process, missed the music acts. The entire festival revolved around alcohol, if you were drinking, how to get it and where to drink it. This is festival culture.
The youth festival culture is increasingly alcohol focused and fuelled. Seven years on, I continue to choose not to drink when attending festivals for a range of reasons, primarily high prices, long lines and a greater desire to enjoy the music than spend the day restricted to the 18+ alcohol zone. That being said, my choices are persistently questioned. The notion of being unable to have fun without alcohol has become highly prevalent in contemporary youth culture. For many, music festivals have become more about drinking than the music. When did music become secondary?
The long lines and exorbitant prices at festival bars do their part in curbing drinking levels however to avoid these, a large majority of the patrons are inebriated upon arrival. Alcohol and public events seemingly go hand in hand and it has become a cultural norm to pre-load prior to arriving at festivals. Bringing your own alcohol into an event is prohibited and bags are searched upon arrival, never the less, it is remarkable the variety of ways in which attendees smuggle it past security. Girls resort to filling juice bottles with alcohol and camouflaging them in the padding section of their bras, bottles are strapped to bodies or thrown over fences. People even wear larger shoes with flexible bags full of alcohol stuffed into the toes. These are the most common methods I’ve encountered. The approaches simply reflect a desperation to drink and be a part of the culture, while avoiding long lines and hefty prices at the bar.
The way in which people drink for festivals can lead to high rates of alcohol harm. Young people tend not to monitor their alcohol as they would on a night and are more likely to drink in excess. Events such as festivals create risks to health that aren’t present in other forms of nightlife; such as inaccessible water and extensive bathroom lines. Party safe initiatives such as SAM, Champions and Red Frogs, among others, have been created as a reactive measure to the cultural norm of binge drinking in Australia and play a large role in the safety of attendee’s at large events, filling gaps in which festivals often do not cater for.
Alcohol is a large part of the festival scene, it always has been. It surprises me, that since my first festival seven years ago, attitudes towards alcohol within my age demographic have seemingly not changed. Festivals are seen as an excuse to drink excessively, which ensures festival medics to spend large amounts of time dealing with alcohol related harm.
I’m not advocating for a festival culture where people don’t drink, however I’d like to see one where people are comfortable in saying no and safety measures by both the festival and outsourced party safe program initiatives are firmly in place.
For more information on alcohol, branding and popular music, a publication by Nicholas Carah can be viewed here