Music festivals can be deeply exciting experiences, giving unparalleled opportunities to hear many artists and bands from different genres, and come together as a tight-knit community in an experience often hugely different from normal life.
Unfortunately, that sense of separation from normal life and isolation from the rest of the world can cause people to behave in irresponsible ways.
According to a 2013 online poll of 2,000 attendees of summer festivals, 47% said they engaged in behavior they would "never consider doing outside of the music festival environment." One of the ways this manifests itself is in drug and alcohol use.
A survey and collection of voluntary drug tests at the 2014 Ultra Music Festival in Miami found that 80 percent of the test subjects had used an illegal drug at the festival. Many people believe they can "go crazy" at the festival, and then return home with no consequences.
However, the truth is that the festival setting does not make people immune from the consequences of risky behavior. In fact, by being outside all day in the middle of summer already puts you at serious risk for dehydration, making sobriety a particularly smart decision.
A Billboard report from July 29, 2014 revealed that, overall, 15 people had died at music festivals that year, many from drug-related causes. So something clearly has to be done, both by festival organizers and by those attending.
People seeking to prevent drug abuse at music festivals can make use of two different approaches, which may sometimes be in conflict, but, together, can be combined to effectively keep as many people safe as possible.
The first is simply doing whatever possible to discourage drug or excessive alcohol use. They can do this by fencing in the festival area, and checking people for drugs as they enter and enforcing rules meant to discourage drug use.
The other approach is called "harm reduction," and comes out of a begrudging realization that some people are deeply determined to use drugs at the festival, and eliminating them entirely may not be possible. While people who make that irresponsible decision are must ultimately be held responsible for their behavior, action can be taken to ensure that people are kept as safe as possible.
Part of this means taking steps to ensure everyone is hydrated, and has access to "chill out areas" away from the action, particularly in festivals where temperatures become very high and dehydration is a real possibility. People should go the festival aware of what they are taking and its ill effects, and take steps needed to avoid overdoses or serious health problems. This is not to say we should give up and simply condone illegal drug use at a festival, but that the reality of drug use can be acknowledged, and people can be protected.
The organizing staff at Bonnaroo acknowledges this tension, by synthesizing both approaches. Officially, they do everything they can to discourage and prevent any drug use at all. When you enter the grounds for Bonnaroo, your vehicle will be searched, and security will confiscate any illegal drugs, as well as any alcohol beyond a set limit.
They state unequivocally, "We stand squarely against drug use... It can ruin the weekend for you and those around you." However, they also take steps to keep users safe, with medical tents and a large staff that will take care of overdose victims under a strict "no questions asked" policy.
Even if it feels like everyone around you seems to be using drugs or alcohol, you can make your own decision to remain sober. By remaining sober, you can focus all your attention on being fully present in the moment, creating memories to last a lifetime, rather than losing everything in a drug-induced haze.
Bring along a group of friends who are committed to being sober together. If someone does become insistent on selling or giving away drugs, it can help to have a group of people working to protect each other. You can also look for sober tents, groups of people in recovery together who can meet and support each other, and have sober fun together.