There is no British summer staple quite like going to a music festival. There are the star-studded line-ups, the novelty of wearing wellies in summer, the kudos of attending classic events like Glastonbury, and the opportunity to make lifelong memories with friends.
I’ve always been enticed and excited by British festivals, but I have never attended one. Despite the potential highs, the many lows of festivals – such as the lack of safety precautions, the heavy drug use, and the risk of harassment, violence or even death – leave many people, including me, apprehensive, or even scared to go.
As festival season fast approaches, I’m reminded of my friends who have attended in the past and told me of their excitement at seeing their favourite musicians perform, the electricity of the crowds, and the joys of camping (which I find hard to believe, but each to their own).
But they also described the rowdiness, the sexual harassment and assault, the drug use, and the fear of being crushed, which are often seen as so commonplace that they have pushed me away from the idea of attending.
By their very nature, festivals mean tightly packed crowds of thousands of people. It is easy to become separated from your friends and I fear there is a relatively low security and safety precautions in place given the number of attendees. Combine this with being a young woman, and a festival seems like a place where things can very quickly take a turn for the worse.
A survey in 2018 found that two-thirds of women worry about being sexually harassed at music festivals and nearly half of female festivalgoers have experienced unwanted sexual behaviour when in attendance.
Those who have shared their experiences of being groped and grabbed in these crowds have said they’re often left feeling even more alone because they don’t knowing how or feel able to speak up about what happened to them. And the result of this is that there are frequently no repercussions for the perpetrator.
This year, over 100 UK festivals have signed up to the Safer Spaces at Festivals campaign, which pledges to tackle incidents of sexual violence with a survivor-led approach. While it seems to be a step in the right direction, I worry it won’t be enough.
Also, drug use at festivals is commonplace, and while many will suggest that people just stay away if they don’t want to partake, there is still a big question around how these drugs are being let in and what risk they pose for festivalgoers. They may be looking for a high, but they may also end up with something much worse. In 2019, a 17-year-old girl died from a drug overdose at Leeds Festival, and her story is not unique.
Another festival-related fear I have is the rowdiness and lack of inclusivity at many British events. While festivals such as Wireless and Strawberries and Creem Festival often draw in more of a diverse crowd, the most popular gigs, such as Reading and Glastonbury, traditionally have majority-white audiences, and I worry that alcohol, rowdiness, tight spaces and not many people of colour is a recipe for disaster for festivalgoers from minority backgrounds.
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I’m also reminded of instances when festivals have taken an even darker turn for attendees. Last November, for example, a crowd crush at Travis Scott’s Astroworld Festival in Texas in the US resulted in the death of 10 people and at least 25 hospitalisations.
The tragedy brought the topic of security and safety at music events to the forefront ahead of the UK’s festival season, and I hope that organisers have taken note of just how bad things could turn out if safety isn’t prioritised.
As this summer’s biggest events for British music approach, I would urge festival organisers to think more carefully about how to keep festivalgoers from all backgrounds safe. From extra security to stations for reporting incidents of sexual harassment and drug disposable bins, there are many precautions that can be put in place which I hope would help make festival season safer for all.