Everyone does the same last minute check. Do you have your ticket? Your phone? Your ID, keys, and money? Do you know what zone your campsite is in? Or where you can stumble into a cab later? Check, check, and check. Well, what about your rights? Do you know your legal rights? Ah, there goes the buzzer. No, you don't.
Enter Cameron Bowman, aka The Festival Lawyer. Bowman is a criminal defense attorney with the law firm Valencia, Ippolito & Bowman (VIB) in San Jose, California. He has a background as a former prosecutor and has worked on everything from prison gang death penalty cases to domestic violence cases. Normally, this introduction would follow with "so don't fuck with him," but Bowman is one of us. Bowman is a music frenzied former DJ and festival aficionado. The Festival Lawyer is his beloved side-project dedicated to educating his fellow festi-fam members on how to flex their legal rights while attending a music fest.
"I had made a lot of friends at festivals and started running into the same people—you know how festivals are," says Bowman from his office in California. "When people started realizing I was a lawyer, they started asking me questions like, 'Oh, I have this friend who had this happen…' or 'Is it true that cops can search your tent?' The questions kept coming and I was interested in the answers."
In 2013, Bowman started The Festival Lawyer Tumblr blog. Accentuated by his aptly written bio, "I lawyer so hard motherfuckers wanna fine me" and his clever use of memes, the advice ranges from How to Avoid a 'Festival DUI' to "PUT YOUR FUCKING IPAD DOWN FOR FUCK'S SAKE." (Amen.) Bowman's razor-sharp dialogue caught the eye of music website Showbams, where his wildly successful infographic "What to do if You're Stopped by a Cop at a Festival" went viral. "That's when I realized people were just as interested in this as I was, so I started doing more," he says. "There was almost an immediate positive response. I had no real other plans than the blog when I started."
But the response Bowman received from the electronic music community didn't catch him off guard. "I get a lot of EDM fans contacting me because they get hassled a lot," says Bowman, the now veteran Coachella-goer. "Electric Zoo was called a 'Day-Glo neon version of North Korea,' in the New York Post last year. This is the sort of crowd I've had the most relationship with because they're the ones getting the most flack."
With city officials breathing down the necks of festival organizers and mainstream media hurling single-sided narratives to the masses with a flare gun—you could say dance music's reputation is a little battered. This isn't to dissuade from the fingers we can point at ourselves and our own community—drug related illnesses and unfortunate deaths, for example. But the shadow cast over festivals has only magnified the police and security measures at music events worldwide. Bowman knows this all too well. "At music festivals last year, there were these two models on how to handle drugs and security at a festival. The one model is a harm reduction-based and education based—the idea that, we know drugs are going to be here, but how do we secure and do this properly. And the other approach was a very zero-tolerance, intense security, scare tactics thing."
Now, with his own website, new resources, and the support of thousands online, Bowman presses on with his own agenda. His chosen topics range from understanding ticketing language, how to protect your cell phone and tents from police searches, and defining sexual consent while boozing. He actively speaks out against the Rave Act in tandem with DanceSafe and is even looking to further his reach with a Festival Lawyer Network of handy Fest Lawyers in different states. Recently, he traded in the blog spiels for distributable tip cards and How To videos on his YouTube channel. "It's very hard to write about law accurately, in a non-boring, concise way," he says, following with a belly laugh. "Because I have to cover all these possible exceptions when I write something, what tends to happen is some other jackass lawyer will come in with 'well, there's another exception where…' It's way easier to hand someone a card than have someone listen to me drone on."
At California's Lightning in a Bottle festival in May, Bowman held his first-ever Festival Lawyer workshop, offering practical tips about how to handle a police confrontation and debunking some 'Fest Law' myths. "Whenever you hold a lecture, you worry about participation or attentiveness, but everyone was super enthusiastic," he says. "The feedback was very much that these workshops should be held at every festival." Emanuel Sferios, the founder of the harm-reduction non-profit DanceSafe, also spoke at the workshop where both their lectures were filmed for his upcoming film, The MDMA Documentary.
"So much of the philosophy behind music festivals is about taking care of one another," says Bowman. "Those who have been in the scene for a while or have been following a band, when the younger crowd comes in, they try to educate them. So giving out advice in this way at festivals felt like a natural fit."
Bowman is quick to clarify that he's not your lawyer. If used properly, his tips are a surefire way to feel confident in any situation, but they aren't to be thought of as bulletproof. This goes for his Canadian fanbase as well. Being that Bowman is a practicing lawyer in the US, his legal expertise only applies within the borders of the Land of the Free. The American legal system is very much founded upon the ten amendments contained in the Bill of Rights, whereas Canada's are a mishmash of provincial and municipal laws. The Festival Lawyer's expansion to the Great White North is impending and he's already on the hunt for the proper Canadian sidekick. And thus, The Search for the Canadian Festival Lawyer begins—it's basically the American Idol for lawyers sans Ryan Seacrest's frivolous banter. Rather than a final sing-off of trill-doused Rush covers, the goal is to have a Festival Lawyer workshop at Shambhala in British Columbia with Bowman and his Canadian counterpart.
Until then, nothing beats wholesome, old-fashioned etiquette. You know, the stuff your parents tried instilling in you? "In the end, everything I advise is based around the idea of being polite—which Canadian's are supposed to be notorious for. Canadian's really kick the USA's butt with manners and partying safely," says Bowman. "I'm not about fighting with the cops or yelling out that 'you know your rights,' it's about educating yourself. Just being friendly and polite with security enforcement goes a lot further than you think."
Bowman, as a father himself, knows a thing or two about politeness—though his of parenting is occasionally (but appropriately) a bit off-kilter. "The other day I came downstairs and I was wearing this all-silver outfit. My kids didn't even flinch," says Bowman of his two young, unknowingly lucky kids. "So, in some aspect, everything I do relates to the fact that someday my kids will go to festivals. I mean, how could they not go to music festivals?"
Catch is: "They've got no one to blame if they do dumb stuff."
The Festival Lawyer just launched his official advice column on Fest300, "Ask The Festival Lawyer" which you can find here.
Rachael will be packing her legal rights in her fanny pack while festing this weekend, find her on Twitter.