Since setting sail on its maiden voyage four years ago, HARD's Holy Ship! festival-cruise has earned the reputation of being a raucous, even (seemingly) lawless nautical bacchanal. The brand has revolutionized the festival game by wresting away cruise ships from crusty senior citizens and turning them over to the rave set. While Holy Ship! now has multiple imitators, it stands alone and has elevated the HARD festival brand to international acclaim.
On Friday afternoon, the fervent Holy Ship! fan community known as #SHIPFAM erupted in outrage as reports surfaced of shippers receiving notifications with a harsh message: "We were very disappointed to see your recent comments in a Holy Ship! group page on Facebook - your posts have been documented and brought to our attention."
The letter goes on to say that existing reservations had been cancelled and that the recipient would be blacklisted from all future events.
Allegedly sent by Cloud 9 Adventures (HARD's cruise ship partner company in Holy Ship!) and signed by Beats at Sea, LLC (the holding company for Holy Ship!), the notifications reassert the organizers' zero-tolerance policy for drugs and that "public remarks made about bringing illegal controlled substances onto the ship and in effect crossing a national [sic] border with contraband" prompted the cancellations.
After one fan posted his notice around 3 PM, PST, scores of shippers revealed they had received the same notification. The response by all fans has been one of shock, anger, and also betrayal.
While it is obvious that promoters are tightening the belt on their drug policy, it is not readily clear how Cloud 9 gained access to closed or secret Facebook groups where these comments were posted. Some have sought to identify a mole, blaming one group member in particular.
While HARD's CEO, Gary Richards, AKA Destructo, AKA the Hardfather, has been the pineapple kingleader of all Holy Ship! events since its inception, his name and HARD's are nowhere to be found on these letters to ticketholders. So far, fans have staved off any anger directed at Richards, though they are calling for him to comment.
Many recipients of the notifications are also taking issue with what is described as the judgmental tone therein. "This will serve as a wake up call to you and others who think this type of behavior is acceptable," it reads. "Perhaps this has prevented something with harsher penalties from happening. The fact that you were not caught or arrested for your actions will hopefully soften the let-down [sic] of not being allowed to ship with us in 2016."
After five cruises of engendering an environment in which people feel free to have fun and express themselves at all costs, it seems that Cloud 9—and by association, HARD—has reverted to fear-based tactics with oblique references to potential harm from drug use. What this policy fails to acknowledge is that, as Stefanie Jones of Drug Policy Alliance recently told THUMP, social media mentions do not correlate with drug use.
While refunds are said to be provided for those whose reservations and pre-reservations have been cancelled, many questions remain. Who is the mole in the #SHIPFAM Facebook groups? Where are Facebook users' comments being documented and who is maintaining those records? And perhaps most crucially, why would anyone be dumb enough to anyone talk about drug use on social media in 2015?
Representatives for HARD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.