In The Festival Harm Reduction Project series, we examine drug use at music festivals and clubs across the globe, and explore what artists, organizers, harm reduction groups, and concert-goers are doing to make nightlife safer.
Festival season is upon us. Every weekend of the summer, hoards of revellers will descend upon fields and forests and desert plains the world over to dance and make merry for a few hedonism-filled days. Free from the constraints of the normal world, multi-day parties can be one of the best ways to enjoy music. But with all that sun, booze, and drugs come risks to your health, including dehydration, heatstroke and exhaustion.
THUMP spoke with Alex Pollak, CEO and Founder of ParaDocs Worldwide—an event medical service that works with festivals and promoters including Governor's Ball, Life in Color, and Robot Heart—to find out how to stay safe out there.
1. Protect yourself from the sun
Alex Pollak: Sun protection is important if you're going to be out all day at the main stage, including a hat and also something to put over you. Bringing a hat is a great idea—especially one that protects the back of the neck. It's just good to bring something to protect you during the day.
2. Stay hydrated
Most people do know this, but alcohol dehydrates and so do energy drinks. What's going to help is water and electrolytes. But drinking tons of water isn't going to help; you really need electrolytes too.
Signs of dehydration are dry mouth, thirst, dark or no urine, lightheadedness, fatigue, rapid heartbeat. And signs of heat exhaustion (which overlaps with signs of dehydration) are muscle cramps, headache, nausea/vomiting, dizziness, pale skin, and confusion.
How much water one should consume is dependent on BMI, age, weather, and level of activity, but an average adult at a festival during a hot summer day should drink about two to four eight ounce cups per hour.
As hydration depends on so many variables, a good rule of thumb is to hydrate frequently, when you are thirsty or sweating, and aim to keep your urine color light yellow-clear. It is best to drink water or drinks with electrolytes that will replenish sodium lost from sweating.
Most festivals will let you bring in a 20 ounce sealed water bottle, and many of the larger festivals do offer free water refill stations. But we always have water available in the medical tents, so people can come and ask for a bottle of water.
3. Pack your own festival survival kit
If you're putting together a kit, you really should read the festival's rules for what's allowed in. But some things that you should think about bringing are earplugs, bandaids, a hat to protect yourself from the sun, phone charger, or battery pack.
You should also definitely bring a refillable 20 ounce water bottle. If you bring a Camelbak, most places require that the bladders are clear and empty. A flashlight is also a great thing to have; we treat a lot of trip and falls in the medical so a flashlight is great to have to see your way in the dark.
4. Bring any medications you need
It's really tough to bring medical stuff into a festival. The basic rules from bringing in a prescription are: you can bring in enough for the festival, you have show valid ID, the prescription has to be current or not expired, and it has to be in your name.
You cannot bring in over the counter medications if it's not sealed. Most festivals will allow sealed packets, but every festival is different, so check before you go. Things like Advil, however, you can get at the medical tent. Everything is free in the medical tent.
5. Go to the medical tent if you aren't feeling well
If your friend is acting tired, if their pupils are crazy dilated or constricted, if they're sweating insane amounts even if they haven't been dancing a lot, if they're slurring their speech, or if they're fidgeting way too much—all of these are signs they need to be taken to the medical tent.
We'd rather people err on the side of caution—if they feel anything is wrong, they should come to the tent. We would rather see someone 50 times a day as opposed to having to go and find them once they reach a really critical point. Just come check in with us to make sure you or your friends are ok. You can get some free water and cool off in our air conditioned tent!
6. Remember that you won't get in trouble if you seek help
We have a good revolving door policy; people used to think that if you walk into the tent, the next thing is you're going to jail or the hospital and you're never coming back to the festival. But if you come in and you're proactive and tell us what you took, no one is telling anyone. Especially if you're over 18—we're not allowed to tell anyone. The parents are not getting a phone call from us, because we're not allowed to tell them because of patient confidentiality.
We're trying really hard to break this stigma that you're going to get in trouble if you come to the medical tent. It's a very safe place; medical is not the enemy. We want people to come even if it's just for a glass of water and to get cool.