Submitted Date 01/31/2019

The Dark Side of Music Festivals


Music festivals can be so magical and happy, such wonderful escapes from reality, but like most great things, there is a dark side to them. Unfortunately, for every act of kindness I’ve seen or moment of magic I’ve experienced, I’ve also seen something not so kind and not so magical.

There is one specific moment that comes to mind. Funny enough, this moment happened at my favorite festival experience I’ve ever had: Camp Bisco 2015.

It was at the very end of the festival, and my boyfriend, Brian, and I sat along the brick barrier that separated the grassy field from the area in front of the wave pool stage. My legs dangled over the edge of the barrier, the cool concrete of the brick pressed against the back of my bare thigh.

All of our friends had gone back to the campsite already. In fact, most of the people there had left the festival grounds and gone back to their campsites.

Tipper, the DJ who had closed out the festival, had ended twenty minutes ago, and I could still feel the heavy pressure of the bass in my bones.

Brian and I didn’t say much to each other, just sat there and let the weekend soak in. As terrible as this festival had been at times, I’d still had the time of my life there.

I watched as people passed by us, moving in and out of the circles of white light that the stadium-style light posts cast down on the field. It was easy to tell that it was day three by all of the messy, matted hair and skin caked with dirt and dust.

I glanced back at Brian, whose chapped lips curled up at the corners when he met my eyes. His were dilated and red at the corners, with dark circles underneath. Light brown stubble prickled up on his face, and I could see the black dirt underneath his fingernails. I glanced down at my own hands to find dirt caked under my nails too.

Somewhere in the distance, I heard the click of a lighter and a moment later, the awful burnt rubber smell of DMT wafted over to us, mixing in with the chlorine smell from the nearby wave pool.

I crinkled my nose and turned to Brian, about to comment on the awful smell, but when I turned to look at him, his eyes were wide with alarm. “What is it?” I asked him.

“Nothing,” he replied. “Just don’t turn around.”

But him telling me not to turn around made me want to, so I did. My eyes landed on a guy, about my age, lying in the grass among the empty water bottles, beer cups, and other festival debris. His eyes were closed and he wasn’t moving. The Grassroots hat he’d been wearing had fallen off his head, revealing wavy brown hair underneath it.

No one else seemed to notice him. They just walked right by, stepping over him, some tripping over his body.

A chill ran down my spine, making me shudder, and I turned back to face Brian. He gave me a small smile that I know was meant to comfort me, but it didn’t reach his eyes.

Neither of us said anything. A bunch of thoughts ran through my mind all at once. Where were this kid’s friends? Why wasn’t anyone helping him? Is he just passed out or is he…?

I didn’t let myself finish that last thought.

I glanced back at the kid, my stomach beginning to churn a little. At this point, four security guards were approaching him, wheeling a stretcher along with them. Its wheels kept getting caught in the uneven terrain of the ground.

When they finally reached him, it took all four guards to lift him up onto the stretcher. One of his arms dangled limply off the side of it for a moment, until one of the guards noticed and lifted it back onto it. Then the guards began wheeling him off and I looked away.

When I looked back at Brian, his eyes met mine and we were both silent, but I knew by his eyes that he was feeling the same way I was. We were always laughing at the people who were too messed up and acting stupid. It was always just a joke because we knew they’d be fine once they sobered up. This didn’t feel like much of a joke though and it certainly wasn’t funny.

We sat with each other until there were only a few people left wandering around us.

I remember searching the internet for any reported deaths at the festival on our car ride home, but we luckily didn’t find any. This brought me some comfort, but only some. I still find myself wondering about that kid from time to time. Wondering if he made it home okay, if he woke up in the hospital confused and alone or if his friends were there with him.

I’ve seen plenty of people passing out or seizing or being wheeled away on stretchers at these music festivals, way more people than I’m comfortable with. I’ve seen people begging their friends to take them out of the crowd because they don’t feel well and seen those friends brushing them off, telling them to calm down, that they’re fine, all because they don’t want to miss the show. I’ve seen people too messed up, falling all over themselves, and rather than helping them, people gawk and laugh at them. I’m ashamed to say it, but I’ve been that person gawking and laughing.

When you go to a music festival, especially a camping one, you become this sort of community for those few days that you’re there together. So as a community, we need to do a better job of taking care of each other. If you see that someone needs help, help them. If you need help, ask for it. Drink enough water. Make sure your friends drink enough water. Be kind to one another. Music festivals should be fun, not tragic, so let’s try our best to keep them that way.


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  • Tomas Chough 5 years, 4 months ago

    Wow Alexis! That's an intense story. I've been to music festivals also and know what you mean. There's always people going a little too overboard, although I've never seen something exactly like what you described. It mustn't have been fun to experience that. Hope that kid's ok. Great writing, I really got sucked in to the story. Thanks for sharing!

    • Alexis Bowe 5 years, 4 months ago

      Yeah, it was definitely an intense experience! This was three and a half years ago, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. Thanks so much for your feedback! I appreciate it :)