What I’m looking forward to this festival season…and what worries me.

After a year-long break from partying and events, the long awaited start to festival season is finally here! While the pandemic is not over and we won’t be completely back to normal, we can all breathe a sigh of relief that some events will be happening. As a raver, I couldn’t be more excited to get back on the dancefloor, see my favorite artists, and be among a crowd of beautiful people, but as a public health advocate and harm reductionist, I have concerns about the health and safety of event guests.

Let’s start with some positivity. These are some of the things I am so excited to get back to:

Meeting New People

Being in lockdown over the past year, it’s been difficult to get together with loved ones, let alone meet new people. Music festivals are so special to me because they have helped me overcome my social anxiety, which I’m afraid may have come back due to being in isolation for so long. Hopefully, I will feel right at home at my first festival back, coming out of my shell and connecting with new friends from near and far. I have missed meeting new people who share a common bond through dance music. Through social media, I have gotten to know some ravers from all over the country, and I’m looking forward to meeting them IRL and expanding my social circle even more.

Improved Mental Health

Raving is as important to my self-care as meditation and exercise. It truly makes me feel alive and boosts my spirit. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that the past year has been difficult without it. I’ve tried to find other ways to fill the hole it left in my life, but nothing compares. Through meditation, I’ve tried to invoke the happiness and positive vibes of being at a festival, and I’m looking forward to not having to leave that up to imagination anymore. After a challenging year for so many, a festival is exactly the medicine many of us need.

Dressing Up

I’ve had very few reasons to get dressed up this past year. Working from home, I typically wear sweats and leggings every day. When I do get dressed up, I don’t feel like myself anymore. I used to love wearing funky and bright clothing at festivals, and while I have gotten dolled up for some at-home photoshoots and content creation this year, it doesn’t feel the same.

I’ve also been really inspired by some influencers I’ve followed this year to get out of my comfort zone with my festival outfits, and I have even done some promoting myself! This year, I worked with Freedom Rave Wear to create some content and promote their brand, and I can’t wait to wear the adorable and comfy outfits they sent me at a festival.

Providing Services

I started Party Safer with Jess mainly because I missed helping people and providing harm reduction services. While I still plan to continue using this platform, I am so excited to get back to volunteering in-person at festivals. There is no better feeling than receiving gratitude when helping someone, whether it’s testing their drugs or giving them water when they’re dehydrated. Some of my favorite festival memories are from the times I was working, and I’m excited to make more.

And what’s worrying me:

Unenforced Safety Precautions

Some festivals are implementing COVID-19 safety protocols such as requiring masks and a negative test or proof of vaccine for entry, but will they actually enforce these rules? Maybe some will, but people who have already been to a festival this year are reporting that enforcement of these safety precautions has been lax. Enforcing thousands of event guests to keep their mask on is, I’m sure, no easy feat, especially deep in the pit where they would be needed most, but festivals should not be making promises they can’t or don’t plan to keep. Announcing safety precautions when there are no plans to enforce them at best disappoints those who made the conscientious decision to go to the event contingent on these rules and at worst endangers event guests, the community, and beyond.

Drug-related Incidents

People have been deprived of partying for over a year and will probably want to “go hard” at their first events back. Remember, if you haven’t been to a festival in over a year, your body likely isn’t the same as it was at the last event you went to pre-pandemic.

Tolerance

The Loop, a nightlife harm reduction organization in the UK, did a study of party-goers’ drug use habits during the pandemic and found that party drug use more than halved since lockdown began. While at first it may seem like a good thing that drug use has decreased, the implications of these findings are cause for alarm: Decreased drug use means decreased tolerance. When your tolerance for a drug is lower, that means you need less of a drug to get the desired effect. It also means it will take less of a drug to cause adverse reactions, including overdose. If party people return to using the same amount of drugs they were using pre-COVID or more, it may lead to health problems.

There really is no way to measure your tolerance or know how a drug is going to affect you, so remember to start low, go slow. If you’re using again after a period of abstinence or trying a new drug, start with a low dose, give it enough time to see how you feel, and then determine if you need to take more to get to your desired effect. 

Stamina

In addition, festival goers, who are known to dance for hours and walk miles in a weekend, will no longer be used to such physical exertion. With decreased stamina, exhaustion will set in faster. People may turn to stimulants to fight the fatigue, too much of which can cause overamping (a term used to describe a stimulant “overdose”) .

When festival fatigue starts to set in, it’s not more drugs that you need—it’s food, water, and rest. Eating nutritiously, hydrating properly, and getting enough sleep will give you the energy to get through the weekend.

Social Anxiety

Many of us have significantly decreased our social circles over the past year, rarely interacting with any new folks, and being in a crowd of people may be anxiety provoking. To cope with this, some people may be inclined to increase their alcohol and other drug use. If you are suddenly experiencing social anxiety when you never have before, it may take some time to reacclimate to socializing. In the meantime, don’t overdo it with drinking or drugs, which can be harmful in the long run.

Lacking Health and Safety Services

Festivals are hurting for money right now, and they won’t want to cut corners on things that are most visible to consumers, such as the lineup and production. Instead, I fear that festivals are going to be cutting corners on vital health and safety services.

Some festivals have a budget line for health and safety services, and some of that money may be going into COVID-19 precautions. Although these are absolutely necessary, it may mean money will be diverted away from other services that could address drug use. Many festivals already had sub-par health and safety services, and I’m concerned they will be even worse now.

With the above drug-related issues, this could be a recipe for disaster. During the pandemic, we learned how important it is to “flatten the curve” to not overwhelm the healthcare system. This same principal can and should be applied to festivals. We don’t want to overwhelm EMS with drug-related emergencies, which are preventable with a little care.

As excited as I am to get back to festivals, these concerns are pressing right now. We need to be looking out for one another more than ever this year, but this starts with taking care of yourself. You won’t be able to help others if you are in need of help yourself. Take it slow, listen to your body, and party safer.

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