Originally posted on Earthlings Entertainment
I’ve been to a lot of camping festivals, from Shambhala in Canadato What The Festival in Oregon and dozens of others. The sense of community and acceptance as soon as you touch ground fills you with gratitude. It leaves festivalgoers overflowing with appreciation for the festival because of the obvious amount of effort that goes into creating that kind of atmosphere. Sasquatch! Music Festival was something different altogether.
Excited to get away and geek out at shows we’d been anticipating for months, we pulled up to the Gold camping area to unpack our stuff and meet some friends we were camping with. We walked up to a staff booth to ask directions and were met with a taste of annoyance; our arrival had apparently interrupted the staff’s conversation.
The walk from general camping to the stages is a long one, but that could be said for every camping festival. Getting back to camp is always a trek, which is why you come fully prepared with comfortable walking shoes/boots and water—which people apparently were not getting enough of. We passed a few camps with people upchucking, and it was only midday.
This seemed to be a continuous theme throughout the entire weekend, which I’m sure had everything to do with the fact that no one at either of our campsites bothered to ask about the typical things music festivals search your cars for—glass, drugs, a specific amount of booze, weapons—nothing was asked, and nobody’s car was searched that I’m aware of. Hey, I’m all for having a good time. Psychedelics are a blast and I am an Olympic-level day-drinker, so I understand the appeal for no regulation or security of this kind, but in the grand scheme of things throwing an event as large as Sasquatch! without some form of regulation is dangerous. People are going to break the rules and sneak in more booze, and dealers are going to do what they do. Creating a space for complete lawlessness, when most of the ticket holders for this event seemed to be either underage or in their early twenties, seemed like the perfect storm for predators.
There is security at entry into festival grounds. You’re not allowed to bring water—unless it’s in a factory-sealed bottle—or any other liquids inside. They check your bags for drugs and weapons, then off you go! Pretty straightforward. Once inside, however, it seemed to me that the single security precaution was more about being able to make money at the beer and liquor vendors—there were five to one for every food vendor—than actual safety.
Now, it was still day one, so I was hoping Sasquatch! would redeem itself with several stations for water refills, since they do not allow it in the festival gates, as well as with an engaged staff and conscious flyers around the festival about not only drinking safely but consent. I saw none of this. There were no signs anywhere that I could find about drinking safely, and nowhere was there mention of safe sex or consent. There was only one “hydration station,” as they called it, with four spigots on each side for the thousands of people at the festival.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed myself. The view of the sun setting behind the Columbia River at the Sasquatch stage is absolutely stunning. We made sure we were there for the sunset every night, regardless of who was playing. Jlin’s set was phenomenal, although I wish it was later in the evening so she could have pulled a larger crowd. More people need to experience her genius.
Tash Sultana was incredible. The way she effortlessly moved from one instrument to the next within each song was brilliant, and the obvious gratitude she had for the crowd emitted smiles reflecting her own all across the audience—a warm experience I didn’t realize I needed.
Lizzo’s energy and unapologetic authenticity had not only everyone at the stage but all the way up the mountain on their feet, feeling good as hell,yelling positive affirmations about themselves back at her. The performances were on point. Every artist I caught came correct and gave the audience all they had.
The thing is, the music festival experience—especially camping festivals—are about more than just the lineup. And the experience for many is not going to be one they want to remember or will even be able to if this festival doesn’t start evaluating how important the safety of those in attendance really is.
I was worried about writing this review for fear of being blacklisted in the future, but what would journalism be if we did not use it to create actionable discourse. It is our responsibility as gatekeepers to give criticism when necessary so the future of events like these are safe and prosperous for everyone involved. I saw one person get ushered out on a gurney and put in an ambulance, and I can be sure there were others as well, but there are no official numbers as to the amount of people who have been hospitalized or the sexual assault rates at Sasquatch! (or any other festival, for that matter), and the fact that this is not made known to the public is troubling.
Last year Sasquatch! sold around 11,000 tickets—less than half the amount of tickets sold the year prior. Live Nation, the entertainment company that puts on Sasquatch!, calls themselves a “Global Leader For Live Entertainment” and boasts that, “Somewhere in the world, every eighteen minutes, is a Live Nation Event.” As a world leader, they need to do better.
Take a page from other camping festivals’ playbooks. It could be as simple as stressing the importance of staying hydrated, drinking responsibly and broadcasting that consent is sexy. It could be as cheap as allowing harm reduction groups that specialize in festival support like Conscious Crew and The Zendo Project, and learning from groups like Her Forest to help facilitate safety.
Regardless, as devoted as we might be to one festival or another, supporting festivals that do not support us will only continue the current trend. Spend your money on the artists themselves and on festivals who actively work to elevate your experience with safety in mind.