Summer music festivals and the “Warped Tour Water Wars”

Kevin VanAntwerpen

If you’re one of the four people who read my columns during the fall and winter semesters, you probably know two things about me. 1) I’m really afraid of spider-centipede hybrids (it’s the next evolutionary step on their path to conquest) and 2) I’m really attached to the Michigan music scene. I write music columns for a West Michigan entertainment magazine, I play in a band called Chasing the Sky, and I’m just generally at shows all the time.

That’s why I almost pissed myself when my girlfriend surprised me with tickets to Warped Tour in Auburn Hills (it’s right next to Detroit – all the poverty with fewer shootings.)

I grew up on the Warped Tour music scene. I used to love it. But this year’s event really changed things for me. I don’t know if you remember July 6, but it was hotter than Brad Pitt juggling torches on a unicycle (which is to say it was around 110 degrees with no cloud cover all day).

One would think that at a festival with an estimated 20,000 people in attendance, there’d be crowd control considerations in place. Especially on a 110 degree day. But instead, only one water fountain was available to the public (and with only one men’s bathroom open most of the day, that fountain could have easily doubled as a urinal.)

“That’s fine,” you say. “I’ll just bring my own water with me!”

No you won’t bucko, because there’s a large man with larger muscles at the door waiting to check you for dangerous objects like grenades, crossbows, and water bottles. You’re allowed one water bottle with no cap (which makes carrying it around all day a non-option).

“Quit your whining,” you say. “I”ll just buy water at the concession stands.”

Okay, Melinda Gates. You go ahead and pay $8 for a bottle of water. Or maybe if you’re feeling a little frugal today you can find vendor outside who will give you a bottle for the low, low price of $5. But you’d better make it last because it’s going to be a long day. Remember how I said there was one water fountain? That’s pretty much your sole option for a refill. Oh, there’s also a free refill tent outside … but the lines longer than the one for the fountain. And it’s outside.

“Okay,” you say. “So what’s your point?”

Summer music festivals are a community event. They’re a place where fans of all different kinds of music can come together and share an experience about a piece of art that matters to them. Fans are willing to shell out a lot of money for these events, and in turn the organizers of that event should have their back. During a promotional video, Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman notes that around 100 people are sent to the hospital for heat or dehydration related emergencies at every event.

During our trip, we watched three seizures and one ambulance joyride happen within three minutes of each other. Did I mention a guy died from dehydration in 2009 at Warped Tour? This is obviously a problem. And it’s something that Warped Tour should address if they want to keep their fans.

On a side note, if you’re looking for a better summer festival – check out Hoxeyville on Aug. 17. There’s free water, and the people watching there is great.

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