Over the last 6 years, music and arts festivals have become something close to a second home for us. So much so that we’ve done just about everything but actually play at one of them. We’ve attended, volunteered, and just recently worked at various summer festivals across the country. Along with the privilege of attending these festivals, we’ve come to develop an awareness not only of the people that work to create the entire experience, but also of the physical grounds that can house upwards of 50,000 people on any given weekend.
Our most recent festival experience, working Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, TN, has shown us a side of festivals that deserves not only every attendees attention, but also demands a change in mentality and overall experience. For 9 days, we worked pre, during, and post festival to manage the waste of CenterRoo, the Ozone, all pods/plazas, and campsites. What we saw, mainly while working during show and post show clean up, shook us to our motherfuckin’ core. We knew that festivals generated a lot of waste - but the excess that we witnessed was truly unimaginable.
The photos we took speak for themselves, so we won’t bore you with an excessively long article. However, here is some terminology that will guide you through the pictures that follow:
(n.) food waste - neglected food that gets disposed of in a landfill. often the result of overpacking, not knowing how to store your food while camping, a lack of understanding in regards to what happens when food is left to decompose amid plastics and other debris in a landfill (it’s one of the leading cause of climate change), not having a sustainable option to get rid of food thats gone back, and unfortunately just not giving a shit. it is often the case that had this food not been neglected, and was in good condition, it could have gone to feed hungry communities, or been used for animal feed. if it had gone bad, it could have been composted and thus left out of a landfill where it would further rot and leak methane into the environment.
(n.) shitbucket - a 5 gallon bucket used to, not surprising by the name, literally shit in. anytime we saw a box of cat litter at a campsite, we knew one of these was nearby. there are thousands of places designated for festival go-ers to use the restroom. a home depot bucket should not be one of them. at times we saw shitbuckets and port-o-potties within a 500 ft. radius of one another. if one is worried about one's own health, compromising others’ by leaving toxic waste for the cleanup crew to deal with makes them just as shitty as their bucket.
(n.) clear bag - a bag that is provided to campers upon arrival that is designated for landfill waste and landfill waste only. not broken chairs, or tents, or shitbuckets.
(n.) blue bag - a bag that is provided to campers upon arrival. as is very obviously states, the bag should contain recycles and recycles only. not perfectly good, packaged food or drinks, not glow sticks, not cigarettes, not lighters.
The actions that need to be taken to avoid this are seemingly simple, but are often forgotten or completely ignored. Here are some guidelines that we follow to avoid having our campsite or festival experience mirror the images below:
When packing for festival camping, we are conscious as to how much food we actually need to bring. Two jumbo jars of Jiffy peanut butter for 4 people is going to be a bit excessive… We try to follow the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) outline for most things in life. Simplicity is key for camping food. Trail mix, PB&Js, fresh fruits and vegetables are our favorites. We try to avoid grilling, which is pretty simple since we don’t eat meat. Whatever we don’t eat, we bring home. Additionally, we know there will be at least one really dank vegan option inside the venue, so we usually plan to eat at least one meal there.
We abide by the waste management system that is in place for whatever location we’re at. This means that we respect what the venue wants in terms of recycling, compost, and landfill waste. This differs by location - in San Francisco there is access to industrial composting, however this isn’t true for every city. We do our best to make sure we put our waste in the proper place, no matter where we are.
A friend recently told us that you should leave relationships like you leave your campsite, better than how you found it. We advocate for this like there is no tomorrow...at least for the camping part. We show up. We do our part. We know that the clean-up crews typically work not only after the festival, but before too. If one’s spot is flawless pre show, it should be flawless post-show.
We *~radiate positivity~* the *~Bonnaroo~* way and leave our negligence at home. We consider festivals, whether working, attending, volunteering, whatever, to be a vacation. A place where we go to lose our minds...just not for the entire weekend.
Why are we taking the time to write this? Because festivals are home to some of our favorite memories. We’ve grown to care about a lot more than just the music being played there. It is impossible for us to celebrate life without giving back and respecting the lands that we dance on*. We hope these photos invoke a sense of disturbance and inspire action from festival goers all over the world.
*A moment for reflection. Instead of editing this sentence out of the article, which we wrote in July of 2018, we believe this is a good opportunity to sit, reflect, and hold ourselves accountable for not acknowledging that magnitude of something we wrote. Even if it was not meant to be offensive. As white people, we (Rebecca and I) believe that giving back to and respecting the land is going to take a lot more work than just picking up other peoples' waste. The history of the land that we lived life 'dancing on' cannot be ignored. Neither can the atrocities that were committed by our ancestors against communities who inhabited that land long before converse and vans jumped up and down on them. In order to be better ancestors, and consider ourselves allies to BIPOC, we have a life long of learning unlearning and learning ahead of us. We are committed to doing that work. With that, we apologize. - updated April 25th, 2019.