Series Post 4: Should it continue?

The Man at Burning Man festival in Black Rock City

To an outsider, festival culture is quite hard to explain. Many people automatically think hippies and drugs, and although this assumption is partly correct, their overall purpose lies much deeper.
Over the course of these blog posts we have explored drug use at festivals; including the history behind it, the reasons why festival attendees use, and how drug use continues despite it being illegal and highly punishable under law.
Ironically enough festivals of this nature or those notorious for bartering, self-reliance, self-expression, non-violence, and volunteerism, are a concept born from the use of LSD during the early 1960’s. This was a period where people readily saught new experiences and new ideas that would enhance ones character and instill a broader world view, so naturally the popularity of these festivals skyrocketed, as well as the amount of people using psychadelics and other mind exploring drugs.
From these humble beginnings, we now have a whole festival season that stretches from May to October and at these events thousands of people continue to use illegal substances like LSD, mushrooms, ecstasy, and marijuana.
Many might wonder, including myself, how over 44% of festival attendees continue to use despite it being illegal. Well, the answer lies in the details.
Many festivals are held on private property, away from the prying eyes of the police and for those that are not, the state and federal government are too busy and under funded to crack down on events characterized by peace and love.
That being said, drugs are still bad. They harm our bodies, can lead to addictions, and in extreme cases even death. With such negative implications, should we continue to let such open drug use and distribution at festivals without interference by the law? I think yes.
First we must consider all the other harm we do to our bodies. We drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, and some of us lay out in the sun for hours-on-end without protection. All of these things are in their own way just as harmful as doing drugs at a festival.
Lastly, should festivals begin policing and upholding the law, it would completely alter something that many people hold so dear to their hearts.
There is something about festivals that warrants an “anything goes attitude.” People are free to create what they want, dress how they want, act how they want, etc. This is so very rare in this world.
I believe that this carefree attitude is in part attributed to the use of drugs. Using mind exploring drugs often allows people to see into the beyond, leading to intense conclusions about oneself and the world around us. They also allow many to tap into a part of their imagination that would otherwise lay untouched. It is the same thing that has been done by shamans and witch doctors for thousands of years, and can be just as spiritual.
I personally, don’t see anything wrong with this. I know many people would disagree, and that’s because they’ve never attended a festival like this or their lives haven’t been touched and so completely altered in such a positive way simply by becoming apart of the festival family. And that’s what we are, festival attentees are nothing but a colorful and ever changing family and everybody needs a family and a place where they feel they belong.

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Series Post 3: The War on Drugs

For decades now, the United States has been battling a war on drugs. This initiative includes a set of drug policies that are intended to discourage the production, distribution, and consumption of illegal psychoactive drugs, including all festival drugs. Among these policies intending to prevent consumption, includes education and awareness. From a young age, children are informed of the harmful effects of drugs and how they can negatively impact all aspect of ones life. We’ve all seen the commercials and many of us have even sat through drug prevention programs in school, nevertheless drugs continue to be used.
They’re found on the streets, they’re found in clubs, and as mentioned they’re found in large quantities at festivals. In other words, the war rages on. It is impossible to completely eliminate illegal drugs use, should it ever happen, I believe many people would be outraged.
Not only would we have the obvious people who would be outraged; drug addicts, drug dealers, etc but also many avid festival attendees.
If the cops all of a sudden decided to step in at festivals and police drug use, as they hypothetically should be, it would completely alter the festival scene.
As mentioned drugs like LSD, mushrooms, and ecstasy have been known to generate creativity, and generally open the mind of its user. Such a collection of people creates a setting like none other. You can come as you are, whether it is dressed in jeans and sneakers, or a tutu and an elaborate headdress. It also gives people the ability to create whatever their imagination desires, and often beyond. One of the greatest things about festivals is that there are plenty of people who choose not to do drugs, and they are fortunate enough to never have to feel pressured into doing anything they choose not to. Festival life is the ideal world, and those who never attend a festival cannot truly understand.
Many outsiders see festivals as a bunch of drug using hippies, but it is in fact much deeper and much more profound than this and should the police step in and remove such an intricate part, many people would be distraught and lost. For many festival attendees, drug use, especially psychedelics, is as important and ritualistic as it is to the many shamans around the world and no one would dare take away drugs from a shaman.
Fortunately enough the police don’t really seem to be doing much about drug use at festivals, and it all goes back to the war on drugs.
Oddly enough, the term “War on Drugs’ was first used by President Nixon in 1971, which was at the peak of the hippie movement and just after the explosion of LSD use. Although the war on drugs began because of the hippies, it has since been redirected to street level drug dealers and users. This is likely due to the fact that the war on drugs costs the federal government nearly $20 billion a year, and even more at the state level. This is an astronomical amount of money, and yet, police and other authorities cannot keep up with the war.
Hippies and festival attendees, initially the criminals, are now recognized as a generally peaceful and harmful group of people. Due to limited funds the police have been forced to recognize this and therefore leave them alone and allow them to do and use as they please, instead they are now focused on more violent and harmful drug criminals. This works out for festival attendees, many of which consider festivals their true home and who would be lost without them.

Series Post 2: Where are all the cops?

Without drug use, festivals of this nature would take on a whole different meaning. Drugs like LSD, mushrooms and ecstasy are known to spark creativity. They bring intense colors and beautiful art to life. Not only that, they also encourage musical genius through elaborate sound combinations, and extreme alternate modes of dress or costumes like you wouldn’t believe. Even though I have been to many festivals, I still continue to be shocked and amazed by what some people come up with. It’s one of the few places that remain where adults are allowed to use and explore their imaginations without anyone second guessing them. It truly is a beautiful thing.
Essentially drugs are an integral part of festival life, yet they remain illegal and highly punishable under law. If this is the case, than how are they so openly distributed and used at festivals? What I’m really wondering is, where are all the cops?
If one were to read the fine print prior to entering a festival, you would likely find a statement claiming that selling or using drugs is strictly prohibited and if you are found doing so you will be kicked out. This is more for the benefit of the police than an actual rule.
There was one festival in particular that I went to where they checked your bag every time you entered the main stage area, what they were looking for was glass or alcohol. They didn’t care if you brought in drugs, and if you had them in your bag they would simply pass over them and pretend it wasn’t there. Granted these weren’t cops doing the checking, they were simply volunteers. In fact, at most festivals there is no police presence within festival walls. You will likely see volunteers or security if necessary, although the only security I ever saw came wearing full kilts. You would think that with the amount of people at these events and with the activities that go on, there would have to be police present but this doesn’t seem to be the case.
Most festivals are done on private property, and in doing so, it seems that many laws are surpassed. As long as festival attendees keep the peace and do not give the police probable cause to enter the premises, than they can do nothing but remain on the outside looking in.
Not all festivals are done on private property, some are done in public spaces and county owned spaces like fairgrounds and parks. It is at these spaces that the first amendment is put to use. Under the first amendment is the right to peaceful assembly. Not only does this include the right to assemble for petitioning purposes but also for purposes like festivals and other events.
At festivals done on public spaces you will see cops roaming around, but I’ve yet to see them apprehending or questioning anyone and this is because they are upholding the first amendment. As long as things are kept peaceful and no one is seen doing anything obviously wrong than the police stay out of it. It is from my experience that festival attendees keep their drug use more under wraps at events on public property. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case. According to an online article, police in the United Kingdom are trampling people’s rights to peaceful assembly and causing trouble where none existed, they have gone so far as to bust people with microscopic particles of hash. British citizens, who are known for assembly of all kinds, are demanding bold reforms in order to prevent disruption at further festivals.
Festivals help us maintain playfulness, harbor originality, free our soul and let us love profoundly. Without them, many of us would be lost and should the cops step in and alter such an integral part of festival life, I believe people would be equally as distraught. Drugs, although illegal, are still an important part of festivals. We have demonstrated how their use remains possible, and should this be altered I believe it would completely change the whole scene.

Series Post 1: Festivals and Drug Use

Festivals. We’ve all seen archive footage from the Woodstock of 1969; images of free-loving hippies, tripping on acid and moving to the jams of the era. It was nothing but music, dancing, love and drugs. In fact, drugs played a large part at Woodstock and things might have played out a lot differently should they have been prohibited in accordance with the law.
Although over forty years have passed, you can still find these same scenes playing out at the festivals of today and ironically enough, you can even find the same drugs.
With that in mind, one might wonder, how drugs were first introduced to the festival culture and what it is about certain festivals that encourages people to so commonly use them. As a frequent festi-goer, I myself have even considered this from time to time. So, where does this story begin? Not surprisingly enough, it all begins back during the days of Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey.
According to an article by the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit, although festivals of many types, including popular music festivals, had been around since the 1950s, it was in the late 1960s that these developed into a focal point for psychedelic drug use. Advocates and frequent users themselves, Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey, helped bring drugs like LSD to the masses through their frequent “Acid Tests.” During this time, they had what they called “be-ins,” or gatherings in which all attendees would be given LSD in Kool-Aid. It was from these be-ins that the idea of festivals, like the one at Woodstock, were born.
What we are essentially saying is that festivals of this nature are a concept born from the use of LSD. What kinds of festivals are we talking about exactly? Were talking about festivals that are not only notorious for being free but also for bartering, self-reliance, self-expression, volunteerism, non-violence, love, etc.
It only seemed natural that LSD and other drugs continued to be used at such events. Other popular drugs at these festivals include; magic mushrooms, marijuana, alcohol and MDMA or ecstasy.
A recent study monitoring illicit drug use at music festivals in Australia, found that over 44% of young people between the ages of 16-29 had used illegal drugs at least once in the past month. Given that this study was done on a sample of only 5000 people this is still a fairly high number, and I would bet that if this study was done in the U.S., the results would turn out a lot higher. Most kids these days grow up being taught how harmful drugs are and how we should avoid them altogether. With such education, why is the number of users still so high?
This can be attributed to the fact, that at festivals drugs are not viewed as a bad thing. Sure, people recognize the harm that they can do to our bodies, but for the most part they are used to explore the mind and to have new and profound experiences. Most festival attendees use drugs like LSD, mushrooms and ecstasy to enhance their festival experience. There are arts displays, light visuals, and music; all of which can be significantly enhanced and much more appreciated by the use of these drugs. It doesn’t end there but they are also used to explore the inner depths of the mind, often times leading to intense conclusions about oneself and the world around us.
It is safe to say that for the most part drugs are used in a positive way at festivals; nonetheless there is always a negative side. There are always the people who use too much, people who develop habits, and there have likely been deaths attributed to over drug use. Good or bad, it still doesn’t take away from the fact that most of these drugs being used are illegal. If this is the case than how are these drugs so commonly used, and should something be done to reduce the amount of drug use? How might avid festival attendees react? Valid questions, all of which we will continue to explore. 

We’re Home!

A thought from the former burner, Meg Rutigliano:

I like to think of burning man, as a family reunion.

Meg isn’t the only burner who feels this way, it is a thought shared by most burning man attendees and by most festival goers in general. Sure a festival offers opportunities to listen to great music and view amazing art displays, but most will agree that the best part about attending music festivals and other festivals similar to burning man, are the people.

When I arrive at a festival, or whatever particular event I am attending at the moment, I have made a habit saying “We’re home,” and this is in large part due to the people. Over the course of my festival attending ‘career’ I have met some of the most amazing people.

The thing about festivals, is that people are very open minded, loving and genuine, therefore it only takes one moment or one connection and you will have likely made a life long friend. There have been times when I have met somebody just in passing, and we wind up spending several hours in each others company. By the end of the day, I have made a really great friend. It is a beautiful and very rare thing.

As one attends more festivals you begin to recognize the same people, and meet up with friends you’ve met at past events. What this creates is a sense of comfort and home. I am generally one in a crowd of thousands, yet I feel just as safe and at ease as I would in a crowd with only my close friends. I can honestly say that in all my life I have never had any other outlet in which I could completely be myself and feel so comfortable and secure and this is because over time frequent festi-goers become a family of sorts or as Meg puts it:

A very colorful and vibrant family.

Which in all reality is the best kind of family.

The Rainbow Gathering

With a name like the Rainbow Gathering, one would assume that it is just another hippie festival, encompassing all the general characteristics of festival life, but it is in fact much different than many of the other festivals discussed.

The Rainbow Gathering was first held in 1972, and is held annually in the United States from July 1st through the 7th every year on National Forest land. This festival is put on by the Rainbow Family of Living Light, put simply the Rainbow Family. What makes this festival different is that the Rainbow Family, as stated by its members:

Is the largest non-organization of non-members in the world.

What this means is that there is no official leaders, no formal structures, no official spokespersons, and no membership. The only requirement to be apart of the Rainbow family is a belly button, but even this isn’t a real requirement. Principles that are characteristic of all rainbow members and rainbow gathering attendees include; love for the earth, peace, diversity, respect for others, volunteerism, etc.

Another factor that makes this festival different from others is the idea of non-commercialism. Rainbow Gatherings do not require the purchase of a ticket for entry, and the use of money to buy or sell anything is taboo, therefore a bartering system is generally used. In fact, snickers bars have emerged as a semi-standardized unit of exchange at some gatherings.

Every summer tens of thousands of people go to a different U.S. National Forest, where a temporary city is created in the wilderness. These cities come complete with kitchens, plumbing, medical care, and childcare, all thanks to the endless supply of volunteers and donations. The only comparable event is burning man, yet the Rainbow Gathering lacks the extremism of burning man, and even burning man requires ticket entry.

It is safe to say that the Rainbow Gathering stands alone when it comes to festivals. It is one of the few completely non-commercial festivals that remain, it is also one of the few that is put on by a non-organization and generally relies on word of mouth and the good of people. The Rainbow Gathering has stayed completely true to it origins, and I respect this. Although I have never been to a Rainbow Gathering, I still consider myself part of the rainbow family, belly button and all.

Hippies: A History Lesson

Hippies. We throw around this word in reference to the drug using, long-haired, music loving people of the 1960’s or even of today’s day and age. But what does being a hippie really mean? Although a light-hearted and generally carefree people, the true definition of being a hippie lies much deeper.

According to an article by Skip Stone on hippy.com,

Being a hippie is a matter of accepting a universal belief system that transcends the social, political, and moral norms of any established structure, be it a class, church, or government. It is a philosophical approach to life that emphasizes freedom, peace, love and a respect for others and the earth.

The hippie movement in the United States originally began as a youth movement in the early 1960’s and rapidly grew to an established social group by 1965. This was a time of standing up for your beliefs, mind exploration and sexual revolution. Many during this time, especially young adults between the ages of 15 and 25, found these ideals appealing. It was a step outside societal norms, it was something new, which led to the rapid subculture growth.

Some would say that the hippie movement like that of the 1960’s has fizzled out, but it is still alive and well today. Not only are the legacies of this movement still apparent in many aspects of today’s society, but there is also a modern hippie movement occurring.

Some things that the hippie movement left its mark on includes; religious and cultural diversity, a wide range of appearances and clothing styles, frankness regarding sexual matters, interest in naturals foods, herbal remedies and nutritional supplements.

Although less apparent, there is still a hippie movement occurring today, what some call the modern hippie movement or the neo-hippie movement. This movement doesn’t differ much from that of the 60’s, except general political activism has turned largely towards environmental activism. Over recent years, an increasing amount of people have noticed the fragility of our environment and how we are on the brink of destroying it forever. In response, we have seen an increase in environmental activism comparable to the activism of the original hippie movement. Aside from environmentalism, many of the core ideals like peace and love remain the same. I believe that in time, the modern hippie movement will reach the size of the original and people will

Once again let their freak flags fly and become all they are destined to be.


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