By Samantha Stallard, Director of Marketing & Business Development
The US experienced a hell of a heat wave this past weekend. About 157 million people were under heat warnings and heat advisories Saturday as daytime temperatures climbed into the mid to upper 90s (and feel like more than 100 degrees) from the Great Plains to the East Coast. The extreme heat, combined with heavy seasonal thunderstorms, caused delays and cancellations for festivals across the country.
New York City officials pulled the plug on the cultural festival OZY Fest this weekend, citing dangerous 110 degree temperatures and humidity in Central Park, where it was set to take place. In Chicago, the extreme heat affected turnout for the annual Pitchfork Music Festival, with crowds smaller than the 19,000 people expected. On Saturday, a thunderstorm blew through around 5pm, causing a 90-minute long evacuation and the canceling of two artists, Kurt Vile and Amber Mark; storms then repeated themselves on Sunday, causing another 90 minute opening delay.
Luckily, fans and ticket holders responded with understanding and praise of each events' transparency and open communication with guests through both email and social media. You can't fight Mother Nature and guest safety should always be prioritized over profit and production.
With record breaking temperatures expected to remain throughout the rest of the summer, festivals need to protect the health and safety of their guests with emergency plans for everything from extreme heat to torrential downpours. Here are three ways to protect your guests at your summer festivals:
1. provide Free water
This should be a no-brainer, but too many event producers want to make money wherever they can, even if that means 30 minute long lines to purchase $8 water bottles. Water needs to be as abundant and accessible as restrooms for your event guests, if not more so! Being outside is dehydrating even when you're laying under an umbrella at the beach, so think of the detrimental affect your guests' bodies are under while baking under the sun for multiple days in a row.
Bonnaroo, the annual four-day music festival in Manchester, TN, has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to water access for their guests. Many festival-goers camp out for the length of the festival and can either bring in their own water, use free onsite fountains or well water, and even pay $7 for a shower.
2. communicate consistently
The ever-presence of mobile devices really allows us to make every guest feel connected and cared for leading up to and during an event. When done respectfully and sparingly, instant communication to event guests can reduce anxiety and promote trust. Anytime weather changes guests’ itineraries, it helps to get in touch with them as quickly as possible, so they don't show up to a delayed or canceled event, or worse, put in danger.
Additionally, if you’re aware of traffic or transportation concerns (like an accident on the highway), a heads up to guests is always appreciated. Be as brief as possible while conveying all of the change information. Even when the weather is not a concern, it can be helpful to remind guests about presentation or event start times, where they can find catering or meals, or if there are any other delays.
3. Last resort? cancel
In 2015, Tomorrowland, an EDM festival in Chattahoochee Hills, GA, brought 190,000 fans to the sleepy town when heavy rain and flash floods hit. Approximately 40,000 festival-commuters from nearby towns were left stranded at the site with no accommodation or shelter, as organizers limited transportation services due to the horrendous weather and poor road conditions.
Follow OZY Fest's lead and cancel well ahead of schedule if the weather is looking to be unsafe. Better to make the announcement well before guests arrive, issue refunds, and take a loss rather than run the risk of putting your guests in harm's way. While its a bummer for them and extra work and stress for you, the alternative is so much worse.