Just How Dangerous Is Coachella?

Categories: Coachella

Coachellafield-1.jpg
Photo Timothy Norris
By Andrea Domanick

On Thursday, Coachella attendee Kimchi Truong died after an apparent overdose. It's believed to be the first death tied to the giant annual festival since 2008 -- though the actual number is hard to ascertain, since the Riverside County Coroner's Office says it does not track them.

But as always happens when a young person ODs at a music festival, parents and onlookers alike are wondering: Just how safe are these bacchanals? Should they be shut down entirely? Or should we just be glad there aren't more fatalities?

See also: Kids + Drugs = The Coachella Experience

People have been dying at music festivals for as long as those events have been held, but the MDMA era and the rise of the popularity of electronic dance music (EDM) in the U.S. has drawn scrutiny to dance festivals. And, with its increasing focus on this genre, Coachella shares a similar demographic draw.

A pair of deaths at last year's Electric Zoo festival in New York prompted the city to shut down the gathering, while six fatalities have been tied to Insomniac's Electric Daisy Carnival festivals in Los Angeles, Austin and Las Vegas in recent years.

All were drug or alcohol related, though the two Vegas deaths happened under peculiar circumstances: A woman said to be under the influence of ecstasy jumped out of a window, and a drunk man was hit trying to cross the street outside the festival grounds.

At least seven fatalities were reported at music festivals in 2013, while Truong's passing brings this year's festival death toll to at least eight, after one fan was found dead at Miami's Ultra Music Festival in March. It was the second year in a row that someone has died at Ultra, which started in 1999 and was casualty-free before 2013.

Perhaps most shockingly, six people reportedly died of drug overdoses at the Malaysian leg of the EDM-focused Future Music Festival last month, prompting organizers to cancel its third day.

But dance music festivals aren't alone; the more rock-oriented Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee has seen 11 deaths since 2002, many owing to a combination of substance abuse and overheating.

Almost all of these festivals are massive undertakings, and most have made safety a top concern -- from increased security and medical tents to peer support teams and water stations. That Coachella has not had more deaths than it has is probably a tribute to the cross-platform teams who work to keep attendees safe.

It seems likely, however, that the popularity of MDMA-based drugs is correlated with the rising fatality count; as Dennis Romero has reported, it's not just "bad" ecstasy that can kill you -- it's any ecstasy. And it's almost impossible or the guards to stop kids from getting drugs onto the premises.

All of which is why we should probably expect more overdose deaths at festivals in the future, rather than fewer. At which point, we must decide as a society if we want to start shutting them down -- which seems problematic for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that it will likely just deflect the drug abuse elsewhere.

At this point, the burden of responsibility shifts to the individual users, and a culture that gives them their guidance. MDMA use continues to be glamorized -- we're sometimes guilty of this ourselves -- but the cost is beginning to catch up with us.


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18 comments
Andrew Creech
Andrew Creech

Maybe we should look at the Subway, too. Afterall, how many stoned and or drunk people have died down there? It's ridiculous to say a festival is dangerous over the stupid decisions an individual makes on their own. Taking drugs isn't the festivals fault, VV, that's on the person themselves. Even if some whacked out individual went on a murder spree at a festival, it's not the festival's fault, it's the individual's. You can hide in the corner of your apartment in fear of what could happen, or you could just go about your life. Shit happens, regardless of how "safe" you are. It's an unavoidable part of life. You're either grasping for straws for stories, creating negative publicity for an event you're not happy with, or just not too bright.

Cass Moore
Cass Moore

How do you know they're so bad if you haven't been? >confused

Michelle Accardi
Michelle Accardi

Cant trust people like you used to. Never know whats in drugs or who is watching your back.

Damien Pagán
Damien Pagán

the mortality rate at festivals it's really no more than that of every day life. people die. when you have tens of thousands of people partying their asses off in hot and humid conditions, it's going to happen. it's a wonder more people don't die at places like Bonnaroo.

GretavonOtto
GretavonOtto

0 deaths at Denver's 4/20 event, even with 80,000 people. Smoke pot, don't do hard drugs, please! 

Forrest Bennett
Forrest Bennett

After another article about Coachella, is it time to ask if the Village Voice is turning into CNN.

Kilo Riley
Kilo Riley

Cars are more dangerous then festivals. I think it is time we ask how much more dangerous? No more cars!!

Andrew Creech
Andrew Creech

And we're trying to blame an entire festival for a fatal decision made by an individual? Come on now. By that logic, we should close the NYC subways down. After all, a drunk guy fell on the tracks and died.

Jeffrey Becker
Jeffrey Becker

People also die from working, driving to work and driving home from work.

Nancy Queenofsheba Endy
Nancy Queenofsheba Endy

No more dangerous than a large professional sporting event where alcohol is being sold.

Dutty D Comedian
Dutty D Comedian

It isnt. Its the people who choose to put themselves in harms way.

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