Breaking Down Electric Zoo’s Camelback Ban: The Difficulty in Accessing Water at a Festival

Breaking Down Electric Zoo's Camelback Ban
Electric Zoo, the annual Labor Day Weekend festival held on Randall’s Island in New York, recently made news waves with the release of the PSA that all ticket-buyers must watch before attending the event. We touch on the video here, and you can view it yourself and decide if it enlightened you or not. In light of recent news, one major takeaway from the video was the token “guy who ODs.” As the sweat builds up on the forehead and neck, one question we had was, where was the water to hydrate him? He won’t be finding it in the crowd this year at Electric Zoo, we’ll tell you that. Why? Because Electric Zoo has listed Camelbaks/hydration paks (even if empty) on its list of banned items for the festival this year.

We have all been there before. You’re in the crowd watching or waiting to see your favorite artist. You are just one person in a sea of thousands and thousands (more than 110,000 people at Electric Zoo 2012 to be exact) who attend each event. Some have been standing around you for hours in that exact same spot, others are fresh in the pile of people and holding onto the one thing that will make or break an experience: a bottle of water purchased on site. From my past experiences, I have been a little more timid to ask someone for a sip from their bottle of water, since it’s valuable and in very short supply in the middle of the crowd, but if I turned to someone with a camelbak and asked for a quick sip, I would always get a “go ahead.” It’s not PLUR, it’s common, human decency.

It’s so easy to jump to conclusions with drugs and camelbaks being linked, but what about the dangerous combination of alcohol (supplied at festivals) and the rising heat? There have been no movements to ban alcohol any time soon, so we cannot use the potential for attendees to put Molly in these bags of water, or whatever it is people use as crutches in arguments these days, anymore.

In order to get the most accurate information for this article, I looked up the weather last year for EZoo and those three days had a high of 88 and a low of 84 during the day…with camelbaks allowed. We know that extra precautions are going to take place this year since the passing of two attendees in 2013, but with temperatures reaching the mid 80’s again this year, not having the proper access to water will only end in more bad news.

Breaking Down Electric Zoo's Camelback Ban
After a festival these days, news outlets clamor for one thing come Monday: how many people died? It’s warped, but it gets hits and the outcome is always the same: let’s blame drugs, and usually, drugs are involved. But what about the other statistic that doesn’t end in the word “dead?” After the overdose of a man at a Mad Decent Block Party this year, the headlines read: “2 DEAD FROM SUSPECTED OVERDOSES”. If you went through the entire article, you would learn that 20 people were also taken to the hospital, with emphasis on “it appears that many of the cases are drug-related,” I wouldn’t doubt that some other instances were due to dehydration, but you won’t hear about that in the news story and there won’t be a toxicology report to reference. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that drugs that escalate a heart rate (MDMA, cocaine, methylone) plus hard dancing PLUS the heat do not equal a good time. And festivals should do their part as organizers to make sure that if camelbaks aren’t allowed, then there should be proper refill stations for water bottles. Seems logical, right? Except that’s not usually the case.

I’ll break it down real quick: you can bring a camelbak to Ultra, Coachella, TL & TW, LIC and Insomniac Events. They are not allowed at HARD Summer or this year’s Electric Zoo New York. Point blank, you can always count on an Insomniac event to have free water refill stations. If you bring an empty water bottle when you arrive, that is allowed in and then you can fill up as much as you want, camelbak included. Volunteers normally man the water stations at an Insomniac event and the outcome is a win-win. Since there are multiple hoses, the line moves fast and the possibility of missing an act isn’t stressed. Spring Weekend and Disco Donnie’s Sunset Music Festival used the same method for water distribution in 2014.

Breaking Down Electric Zoo's Camelback Ban
Then you have Tomorrowland and TomorrowWorld. Even though I have yet to attend the major festival in Belgium, the stories and Thump’s own review hit the nail on the head: climate change is real and festivals need to move with the times. Summer is the premier season to host as many musical gatherings as possible, so it seems, and it’s only going to get hotter as the years progress. This part of the review stuck out to me the most:

There are no dedicated water refill stations anywhere at Tomorrowland. Maybe when it’s a balmy 75ºF this isn’t so important, but with temps reaching a humid 90s this past weekend, it was ludicrous. Designated “fresh points,” adjacent to the odious toilets, hosted tables with communal bottles of body spray (which, based on the general fragrance of the crowd, was a pale substitute for deodorant) and sinks, meant to double as hand washing and potable water stations. 

TomorrowWorld was no different. After having exchanged my actual money for their “tokens”, I grabbed my eight water bottles (a very expensive purchase, since water bottles from the bar could cost up to $8 and from a vendor $4) and headed to the front of the stage because I knew if I didn’t stock up then, I would be out of luck. This goes into my next point, organizers should be using the security to help out with hydrating the crowd. I saw this being done at this year’s Mad Decent Block Party kickoff show in Fort Lauderdale, Fl. On both sides of the stage, near the speakers, were two 24-packs of water bottles. They were used by security at the front of the stage to hand out to the adventurous concertgoers who stuck it out and refused to move due to losing their prime location. These attendees should be rewarded, not hindered, and they were.

A water fountain that was pre-installed in the venue location does not constitute as a “refillable water station.” It just doesn’t. But some event organizers are content with these conditions. It doesn’t seem like a smart move to take so much care this year to make sure that EZoo will go off with better results, and ban a major piece of the positive puzzle. Realisitically, if you ran out of water from a bottle in the middle of the crowd and decided that leaving to fill up would be the safer alternative, it could take awhile to even get out of the mass of people around you. There are so many variables, that we implore Made Event (presenters of EZoo) to put camelbaks back on the approved items list and look at the bigger outcome at hand if access to water is difficult.

Update: After writing this article, Electric Zoo posted a status on its official Facebook account:


That might sound like an alternative in theory, standing around with free cups by the water station will kill time for sure, but last year’s map only had three stations. Hopefully more will be added this year since camelbaks are still banned. Below is the site map for 2013:

Update 2: This is the supposed 2014 festival site map from EZoo’s website…with one less water station from last year AND placed in very illogical locations.

Update 3: Artists and other influencers in the electronic genre have spoken out about the banned items.