It's freakin' hot outside, with more scorching temperatures than ever recorded before in many U.S. cities. Given that this is also the height of the outdoor-music season, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, the recent sweat-soaked heat wave-combined with thousands of fans jammed into open-air venues-is potentially a recipe for disaster.
During the July 4 holiday, many small towns around the country canceled their Independence Day concerts or moved them indoors because of a heat index that soared above 100 degrees and killed more than 30 people across half the country. More often than not, however, the shows went on as scheduled.
The good news is that the live entertainment industry, in general, is on top of the situation. Carl Monzo, president of National Event Services (NES), oversees public safety planning, security and medical operations at some of the largest musical events in the United States, including the last three Coachella festivals, all 11 Bonnaroos and most Phish fests.
Obviously, Monzo knows music crowds and how to best handle shows with blistering temperatures.
"Heat is a huge concern, and we constantly monitor the weather, looking to what we and the fans are going to experience," says Monzo, currently on the road with Phish. "It impacts not only our staffing needs, but also our supplies, like water sources, additional IV solutions, misting tents and shade tents."
At major events like Bonnaroo, with attendance topping 80,000, NES will hire about 250 people for the show and at peak will have about 85 of its own staff on duty. "We have doctors and nurses on [site] 24 hours a day, in addition to our EMTs and paramedics," Monzo says, adding that his aim is to cause minimal impact on the local community.
"Using Bonnaroo as an example, Manchester [Tenn.] has two local hospitals and they're not equipped to handle 85,000 people," he says. "If we sent every person with dehydration to the hospital, we'd completely overwhelm the system."
Fans are advised to arrive fully hydrated and stay that way, yet some still succumb to the heat and are treated by medics. "If a person comes in dehydrated, [how we help them] depends on which stage they're in," Monzo says. "If they're just overheated and sweating, maybe [treatment] is just getting them out of the heat and into a cooler setting to cool down their body and give them bottles of water."
Other fans are clearly beyond that point. "This may be day two or day three for them. They haven't adequately hydrated or taken care of themselves, so now they're at a point where simply drinking water is not going to be sufficient," Monzo says. "So what we're going to have to do is put an IV into them and a bag or two of fluid just to get them back to a baseline."
Monzo was with Phish recently at Alpine Valley in East Troy, Wis., and Deer Creek in Noblesville, Ind., two areas hammered by record heat. "We asked the venues to relax their standards at the gate, because most venues don't want [fans] to bring water in. They want to sell it," Monzo says. "We ask the venues during this heat wave, 'If a fan is bringing two or three bottles of water, will you let them in?' The venues are very accommodating when it comes to that. They understand it."
Monzo says he also ensured the pit area at both venues had five-gallon containers available so staff could provide water to fans. Venues offered free water at entrance points, adding misting tents for fans. As a result, Monzo was "happily surprised" there wasn't an uptick in heat-related fainting or other incidents at Phish shows last week. "If you give these kids guidance, they usually will follow it," he says, noting that the band tweeted about it hours before the concerts. "We tried to get to these kids before they left their hotels to make sure they were dressing the right way and utilizing whatever shade is available."
As far as on-site care, Monzo says he's pleased with the industry-wide response. "Everybody's on top of it and on the lookout, from the venue GMs all the way down to local security people. If we see somebody in trouble, we have a good communications network that makes sure they get help right away."