Ultra Music Festival

General view of at Bayfront Park Amphitheater on March 30, 2014 in Miami, Florida.

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Typically, EDM crowds skew young. While EDM events have made headlines in recent months due to safety and security issues, Cory Meredith, president of major security firm Staff Pro, believes the genre gets a bad rap, and that EDM fests are not inherently more risky than other events, including those in metal, urban, or the “drunk cowboys” at country fests.
 
"Frankly, EDM is not that difficult to do, compared to a lot of other events," says Meredith, whose firm oversees crowd management for such events as Electric Daisy Carnival Las Vegas, HARD Summer, and Day of the Dead. "It's all about planning and carrying through with the plan. You have to know your audience, you have to communicate with performers and promoters, and you adjust your plan based on the demographics and culture of the music.”
 
There are certain truths, stereotypical or not, about fan behavior in specific genres, but each event is its own animal and is regarded as such by safety/security professionals. As the lines between genres blur, so does the behaviors associated with fans of these genres, and most mainstream festivals today touch on many different types of music. “It used to be you’d see this [behavior] with this type of show. Now we keep a really open mind, because we’re seeing just about everything,” Monzo says.
 
The perennial issues at music festivals since the ‘60s -- alcohol and drugs -- remain a challenge today. “Alcohol and drugs are prevalent in our society, we’re seeing it in the towns and cities, of course we’re going to see it at the festivals,” Monzo points out. “But the spotlight is on the festival world. The press is going to jump all over it when something bad goes down. You don’t see the same response when a kid has an alcohol or drug issue in the local town or city, because it’s so commonplace they don’t address it.”

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Messaging about drugs and alcohol and other safety issues routinely appears on festival websites. At the event, safety staff are far more concerned about helping someone having problems than heavy-handed enforcement. “At some of the festivals, we’ve gone so far as to put slogans on the back of the safety and medical shirts, saying ‘Hey, we’re here for you, we’re judgment free,’ because we don’t want them to be afraid to ask for help if they need it,” Monzo says. “The largest number of people you’re going to have staff-wise is your safety and medical people, and when they’re walking through the crowds and have stuff on their backs that says ‘Trust us,’ it helps. We would see kids bring their friends to the medical tents and in a lot of cases drop ‘em off and run, because they’re afraid. Our goal over the last couple of years is how do we build that trust amongst [music fans]. The signage and the shirts and the things we’ve done, we’ve got that message down, and the kids do respond to it.”
 
In many ways, festival-goers are self-policing, and Monzo sees many cases of music fans taking care of each other. “I definitely see a sense of community at the festivals, these kids do look out for each other,” he says. “Everybody should be taking care of themselves, but everybody should be taking care of each other, too. We recommend the buddy system, you come with somebody, you stay with somebody, you look out for that person. When everybody looks out for each other, we’re going to have a lot less problems.”
 
In general, Monzo believes festival producers do a good job of staging safe and secure events. “It’s in their best interest,” he says. “They’re in it for the long term, they want to build an event that’s going to go year after year, and if they’re experiencing issues either from local or state public safety agencies, or they get mounted pressures from the media if there are complaints, it can be a problem. We want to staff [events] so the kids have an enjoyable experience, and if they do have an issue, we’re able to treat it quickly and safely on site. If the person needs to go to the hospital we have adequate ambulances to get them there. The hospitals are all part of the process, as well, they’re included in the planning, they know what we’re doing, what to expect, what are capabilities are on site, and they know if we send something to them that it exceeds those capabilities.”

Like Monzo, Meredith believes effective crowd management begins with event’s producer, who must be willing to financially invest in safety. “We're fortunate enough to work with Insomniac, Live Nation, HARD, promoters who spend the money to do it right,” says Meredith, who adds that a safe and secure event does not come cheap. “It does cost money to staff these events correctly, and the promoters we deal with spend a lot of money to make sure [events are] managed correctly and professionally."