The Laneway Festival hits Auckland today, where superstar acts such as Florence and the Machine and Jorja Smith will perform to party-hungry Kiwis.

In the coming weeks, you'll also be able to dance the day away in the sunshine to the likes of Fatboy Slim, Sigma, Peter Urlich and Bevan Keys. If you're heading across the ditch, festival season really hits its stride in the next month with massive international events like Ultra and Mardi Gras.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, music festivals are some of the most difficult risks to insure in the world. They have to mitigate not just against bad weather possibilities, but also cancellation, terrorism, workers' compensation, and general liability for everything from slips and falls to alleged rapes, assaults, and false arrests.

Music festivals aren't the safest public events, and every attendee needs to keep their wits about them.


The ubiquitous presence of drugs and alcohol at festivals is the most well-known danger. It's naturally the reason festival insurance policies are so costly – there are instances every year of overdoses, seizures, and deaths.

Any drugs are obviously dangerous, but there's an even bigger risk in dodgy drugs being sold to partygoers that aren't what they're supposed to be and are cut with poisonous fillers. I have various problems with recreational drug-taking but must still offer this advice to anyone who will inevitably want to drop a pill or two at festivals: if available, use pill-testing sites.

A legal grey area which is highly controversial in New Zealand and Australia right now, pill-testing is offered here at festivals by KnowYourStuffNZ, a volunteer group which helps recreational drug users make an informed decision about what might be in the pill in their pocket. DIY drug-testing kits are also available, and while none of these are failsafe, you're still safer doing them than simply popping a pill somebody passes you on the dance floor.

Be sure to stay around a group of people you trust. Photo / Getty Images
Be sure to stay around a group of people you trust. Photo / Getty Images

As for alcohol, you may think you know the risks of drinking, but they are heightened in overly crowded environments like festivals. The first thing to worry about is dehydration – all that sun, beer, and sweating is a recipe for disaster. You have to drink a lot of pure water (not fizzy drinks, energy drinks, juice, etc – just plain water) in order to mitigate the dehydration risks. Applying the "one (alcoholic) drink, one water" policy is a wise strategy. Conversely, you should also be aware of drinking too much water if you're taking drugs like MDMA.

Your physical safety must be considered at festivals as well. You are always at risk of being separated from your friends or lost – not an easy thing to rectify when mobile networks overload and phone batteries die – so always have a mutual meeting place to check-in with your friends if danger strikes. Chill-out zones are always available and are an easy fix.

You must protect your ears – 12 hours of thumping beats make a good case for earplugs and your skin with sunscreen (and constant re-application to avoid the next-day lobster look). Fights, assaults, trampling, groping, drink-spiking, and rape also occur at festivals. It's vital to surround yourself with people you trust, who will look after you, as you will them.

Diseases and infections are a worry at festivals too. Whether from unhygienically-prepared food, sharing bottles and cups, the lack of hand washing, or sex with strangers, going to a festival means you're going to be exposed to pathogens. Your immune system is there to protect you, but smart festivalgoers know that hand sanitiser is a must, as is being cautious about what food you buy (I always stay away from meat products at festivals) and ensuring condom use.

Other health risks to consider are medical-related – if you need your asthma inhaler, antihistamines, or regular medication, make sure you pack them along with band-aids and other sundries.


Finally, and I know this sounds unlikely for a country like New Zealand (perhaps more relevant if you're attending Australian events), terrorism is a real danger at festivals. You never know when New Zealand will have its first unpredictable lone-actor attack. From vans driving into crowds to shootings to bombs going off, these acts are our reality when attending public events in the 21st Century.

When attending any music festival, report any suspicious backpacks, packages, or people, know where your exits are, and understand other fundamentals in how to prepare in case of a terrorist attack.