One of the most notable trends in music today is the growth of the music festival. As artists look to supplant revenue lost from declining sales of recorded music, music festival appearances serve as a way to attract new fans and earn money through live performances. The result? People are flocking to festivals in droves. A recent Eventbrite study showed music festival conversation is up 34 percent. In 2013, Ultra Music Festival in Miami smashed an attendance record when 330,000 people showed up.
Music festivals aren’t always just for listening, though. To some, music festivals are a time to get away from life, to party with friends, and to experiment with a wide range of illicit drugs.
Sometimes, these experiments have disastrous outcomes. A Billboard article in July 2014 tallied 15 deaths at music festivals at that point in the year. Not all were attributed to drug use. But that’s not to say drugs at festivals can’t be fatal – quite the contrary.
Though most concert operators go to extensive lengths to ensure a safe environment for festival-goers, attendees who abuse drugs or alcohol during extreme heat or for extended hours put themselves at a high risk for a medical emergency.
We took a look at Instagram to see which drugs are a part of the social conversation at music festivals. Though not everyone is going to Instagram their drug use at these festivals, we wanted to get a glimpse into which substances and festivals were most popular as well as if specific drugs were favorites at certain events.
Here, we see which festivals were featured in the most Instagram posts. Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) had the highest number of Instagram posts of any of the festivals, with Ultra second highest. Why did EDC and Ultra lead? Whereas most festivals take place only once, big-brand festivals such as EDC and Ultra occur in several locations around the world each year. So while EDC Orlando, for instance, may not have had more posts than Summerfest, the combined number of EDCs led all festivals in terms of posts by sheer volume.
Also, certain festivals lend themselves to Instagramming more than others. Burning Man, for instance, is a festival that takes place well outside of an urban area and associates itself with values that might encourage people to put down their devices during their stay. Conversely, Ultra takes place in the heart of Miami and other cities and is a premiere event for electronic dance music (EDM) culture, which has many young fans who are big on using social media sites such as Instagram.
Again, EDC leads the way in terms of Instagram posts mentioning substances, totaling 40,409 posts compared with Ultra’s 17,148. Considering how many EDC-branded festivals occur each year, their lead in total posts is no surprise.
Examining a percentage of how many festival-related Instagram posts are about substances reveals a new leader. Marley Fest (AKA 9 Mile Music Festival), the festival with the lowest total post count in the study, leads in terms of percentage of posts about substances. Of the posts mentioning Marley Fest, 11.6 percent of its posts involve substances. After Marley Fest, the KISS Country Chili Cook-Off had the second most posts with 5.96 percent, followed by Summerfest with 3.62 percent, and then EDC (a smidge behind) with 3.61 percent.
Alcohol was the most-posted substance in the study, with 31,149 mentions. Coming next was MDMA, or Molly, with 25,605 posts, followed by marijuana with 9,705, and cocaine with 4,779. Other mentions of general terms, such as “drugs” and “tripping,” combined to be the fourth-ranked substance in our categories with 6,488 posts.
Here, we get a picture of which substances were most prevalent at which festivals.
You might expect MDMA to be the most popular drug at many of these festivals, but as you can see, that’s only true of EDM festivals such as EDC and Ultra. But the sheer volume of posts coming from these two festivals is largely responsible for MDMA’s position as a top Instagram drug at festivals.
Regardless, alcohol is still the most popular, and at music festivals geared toward indie rock or other types of music, alcohol was the most-Instagrammed substance. Even for Holy Ship!, an EDM festival, 60.12 percent of substance-related posts were about alcohol, making it the most-mentioned substance.
We can also see Marley Fest, which led the way in percentage of substance-related posts for all festivals, has an insanely high percentage of marijuana posts — with 82.04 percent. In addition, the KISS Country Chili Cook-Off, a country music festival in South Florida and runner-up in percentage of its substance posts, had the largest percentage of alcohol-related posts – 90.26 percent of substance-related posts mentioned alcohol. Summerfest, a rock and hip-hop festival in Wisconsin was not far behind, with 87.02 percent of its substance-related posts pertaining to adult beverages.
When breaking it down by substance further, we see exactly how high these percentages are as we look at which festivals were hotbeds for certain substances on Instagram.
EDC and Ultra were the epicenters of MDMA posts, with 42.99 percent and 37.68 percent of those festivals’ posts mentioning the popular party drug. Coachella took top billing for cocaine-related posts, with 12.39 percent of posts mentioning this addictive stimulant. General drug terms (such as “tripping” and “drugs”) were most common in posts from Camp Bisco (14.94 percent) and Tomorrowland (14.57 percent).
When it came to posting about psychedelic drugs such as mushrooms and LSD, Burning Man was the top festival for both. The weeklong Nevada event was also the top festival for posting about crack cocaine, DMT, and mescaline.
Here, we look at the top 10 festivals for substance-related Instagram posts in two categories: alcohol and drugs. The KISS Country Chili Cook-Off had the most posts about drinking. Surprisingly, Holy Ship! took the No. 4 slot. A popular EDM festival, Holy Ship! would seem to be a candidate for numerous MDMA posts, but numbers show otherwise. On the other side, Holy Ship! doesn’t even place in the top 10 for Instagram posts about marijuana and other drugs. Another trend we noticed? Festivals leading in posts about marijuana made up six out of the top 10 in this category.
Though drug use may be a favorite music festival pastime, unfortunately, a lot of risks are associated with it. In the music festival setting, taking recreational drugs carries a heightened danger. Because attendees are outside in direct sunlight for most of the day, overheating and dehydration can become a problem in addition to the other physiological effects created by substance use. Unfortunately, it’s not surprising to hear about a tragic loss of life due to drug use at music festivals.
But it does pose a question: Why are so many people fixated on turning their music festival experience into a drug-induced blur?
DJs who perform at some of these festivals, such as Kaskade, Steve Aoki, and A-Trak, have attached their names to PSAs encouraging festival-goers to either exercise caution or abstain from using drugs altogether.
“No need for substances when you allow yourself to experience every moment in complete awareness.” – Coachella attendee
“Who said you have to be drugged or drunk to have a blast!??!” – EDC attendee
“I went for the very first time sober and I enjoyed every moment I was there. The music, the vibe, and the people. It’s like a new world that opened up to me where you can be yourself without other people judging you.” – Unspecified festival attendee
“HYDRATE, EAT, SLEEP, RAVE, REPEAT. Chill with the drugs. I’m a sober raver and I always have a blast.” – Unspecified festival attendee
“I’ve been going to events sober for the past year and I love it! Music is what moves me for those 12 hours. Music is my drug. No need for all that other shit.” – EDC attendee
One shouldn’t need drugs and alcohol to have a good time – in fact, feeling like you’re unable to enjoy yourself without substances could very well point to a larger problem. If you or someone you know is struggling with drug addiction or is worried about potential substance abuse problems, there is hope – help is available. Call us at to speak with a treatment support professional who can help you get started on the path to recovery today.
We scraped Instagram for over 3.6 million posts mentioning 14 different popular concerts and festivals to determine the percentage of posts that contain public mentions related to various intoxicating substances like “Alcohol,” “Marijuana,” “Ecstasy,” and many others, including 61 popular terms associated with said substances. Substances with under 100 mentions between all festivals were excluded from our results, and terms referring to the same substance have been combined. A full list of the substances we collected can be read here. All posts were collected during the month of March 2015, using the Instagram API.
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