14. Festival Safety, Part One: Introducing an Urgent Collaboration with Women of the Bevolution

Starting an important discussion on festival safety and accountability; plus a beer to inspire perseverance.

It’s High Time to Demand Safety and Accountability at Festivals

“I’ve always had a mixed experience at beer festivals, anyway,” Kimberley Owen, aka @craftbeerpinup, tells me on a Zoom chat. “I’ve either worked festivals doing PR or I’ve worked the bar, and I’ve obviously been a guest, too, so it’s always a mixed reaction. It tends to depend on the clientele...here we have the CAMRA festivals, and for that type of festival, I guess I always go into it expecting to get a bit of shit as a woman...like the ‘Do you really like beer?’ ‘Do you really like stouts?’ ‘Do you only like fruit beers?’ or I’ll get interviewed by the press because I’m the only woman. It hasn’t been like that for a while, though...there was lockdown...and recently with things starting again, I went to a festival that wasn’t just beer but beer and other drinks and food, and I didn’t have any bad experiences at that, so I think I got lulled into a false sense of security.”

People, Kimberley and I both express in our conversation, seem to have forgotten whatever sense of social etiquette and what’s right they may have had during the pandemic. Now that some events are happening again and folx have been getting back to gathering at bars and pubs and breweries, it’s been a rude awakening: it’s like some people have pent up energy that they’re letting out in problematic, discriminatory, even dangerous ways. With this in mind and certain big festivals, in particular, looming on the horizon, Women of the Bevolution founder Ash Eliot reached out to me a couple of weeks ago with the idea to take a deep dive into the current state of safety at festivals...or the lack thereof. We got to work collaborating, and here we are at the introduction to a series based on interviews we both conducted and tons of research and ideation on Ash’s part. 

I touched upon the festival situation in an earlier issue of my newsletter, discussing my own both wariness and weariness of beer fests. Only a few weeks before that, Brienne Allan had started sharing the flood of accounts of sexism, discrimination, and abuse heard ‘round the beer world (and beyond). And a staggering number of those unacceptable instances had taken place at festivals. There’s so much booze and it’s so free-flowing and too many people—men—just seem to feel totally uninhibited. Until festival organizers figure out a way to ensure safety and security for all, do we really need to forge on with these events?

Well, forging on is exactly what most organizers are doing, and we need to hold everyone, from those organizers to participating vendors to fellow guests, accountable. And look, festivals can be a valuable source of revenue for everyone from breweries to food trucks to bands, so at the end of the day, it is indeed an outcome of safe festivals that is better and more desirable than an outcome of no festivals. I’m sure many of us love going to these events, from beer fests to music fests, just as there are many of us who work somewhere that will require us to be at fests. So, a safe, secure, and welcoming environment is the only way forward.

The Time for Improvement is NOW (If Not Yesterday!)

At this year’s BREW//LDN festival, which Kimberley attended after the aforementioned being lulled into a false sense of security, things were unfortunately not so safe and welcoming. I greatly appreciate Kimberley’s openness in sharing her experience, which she also got into a bit on social media more immediately after it happened.

“At night, as I was having conversations with different people, there were always men leering behind, looking thirsty...it just felt predatory. I’d taken a male friend...and it was like, whenever he wasn’t right there, they’d be waiting and they’d come up and say something then.

“Then I got a couple of DM’s when I got back to my hotel and they were just disgusting. Like, ‘I’ve been watching you at the festival,’ ‘You looked really sexy,’ knowing what I was wearing...it was vomitous.” Additionally, Kimberley says there were instances of men trying to touch her as they spoke to her—all in all, a completely unacceptable, upsetting experience that is just maddening—how can this still be happening? How can a woman not go to a damned beer festival and be guaranteed safety

Some of Kimberley’s female friends, too, told her that they experienced all kinds of general sexist fuckery, from microaggressions like male guests coming up to the brewery stands they were working and asking ‘Where’s your boss?’ to worse offenses. Someone, too, who works in the industry tried to invite himself back to Kimberley’s hotel room, which she says put her into a sort of state of shock.

As the hours and days after the festival unfolded, Kimberley found herself questioning her own actions. She had kept her wits about her even while enjoying some beer, she hadn’t worn anything too revealing...had she said anything to any of these men, especially those in the industry, to make them think they were at some greater level of comfort and they could speak to her that way? Kimberley also felt like she never wanted to go to another festival again. 

These questions and this kind of punishing ourselves for a gross injustice that has been done to us are par for the course. This is life for womxn. Men say these things to us, or even touch us, or worse—and we ask ourselves, what did I do? And, what did I not do that I should have? And often, we arrive at the conclusion that we just don’t get to go to festivals, or go to bars alone, etc., anymore. We ground ourselves because too many men too often get to do, frankly, whatever the hell they want.

This cannot be the experience. We are at festivals for a well-deserved day of fun, or because our jobs depend on it. I know I keep using the word “unacceptable”...but how else can you describe the fact that part of going to festivals for womxn just naturally includes being prepared to guard yourself, to be subjected to discrimination and danger, to turn on yourself if something bad does indeed happen because that’s who society has taught you to blame? 

BrewDog’s “General Mayhem” festival is happening this weekend in Ohio—don’t worry, we will so be getting to BrewDog in the course of this series. Ommegang’s Brite Vibes is going down September 4 and BottleRock Napa Valley is September 3-5. Riot Fest takes place September 17-19 in Chicago. Decibel’s Metal & Beer Fest is hitting Philly September 25-26, and LA December 10-11. Untappd is having a beer festival in San Diego October 1-3. Outside Lands is October 29-31 in San Francisco.

And that’s just to name a few. Honestly whether they should be or not considering the pandemic is another conversation but either way: festivals are back, baby. I’m going to go ahead and say that I certainly hope you are not attending BrewDog’s, ffs, but if you are attending any of these others, or literally any event whenever/wherever you are, or if you ever plan to attend a fest again—for fun or for work—this series is for you. Consider it like a festival in its own right, but one about SAFETY. I grant you that it may not be as fun as checking that 25th brewery off of your festival program or crowd-surfing to you favorite band, but it’s vitally important. And there are no lines for the porta-potties here.

Please stay tuned as we discuss: the specific needs we have from festivals and why, plus what we’d like to see happen; the organizers, guilds, breweries, unions, etc. who are making big strides toward significantly improved safety; those who are failing; and information on resources, how we can be safe, and how we can demand accountability.

Beer Tarot!

This week I pulled the Seven of Wands.

I feel like I pull a lotta’ Wands, but to review, this suit is about intuition, communication, and travel. The Seven of Wands in particular speaks to challenges and the courage and drive to face them.

Whatever obstacles you’ve been going up against, you’re starting to see how you can overcome them—those little buds represent new, sprouting ideas. And you’re striking your warrior pose, ready to use those ideas to squash those challenges and move forward with your journey to greener pastures. This card is all about having strength, determination, and perseverance: keep up the fight, and your work will pay off. This also applies to standing up for others, so could speak to charity, advocacy, or activism work you’re doing. In beer, specifically, maybe you’re, oh idk, fighting the entire overwhelming white male-dominated culture of the industry to rip it down and put equity, inclusivity, and safety for all in its place? Keep fighting.

I know I’ve already cited a Wild East brew before in reference to a tarot connection, but with beers named like this, how can I not? I love Wild East’s beer names because they’re super strong and bold and honestly kind of inspiring. So for the Seven of Wands, I’m recommending Fervor & Defiance, a Czech-style dark lager. Can’t you just feel all the fervor and defiance you need to fight your battles? Take a cue from dark lagers, who have fought their way back into popularity recently. I salute you, dark lagers.

This Week’s Boozy Reading Rec

Since we’re talking about festivals, a nod to one of the goofier elements of them: did you know where pretzel necklaces come from? I know your brother-in-law claims to have invented them in college, but unfortunately, Steve’s decision to focus all of his brain-power on drinking-related hacks in order to establish a legacy for himself was in vain. The legacy already belonged to monks who brewed beer in Germany during the 16th century. The 500-Year-Old History of Pretzel Necklaces Includes German Monks and Modern Derision by Jennifer Billock for Wine Enthusiast is full of fun facts about pretzel necklaces and their role at beer festivals, including how they’re even kind of…mating rituals. FFS.

Until next week, here is Darby having a blast lol at Three Notch’d’s RVA Collab House in Richmond.