16. Festival Safety, Part Three: Vetting & Accountability, for Organizers, Vendors, & Attendees

We're discussing how to make sure every participant at a festival is safe and dedicated to change; plus it's time to fall in love with beer again.

How to Make Sure You are Organizing, Working, or Attending a Safe Event

As Ash Eliot and I were starting to formulate the plan for this collaborative series on festival safety, we kept close watch on (among many others) the 2021 BrewDog Annual General Mayhem event. It took place August 28 in Columbus, Ohio, and Dr. Dog, Superchunk, and The Get Up Kids played. Ugh, I thought, every time I saw another social media post about the festival as the date ticked nearer. I like a couple of those bands, and I hated that they were playing a BrewDog festival. But I also know that chances were, no one in those bands had any clue what was going on with BrewDog. That was happening in Beer World, and they were in Music World. See, though, that’s the thing. That’s got to change. We know what a mess almost every industry is now, and it’s too easy to do even some light research and learn that, oh, the brewery whose festival you’re playing is an unapologetic (well, okay, a denying, empty-and-fake-apologizing, saying-the-words-advised-by-their-lawyers-and-then-doing-whatever-they-want-anyway) clusterfuck of misogyny, racism, transphobia, homophobia, and general disregard for basic human decency.

Music, beer, food, comedy, all of these worlds are interwoven, and rely on each other for the events that provide them revenue. With stats like the one from UN Women UK we mentioned last week, that “more than 7 in 10 women have been sexually harassed in the UK, and over 40% of women aged under 40 at a live music event,” it’s just absolutely impossible to stay in your bubble. You must make sure the people and brands you partner with are contributing to safety and equity, and not contributing to a stubborn environment of sexism, discrimination, harassment, and abuse. You should want your fans and/or customers to feel safe, but if you can’t muster that, think about the point Making Spaces Safer: A Guide to Giving Harassment the Boot Wherever You Work, Play, or Gatherauthor Shawna Potter made: “There’s a ton of competition in these industries and if we can shift from thinking that creating a welcoming and safe environment is an opportunity, rather than an obligation, it could easily attract more business from nicer customers who deserve leisure time and are willing to pay for it.” In other words, no one can afford to ignore the desperate need for safety for all, and they shouldn’t be able to.

What we need is for all moving parts of a festival to be on the same page in terms of values, beliefs, and practices. The organizers and promoters, the venue, the bands, the breweries, the food trucks: they should all be vetting each others’ reputations, and they should all have to sign a unified code of conduct. If any information comes to light revealing problematic behavior with any one participant, that participant should be promptly removed.

We’re starting to see different organizers do the right thing when it comes to holding participants accountable. All the way back in 2018 (does feel like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it?), Otter Brewery removed Wiscombe Cider’s “Suicider” cider off of its lineup for the Beautiful Days festival after a volunteer pointed out the obvious insensitivity regarding mental health. Singer BØRNS was cut from the 2018 Austin City Limits festival on account of his upsetting history of grooming and abusing underage girls coming to light. Just this summer, a DJ named STUCA was dropped by the organizers of Lost Lands, Bass Canyon, and Paradise Blue festivals after one of his victims came forward with extremely disturbing details of the DJ attacking her—this was followed up by other victims coming forward, as well. Additionally, other artists on the bill at UK festival ALT+LDN helped oust problematic duo Die Antwoord when they spoke out against having to perform at the same event as the racist, homophobic, abusive pair; and rapper Da Baby’s anti-gay rant got him booted from this year’s Governors Ball, Day N Vegas, Lollapalooza, and Parklife festivals.

We need to see more of this in craft beer, and promisingly, there have been a couple of good examples for others to follow this year. Brooklyn’s Interboro had had a Pils City pilsner festival planned for this June, and then Brienne Allan asked that fateful question about sexism in beer and the avalanche of horrifying accounts rolled in. First, Interboro immediately removed Modern Times and Tired Hands, named in the accounts, from the lineup. In the email to ticket holders, the brewery said it was still strategizing a good way forward. Ultimately, the event was canceled. “Our goal is to allow all our fellow breweries time to reconvene and work through the pervasive issues of sexual harassment and inequality in the brewing community,” the statement read.

Around the same time, Decibel Magazine announced the anticipated return of its Metal & Beer Fest, to take place September 25-26 in Philadelphia. Originally, Tired Hands was on that bill, too. Decibel’s editor-in-chief Albert Mudrian was responsive upon learning of the allegations made against Tired Hands and the brewery was dropped. I had recently taken over the magazine’s beer column at the time, and so got a bit of inside info on the process behind removing a brewery from a festival lineup—there are contracts, of course, which involve decision-making from the venue and promoters, too. (The grunt work is obviously never, ever for any reason an excuse to not remove a problematic brewery, band, or vendor for a bill, but it could explain why sometimes, we don’t see the change happen literally overnight. If you see an organizer taking too long to oust someone guilty of unacceptable behavior, though, ask questions.) Decibel also made good on removing Mikkeller from the LA Metal & Beer Fest, happening December 10-11.

I think Interboro and Decibel are good examples of festival organizers putting safety and values above profit, and of not being afraid to listen, learn, and put in the work to make changes, respectively. Organizers and festival participants alike need to get started on the path to learning, evolving, improving, holding everyone accountable, and guaranteeing safety for all. No more staying in your bubble: every industry has its own issues, and every industry relies on a myriad of other industries. We’ve all got to keep our ears to the ground across the board if we want a chance at working together for change.

This week, we’re talking about vetting and accountability. How can festival organizers ensure everyone on their bill is aligned in values and dedication to safety for all? How can bands, breweries, and other vendors ensure everyone they’re working with at a festival is on the same page as them? And how can ticket holders make sure they’re going to a safe event with safe vendors and entertainment, and that they’re not financially supporting anyone not devoted to improving safety and equity?

Vetting and Accountability for Organizers and Participants

The good news is that more and more every day, there are tangible ways to check that who you’re working with is aligned with your views regarding harassment, discrimination, abuse, sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. You don’t have to use your, like, vibe radar or something. 

I’ll use it again because it’s a great example: Brienne Allan and Ash Eliot’s Brave Noise beer collaboration is encouraging breweries that don’t already have codes of conduct to write them, and breweries that do have them to improve upon them. And then, those codes of conduct must be made public: staff, customers, and of course, festival organizers, fellow breweries, and so on can all access the same info. Last week, we dove deep into the code of conduct conversation, looking at different festivals creating or updating theirs, as well as at initiatives like Everyone Welcome that actually provides a template for venues and organizers to use as a code of conduct launchpad. The UN Women UK’s Safe Spaces Now initiative calls for all participants of events to sign onto a plan for safety for all, and you can keep an eye on who’s signed the open letter and started to put their own strategies into place. Basically, a code of conduct is a fantastic place to start when vetting any participant for an event. It’s a cold, hard plan you can read and easily enough determine if this is someone you can and want to work with.

There are also plenty of organizations, services, programs, and initiatives providing both third-party training and third-party accreditation to venues, organizers, etc. How easy is that? Just check to see if this participant or organizer is accredited, and/or if they are working with different initiatives and platforms. Again, last week, we broke down resources for safety measures like OutSmart NYC for bystander and upstander training; WeVow and #NotMe for safe, effective incident reporting; and soteria., Samaritans, and Festival Welfare Services for safe-space and on-site mental health services. This NME article is loaded with more. Girls Against, in addition to being a safe space for victims, helps venues and organizers implement guidelines. Gig Safe trains venue staff and sets up safe spaces on-site. Safe Gigs for Women works to get organizers and venues, bands, and participants both working toward safety and feeling safe, themselves. Good Night Out works with truly every aspect of event participation, venue staff, etc. on safety training. Before you work with someone, before you put them on your bill, before you agree to play or pour at a festival: see if they are working with any initiatives, if they’ve trained their employees, if they’re accredited.

You can do this the old fashioned way, too: check references. Do your own research—the internet is at your fingertips, after all. Read about whoever you’re considering working with from social media to Untappd to press coverage. Or—or rather, in addition to your own research, probably—ask for a list of references. Who else has this vendor or venue or organizer worked with, and what do they have to say about the experience?

Another important piece of this puzzle is making sure your own stance is well known. Obviously, you need your own code of conduct and safety plan, too. So, make sure everyone you’re considering working with reads yours, too, and think about adding the step of asking them to sign off on it. You could create a sort of contract based on your code of conduct, and anyone you work with or hire must confirm they’re on the same page before your partnership can begin.

This includes being vocal! Singer Alfie Tempelman wrote on Twitter, “Just wanted to let you all know I will never tolerate sexual assault / harassment at any of my gigs and you will be thrown out and banned from ever coming to see us if I see it happen. I also want to help share as many important petitions/ links, please comment if you have any.” Estella Adeyiri, member of band Big Joanie, is also on the board of Good Night Out, and tells NME that the band is very clear they won’t play any venues, festivals, or events that do not prioritize safety, equity, and inclusivity. Whether you’re a band, a brewery, a promoter, or a venue manager, if you have a public profile based on pushing for safety, that will make it that much easier to find like-minded people to work with.

Finally, stay clued in. And that can mean working with others. Look, life is hard and crazy and I get it if you can’t read every bit of news from every industry—that’s virtually impossible. But own that and open up and delegate. If you work in music, yes, you have to be aware of what’s happening in hospitality, for example, but you don’t have to be and probably can’t be an authority or expert on it. So, find someone who is to help you book the breweries for your festival. No one can know it all and get it all right. Your thing is bands; team up with someone whose thing is breweries.

And as far as the reading you can do: set up Google Alerts for musicians, breweries, music news, beer news. Visit sites like VinePair, Good Beer Hunting, and Brewbound to stay up to date on who’s working on what and who may have had problematic behavior uncovered. Stay in the know, work with people who are experts in their fields, make your beliefs and plans known, and ask to see the strategies and receipts of anyone you think about working with.

Vetting and Accountability for Ticket Holders

For anyone heading to festivals as a ticket holder, the route to both feeling safe and feeling confident you’re supporting people and organizations devoted to positive change is both vital and a little bit more straightforward. But first, I want to stress that when I talk about “how to feel safe,” I in NO WAY mean that it’s your “job” as a festival attendee—or tap room guest, bar patron, etc.—to cover your own safety. Women often have this laundry list of chores in order to attend a festival, like knowing where all the exits are, plotting out where people we know are working in case we need refuge, carefully choosing an outfit that’s not too inviting, and so on. This is not okay. It’s not on women to stay safe. It’s on men to not be predators and misogynists, and it’s on the people running the event to keep every attendee safe. 

That said, we’re in a period of change and growth and that can be messy. Until organizers are all doing right by us, we want to be able to enjoy ourselves at these events, and we can’t do that unless we feel safe. Besides, we also want to make sure that we’re not giving our hard-earned money to a brewery that doesn’t believe female employees and protects male employees after allegations come to light, for example. 

The biggest “hack” here is to stay informed. Just as I mentioned for people on the organizing side of events, read sites like Brewbound, VinePair, and Good Beer Hunting. Join craft beer Facebook groups and check in on craft beer Reddit threads and Beer Advocate forums. Honestly, those three channels could go both ways: they could provide information on breweries with a problematic history, or they could be places where problematic people go to tell on themselves. 

If you’re planning on going to a festival, you can check the event’s website for a code of conduct and make sure it jives with your own values and includes measures that will make you feel comfortable. What is the festival’s policy on harassment? What is their protocol if a band or brewery on their lineup is later found out to have a troubling history? In music, and in the UK, you can check the Safe Spaces Now open letter to see if a band or festival organizer has signed on (we need something like this in the US).

Watch Kimberley Owen’s IGTV Stay Safe Series at @craftbeerpinup. Follow @ratmagnet, @bravenoisebeer, @emboldenactadvance, @punkswithpurpose, @fanny.wandel, @britishbeergirl, @beer_diversity, @craftedforall, @beerisforeveryone, @womenofthebevolution, and @thedelightedbite (and also read all of Beth Demmon’s work), just to name a very few--these people and initiatives are tireless forces for good, and there are more. Keep an eye out.

And spread the word! Look, a lot of times, writing about what I write about here, I fear coming across as preachy. We’re all figuring this out together! And I’m sure when you’re sharing a beer with friends or family, you don’t want to spend the whole time discussing sexism, harassment, and the like. But we do have to do that for some of the time. It just comes with the territory now. Being able to enjoy craft beer relies on being part of its change for better. The same goes for music. 

My dad recently texted me a picture of BrewDog’s Iron Maiden beer, he was excited to have found it at a bar. My dad taught me about music, and I’ve been teaching him about craft beer, and even if they’re gimmicky, all those metal collab beers are something we love to find. I felt a half-second of hesitation: do I kill this moment for him? But, right away, I thought about what could happen if I didn’t. I’d know I allowed a beer lover to continue on, searching for and enjoying BrewDog beers. What if I ended up with a BrewDog mix pack for Christmas? So, I told my dad about BrewDog. He threw the can away immediately, disgusted and disappointed. But there are other good breweries making metal beers! And the thing is, you know the people you’re talking to, so you know how to fill them in on the current climate in an approachable way. 

We all need to keep this dialogue open. When you work in or love craft beer, it’s easy to forget that craft beer drinkers far from represent the average beer drinker. Most likely, your cousin and your college roommate and your co-worker, even if they love beer, have no idea about the industry’s reckoning with its own racism and sexism. If they follow any craft breweries on social media, it’s probably big accounts like Dogfish Head, so they’re still being peddled bullshit like the 99% of craft beer is asshole-free myth. Essentially, read, listen, stay tuned in, and talk about it. That’s how we shut out the organizers, breweries, performers, and vendors who aren’t prioritizing safety, and that’s how we get to a place where festivals are safe for all.

Next week, we’ll be wrapping up the series by recapping safety measures and listing resources. So, if you know of an organization, initiative, someone to follow on social media, or truly anything, please comment or email me or DM me!

Beer Tarot!

This week, I pulled the Three of Wands.

Okay, so we’re talking instinct, travel, and communication with Wands; in particular here, action and adventure. Ooh! That sounds exciting. Of course, both seem hard to attain in our current Age of Delta, but you could get a real thrill right from your couch by watching one of my all-time favorite documentaries, “Class Action Park.” People from New Jersey/New York know.

See how our dude is gazing at something in this card, and you can almost sense that he’s impatiently waiting for something? This card is full of passion, drive, energy, and yeah, itching for something big that’s about to go on for you. It could be a big project you’re launching, a wedding, a trip…some anticipated event or sudden burst of growth or positive change is about to happen, and frankly, you’d like it to go ahead and happen already. But it’s going to, so stay calm and bask in the knowledge that whatever this thing is, it’s good and you deserve it. This time is probably busy, like full of planning and meetings and emails, etc., but try to enjoy the sort of flurry of activity if you can.

I’ve seen some talk on #BeerTwitter about finding ways to fall in love with beer all over again if you’re feeling a little bored or jaded or burned out, and how a lot of that comes down to exploring or rediscovering special, rarer, or more time-honored styles. Like, if you’re just not feeling it with that 100th hazy or fruited sour, while it may sound counterintuitive, return to a blissfully simple lager and you’ll probably get excited about beer again. Once it’s a okay to do so in terms of the pandemic, I really want to hit all the places in Germany known for their own beer styles, for example. Channel the energy of this card to plan your own big beer trip, even if that just means working your way through different beers right in your own living room and reading up on them as you go.

This Week’s Boozy Reading Rec

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: Oktoberfest. And I mean that because of the beautiful, glorious, time-honored beers we get to enjoy, not because of the shit-show events put on around the world that inspire frat bros to don lederhosen and hoist steins until they stumble home. So, what a perfect time to read Joe Stange’s Oktoberfestbier: Brewing the World’s Most Famous Party Lager for Craft Beer & Brewing, an engaging explainer on the differences between Oktoberfest beers.

Until next week, here is Darby at Brix City with a four-pack of their excellent Extended Solo IPA.