REPORTS: Trashed and Abused: What’s Left After a Music Festival Ends

REPORTS: Trashed and Abused: What’s Left After a Music Festival Ends

Crowd at another Denver music festival – Riot Fest (photo by Barb Dye)

The summer music festival season is done. Last weekend’s Riot Fest in Douglas Park marked the unofficial close. Perhaps you would like to know what you left behind?

In July, at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park, for example, you left behind a coconut. It was last seen against a chain-link fence near Lake Street. It was coconut-shaped and resembled a coconut. Each day that goes by and you don’t collect this stray coconut, the odds of a happy reunion grow iffier. (To be honest, it’s probably long gone.) However, good news: If you misplaced the keys to your Lexus at Lollapalooza, the festival still has them. Along with the keys to a Jeep, a Volkswagen and two Hondas.

Also, someone left a dinosaur costume at the Electric Forest jam-band festival near Muskegon, Mich. At the Chicago Open Air metal festival, Adam Ross, a stagehand, found five shoes, “and not a single one of them matched, so maybe you try to figure that one out.”

It starts innocently.

At the onset of music-festival season, you carry with you mostly expectations, a hope for a cultural epiphany, an openness to new music and a promise to reunite with old favorites. You spend long, sweaty ecstatic nights dancing beneath the summer skies.

“And before you know it, you’ve lost all your (expletive),” said George Stavrakas, director of operations for Kleen Teem, an event-cleaning service in Chicago that has tidied up Pitchfork, Riot Fest and the Spring Awakening music festival at Soldier Field. “People walk through those festival gates and get hit with a vibe. They think they are ‘one’ with the festival. But roll around on the ground, and you tend to lose your wallet.”

To be specific, this past summer, between Pitchfork, Lollapalooza and Riot Fest — the three highest-profile Chicago music festivals — you left behind Louis Vuitton purses and bedazzled phone cases and high-school sweatshirts and GoPro cameras and fitness membership cards. Someone left half a hard-boiled egg at Pitchfork. At Lollapalooza, as Grant Park emptied of festivalgoers, among the left-behind was a birth-control pill case, shorn of birth control and twisted in a crumbled V.

At Riot Fest, you left behind a pineapple and a mascot panda head.

Between all three festivals, you left behind several sets of angel wings.

Of course, that’s not all.

At each of these festivals, you left behind garbage bins erupting with a cascade of bottles and cans and red cups and paper plates and wristbands and promotional postcards. What you couldn’t cram into bins you left on the ground. You left behind fields of bottles squashed so completely into mud the plastic curled inward like toothpaste tubes. You left cans crushed so deeply into the dirt the scene became archaeological. And at least in the short term, through a mix of weather, manners and multitude, you left behind unfashionably beige municipal parks.

Chances are, you did this because you felt a degree of entitlement, said Steven Corey, dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Columbia College, a professor of urban studies (and specialist in waste disposal). “We are socialized not to litter, not to leave stuff behind, and yet we buy a ticket to a music festival and in a way, we commodify our behavior. There is almost a privilege felt, that you abandon cultured behavior because you feel you paid for the right to let someone else worry about cleaning up after you.”

Even far from home, attending destination festivals, you left behind stuff: T. Boer, C. Knoff and K. Maehara, all of Illinois, you (accidentally) left behind your IDs at Coachella in California.

J. Pack of Illinois, you left your wallet there.
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“When I started this, cleaning festivals,” Stavrakas said, “I guess, yes, I was surprised. It’s one thing to have too much to drink and leave your wallet — you think it’s a freak situation. But you see this at every music festival, again and again. You know, it may not be actual garbage, but I have come across people having sex in a dumpster after a festival. On two different occasions, actually. They were left behind! It was awful.”

By Christopher Borrelli, Contact Reporter | Copyright © 2017, Chicago Tribune
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