Millions of people around the world go to music festivals each year. At one time, they were seen as encouraging heavy drinking and drug-taking while providing poor facilities and bad food. But now organisers are more focused on festival-goers’ wellbeing.
“The music is great, it’s educational and it’s therapy,” says Marta Pibernat, from Catalonia in Spain.
“But we do end up drinking more than we should,” admits her friend, Patricia Torne, who is also from Catalonia, but lives in the UK.
This was in rural Wiltshire, in southwest England, where the two women and several hundred other people had just taken part in a 90-minute yoga workshop.
This was the Womad world music festival, where performers such as Macy Gray, reggae star Ziggy Marley and Malian singer Salif Keita were performing over the four-day event to a total of 39 000 people.
There were workshops, talks and therapies, along with exotic and familiar foods.
While others were enjoying gong bath others were enjoying reflexology and inversion therapy are all on offer.
Patrons enjoying gong bath lay down on their backs on a couch while two therapists gently bathed them in the sound of their gongs.
“It’s extremely pleasurable and relaxing,” said one of the
of the 30-minute session, which cost £40.
“I used to go to dance music festivals, which are not necessarily good for your health,” he added, referring to their reputation for drugs and overindulgence.
The health benefits of listening to live music are borne out by studies.
“We found that going to concerts significantly reduces the levels of the stress hormone cortisol,” said Daisy Fancourt, associate professor in epidemiology at University College London.
They took saliva samples from people attending a classical and a pop concert to compare stress levels.
“Both groups were biologically calmer afterwards. That suggests it’s more about the event rather than the type of music.
Her studies also found that going to live music events could help reduce the risk of developing depression and preserve cognition in the over-50s.
But not everyone has a good time at festivals.
“If you aren’t enjoying it and everyone else around you is,
that could make you feel worse,” said Dr Chris Howes, the founder of the
charity Festival Medical Services (FMS).
“That ’ s why we have psychiatrists and mental health nurses on site and work with welfare services,” he tells me in the medical tent at Womad music festival.
Using volunteers, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists and paramedics, FMS now also works at 11 other UK festivals, including Reading.
“At Reading, you get a lot of young people who are away from home for the first time,” said Dr Howes. “Sometimes they just need a cuddle.”
He said that around 10 percent of the cases they deal with at festivals involve mental health or psychiatric problems.
“We see all the medical conditions you would expect in life from cardiac arrests to burns from barbecues and fires, to sunburn. We see an upswing in stomach problems towards the end of festivals as food people have brought starts to go off.
“I’ve delivered one or two babies in caravans at Glastonbury in the past and a festival is not an ideal place to have a baby,” Dr Howes added.
He said they see relatively few drink and drug-related problems