Just last year, popular American music festival MusicfestNW cooked up quite the controversy by charging premium rates for water. The Sherp dissects the situation. 

When looking at music festival as mini-universes that sustain themselves for a limited number of days, certain assets fall into the purveyor of being a luxury, while some fall into the category of being necessities. The latter is composed of things that are detrimental to the smooth running of a music festival. Of those that occupy this distinctively important role, water is one that ranks high. That water is instrumental to life as it is, is a given. But with the number of people turning up at a music festival, water is not just a medium of hydration, but also one to ensure hygiene.

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Last year, during its 2014 edition, MusicfestNW, held at Waterfront Park in Portland, Oregon kicked up quite the storm by assigning water a premium position. Not only were there no free water-filling stations as is a growing trend among festivals pitching for environmental conservation, but vendors around the festival arena was banned from making sale of any water bottles. Instead, water could only be found at the festival’s official drinks stations, priced at an exorbitant $2 a bottle.

As koin.com reported

The festival’s website warned(not once, but twice) it would be banning “outside food or drinks,” though no mention of water bottles was made. Despite the omission, people’s personal water bottles were seen being taken and emptied at the gates.

And while ice cream and KIND bars were given away as free promotions, no water fountains were anywhere on the grounds. No water at the handful of food carts that dotted the MFNW midway either.

In fact, water could only be purchased for $2 a pop at the event’s eight official alcoholic and non-alcoholic bars.

About eight hours into a sweat-soaked 85-degree day, a worker inside the MFNW First Aid tent said they’d been kept busy much of the day. When asked if anyone had passed out, she answered with a simple, exhausted “yes.”

As most news pieces would, the story blew up on reddit, with one peanut vendor cheeky with his bunch of water bottles, by giving them away with highly-priced peanuts –


As many redditors analysed, it was a clear case of the festival trying to commodify water to reap some profits off of it, and as koin.com reported, there were multiple cases of dehydration caused by the same. One redditor chose to explain the problem most effectively –



While the issue was explained, what was left to be quite obvious was the monopoly withheld by the festival, with no regard for the attendees’ health concerns.

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Now, as mentioned above, festivals, as pure service providers, can get away with luxury items. Several festivals, from Sweetlife to Coachella have gourmet food sections with food priced expensively. Which is alright, because they make sure to provide for food that is affordable for people unwilling to spend. Unfortunately for festivals, and fortunately for us, water can never be a luxury item. If you wish to organise a festival that seems smooth sailing, and no casualties, abundantly available water tops the list. Several large festivals are employing the use of water stations so people can avail water for free. And when sold, the water is kept minimally priced so it can be easily affordable at all times.

As on redditor pointed out, one festival (it was Coachella) had a brilliant idea for free water service

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Of course, the wastage of plastic water bottles too is a genuine environmental concern, as many large scale festivals generate literally thousands of used bottles after a festival.

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Below, we have a certain list of dos and don’ts that festivals can keep in mind regarding their water services – 

1. Water Stations are the need of the hour: 

Free water and available water camelbacks are absolutely important. A festival, by itself generates enough waste on its own, and its important to minimise that as much as possible. Plus, a water station guarantees water conservation, as instead of abandoning unused water bottles, most people take their bottles back with them.

2. Perks for water conservation

In an ideal world, people would save water because they must. But like Coachella above, festivals can offer various perks to people in return for saving water in some manner. Incentives work.

3. Flexible rules

People should be allowing to bring in their own water. Festivals must understand this anyhow. While we understand the banning of food and intoxicants, water is a necessity, which frankly, the more there is, the better.

4. Low price

This does not require an explanation. It better be some wine-tasting exotic syrup for it to be that expensive. Most importantly, since it’s such a precursor to hydration, it must be cheap.