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Rave Safe with the PLUR Angels: Interview with Stephen Haydon

Imagine the following scenario: One of the members in your group is drinking too much and alcohol is getting the best of them. They may not even be conscious for parts of the night, and you or another group member may have had to assist them in making it to their bed at the end of the night. Most of us have been either the friend, intoxicated person, or seen this happen at one point or another. What happens if you don’t have a friend with you or they are unsure how to help? That’s where PLUR Angels come in.

The organization has worked with companies such as The Do-Lab, Goldenvoice, LED Presents, and Another Planet Entertainment at their events. I was able to talk with the executive director, Stephen Haydon, on how their organization is able to help the rave community at events throughout the California region.

What is PLUR Angels?

PLUR Angels is a peer-to-peer harm reduction program, which utilizes volunteers to support health and security services, as well as community outreach, to participants at music events and festivals. Our volunteers are equipped with basic safety items and remain mobile for the duration of the event. We are able to observe and report potentially harmful situations to event medical staff and security. We facilitate a familiar community and a positive experience for the attendee which further ensures their satisfaction and safety.

How was PLUR Angels created?

PLUR Angels was created after we identified a need for harm reduction in the EDM community. After seeing Burning Man Green Dots, and Insomniacs Ground Control teams, we were inspired to create a non profit organization that can service all EDM events and festivals. We walk the festival grounds and serve as the eyes and ears looking out for potential medical issues or just providing whatever help an attendee may need.

What has been your favorite experience while working?

One time at an event, we were walking around the venue and came across a group of friends sitting down together. One participant in particular was lying on her boyfriend and had her eyes closed. As we walked up to them, we asked if she could give us a thumbs up. The boyfriend said that she was fine, she was just closing her eyes. I had the feeling something was wrong, so I asked one more time just to be 100% sure she was okay. As he shook her to try to wake her up, she didn’t respond. Immediately the boyfriend started panicking, calling her name over and over again trying to get her to open her eyes. We called medical over the radio, and stayed with the participants until they arrived. Later that evening, the boyfriend came up and thanked us for checking on them. This is one of my favorite experiences because in a seemingly harmless situation we contributed to saving his girlfriend’s life.  

Do you have any advice for everyone wanting to stay safe while at shows?

If you are at an event and identify someone who may need help, please stop and help them. Find the closest security guard, medical staff, or PLUR Angel you can identify. We are not there to get anyone “in trouble”, we are there to make sure everyone is safe.

Also, educate yourself before you get to an event! Connect with the organizations providing information about drugs and sexual health beforehand and then you and your friends can be better informed and stay safe.

What are the best things the industry is currently doing to prevent harm at concerts and raves?

Festivals are starting to take a more developed approach to harm reduction by endorsing peer driven organizations that are relatable to the participants other than uniformed personnel. For example, Insomniac has a program called Ground Control and Burning Man has the Green Dots. Insomniac is also working with an organization called the Drug Policy Alliance to produce Project #OpenTalk, which provides harm reduction information on drugs and sexual health topics.  DanceSafe does this as well, at many other events. And the Zendo Project provides peer support for people at festivals who are having a difficult time, whether it’s drug-related or not.

Why do you think the industry hasn’t adopted more peer driven harm reduction?

The topic of harm reduction is very broad. Most Festivals and events are obligated by law to have “public safety” efforts as part of their structure. This is generally defined as meeting specific requirements for the amount of medical staff, security staff, and involvement between the local counties fire and police departments.

However, peer-to-peer harm reduction is something that is a best practice and usually not required as part of the permitting process by the local agencies . While this is slowly changing in some cities, elsewhere convincing the promoters, venues, and event organizers to take initiative on peer driven harm reduction services is a challenge.

The battle of harm reduction in the event and festival community is something that we target on a daily basis. It’s up to not only the promoters and venues to take initiative on this effort, but also the responsibility lies in the participants and artists hands to advocate for peer driven health and safety services at events.

What cities can people get involved with PLUR Angel?

Currently PLUR Angels volunteer throughout California.

Are there any new plans for PLUR Angels in the future?

Expansion to Oregon, Washington, and Las Vegas are our next goals.

Lastly, what has been your favorite show you’ve worked and why?

I would have to say my favorite event worked would be Lightning in a Bottle by The Do Lab. They have the most comprehensive harm reduction services of any festival in the U.S. We have worked with them over the last three years, moving into our fourth, and the experience has been invaluable. Spending almost a week giving back to the community, as well as bonding with all of the other volunteers across multiple organizations, are moments that I’ll never forget.

If you live in California and want to get involved check out the link below, rave safe!

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