If you've managed not to hear about the controversies of this year's edition of Moonrise Festival, you simply must not be listening. A staggering number of firsthand accounts from the Baltimore electronic music massive have emerged over the past several days which suggest that extortion, harassment and gross negligence had run rampant among the event's security staff.
As Steez Promotions' leadership went into damage control mode in the days following the festival, they made sparse public statements in regards to the claims. However, I recently reached out to Baltimore promoter and Steez Promotions Partner and Talent Buyer Evan Weinstein myself, and he set aside some time to talk to me about what the past few days have been like for him.
“I’ve only been in my house for about three minutes since two mondays ago" Weinstein told me over the phone earlier in the day. On Tuesday, he created an email hotline for attendees claiming to have been mistreated by security staff members. After opening the account inbox and taking a look with me on the line, he said that he'd gotten through roughly half of the 400 or so emails sent to him by attendees.
“It isn’t that much, but I’m writing personal emails back," he explained. "I’m reading every email and responding appropriately." From the emails, he's compiled a spreadsheet that, as of this writing, contains 99 separate reports, some of which resulted from more than one individual testimony.
The social media undercurrent of the situation has certainly not lightened his workload. In a number of online forums, Baltimore locals have asserted that many of the decision makers of "Sleazy Steez," as they almost affectionately refer to them, have turned a blind eye to the worst of the security issues.
Weinstein does not react lightly to the accusations. When confronted about them, he told me:
Obviously, we didn’t fucking know about it. No idiot is going to risk a multi-million-dollar business for some fucking security shit like this. It’s absurd. What I can tell you is this: I am personally handling the security issues inbox. I’m collecting all of the accounts and evidence - I have photo and video evidence; descriptions, nicknames and real names. We’re going through and I’m going to personally address every single issue myself. It’s going to get done right and responsibly.
The companies enlisted to provide security staffing for this year's edition of Moonrise Festival included CSS, Echostage, and 24/7 Security. Of those, Weinstein says that only a few minor complaints have fallen on CSS and none on Echostage, with the overwhelming majority of offenses having been connected to 24/7.
Weinstein claimed to have known one of the people running 24/7 for 15 years, but opted not to mention their name as of yet. All that he was willing to reveal about them was that they had reacted with just as much shock as he had after finding out about the sheer number of incidents that had taken place.
One point of contention raised by many, though, is that while the issues with security behavior reached a critical mass this year, they have gone on far longer. Former Baltimore promoter-turned author and activist John "Vibes", for instance, had reached out to us to air grievances in regards to his own mistreatment at the hands of Moonrise Festival security staff last year - and how Weinstein spoke to him in a personal conversation that followed.
During our interview, Weinstein addressed that as well, saying:
With regard to the conversation with John, I’ve always respected John. We’ve always had a good relationship. He brought some stuff up about it last year, but I never ridiculed harm reduction or harm prevention. We go about it a different way: water stations, EMTs, PSAs, onsite physicians and stuff like that. I think John’s a great guy, and what he does is great - he’s an author and a great activist - and it’s disappointing to learn that that’s what he took from the conversation.
At this juncture, it's hard to imagine a course of action that would undo the damage inflicted on the Moonrise brand. When transportation breakdowns during last year's edition of TomorrowWorld in Atlanta endangered festival goers, many still expected the festival to return - but earlier this year it came to light that it would not continue in 2016.
Business aside, Weinstein purports that the rigors of dealing with a festival catastrophe of this scale taken a toll on him as well. He continued:
We’re trying to produce good events that provide a safe environment, and for something like this to happen is devastating. I take it all personally. I myself wound up in the medical tent on day two and I needed a liter and a half of fluid because I was so run down from the event. It’s not like I’m sitting in a big office with my feet up on the desk smoking a cigar. I’m out here on the ground killing myself for the event. This whole situation is devastating for me.
Whether or not the media circus enveloping the 2016 edition of Moonrise Festival blows over anytime soon, it's safe to expect that Evan Weinstein and the other event organizers will have to wade through the aftermath far longer. With mishaps at more and more major festivals impacting those involved both behind the curtain and in the audience so negatively, at this point you have to question how much there even is to celebrate anymore.
Steez Promotions intends to issue a more detailed public statement in regards to reports of attendee mistreatment at Moonrise Festival sometime in the following week.