Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=223601
Story Retrieval Date: 10/25/2014 6:12:31 AM CST

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Photo courtesy of Lollapalooza staff

Crowds are tightly packed for every Lollapalooza festival. Medical experts say drinking enough water is crucial for to keep a  healthy rhythm through the fun-packed weekend of music.


Body rhythm - Party on with plenty of water at Lollapalooza

by and Lauryn Schroeder
Aug 2, 2013


Thousands of music lovers are flooding around the soundstages in Grant Park this weekend for Chicago's annual Lollapalooza - a carefree weekend of getting in the rhythm with some 130 bands. But body rhythm counts too. Medical experts warn to safeguard the excitement with sunscreen, water and some light, nutritious snacks.

“People can’t lose sight of their day-to-day maintenance just because they’re going out for a fun weekend,” said Dr. Eric Beck, assistant program director for Emergency Medicine at the University of Chicago Hospital. “It seems benign to sit outside and listen to music for six to eight hours, but it actually exerts quite a toll on the body.”

Beck said festival weekends commonly bring his emergency room to see a large influx of patients suffering from severe dehydration, sun fever, intoxication or all the above.

Medical tents, water stations and cooling locations are prominent in and around the Lollapalooza grounds each year, and festival goers can bring in their own sealed water bottles or empty water containers. But for some people the situation still gets out of control and caffeinated or alcoholic drinks are usually the culprits.

“I grab my friend and tell him that I’m going down, and I just pass out,” said Alex Clements, 24, of Colorado Springs, Colo., who has attended several music festivals over the last few years. “I fell face first into the two people standing in front of me. I don’t think I blacked out, but I don’t remember a lot after that.”

Clements was watching a band perform at the 2008 Rothbury music festival in Michigan when he passed out on the last night of the weekend. He admitted that he put his health on backburner for most of the weekend — sleeping about four hours a night, not eating well and probably drinking more beer than water.

“So, basically, by the end of the festival when this happened, I was sleep deprived, famished and definitely dehydrated,” he said.

Chicago resident Victor O’Halloran said he has attended Lollapalooza four times and worked at one of the concession stands in 2008. He said the festival staff is pretty good at keeping the crowd hydrated but their effort is sometimes not enough to offset the partying that takes place within the festival gates.

“I usually see at least three to four people go down every year I go,” O’Halloran said. “I don’t think anyone realizes how much water you lose when you’re in the sun for hours.”

The hotter the temperatures, the greater the risk and the weather seems to be cooperating in the Chicago area this weekend. Temperatures will reach the low 80s on Friday, with highs in the 70s on Saturday and Sunday, according to Charles Mott of the National Weather Service for the Chicago area.

From a medical standpoint, Beck said young adults are usually able to handle the festival lifestyle without doing serious damage to their bodies. They can stay out later, be in the sun longer, sleep fewer hours, and maintain a higher level of energy than older counterparts. For that reason he said it’s not uncommon for someone like Clements to believe his high energy is everlasting. Combine that with minimal self-maintenance and young adults may be at the same or higher level of risk as other age groups.

“Once you have gotten to the point where you feel like you’re going to faint or you do faint, that is a very clear signal that you are overdoing it,” Beck said. “For some people that means their time at the festival is over.”

However, ending the festival early isn’t considered an option for most people. Clements said he felt the warning signs, which can include dizziness, dry mouth, headache and nausea. He knew something was wrong, but he chose not to say anything.

“I was just denying it. I kept telling myself this isn’t happening. This isn’t happening,” he said. “As soon as I felt weird I should have said something…but when you’re in that environment you’re in too good of a mood to want to ruin it.”

Andrew Fleming was there when Clements fainted at Rothbury, which is now named Electric Forest, and said he has almost passed out himself while attending other festivals in the Midwest.

He agreed that many festival attendees are more concerned about their mood, maintaining a good atmosphere and having a good time than taking care of themselves. Simply put, keeping yourself hydrated is the last thing on your mind.

“The whole idea of a musical festival is to get hot, dirty and sweaty, and try to get away from the rules of the real world,” Fleming said. “So you don’t want to be that person who ruins the mood by making sure everyone’s drinking enough electrolytes.”

It could be more than just a fear of disrupting the mood, said Noah Askin, a fifth-year PhD student in the sociology and business program at the University of Chicago. Askin is currently studying how different social hierarchies are established within small groups of people depending on their environment. He said most rankings within a small social structure are based on abilities or extroversions, and can extend to different characteristics such as race, age and expectations.

He said at summer music festivals — where ages range around 18 to 25 — there’s a greater need for conformity and small groups tend to establish their hierarchies based on someone’s ability to withstand the extreme environment.

“It’s comparable to enduring some form of punishment to prove how tough you are,” Askin said. “The one who can withstand the punishment for the longest amount of time will be viewed as the alpha dog of the group.”

Of course this is not always the case. Different circles will have different ways of picking the social rankings. Askin said if the group establishes right away that they want to make it all the way through the concert, no one would care if someone drinks water, eats healthy and seeks shade when they need a break.

Males are much more likely to fall into the trap because they tend to associate toughness with a higher status, but Askin said females tend to get wrapped in this idea as well, especially in co-ed situations.

“Once a hierarchy emerges based on whatever the group values…the members of [the] group will feel that hierarchy, whether they want to or not,” Askin said. “It does not necessarily need to be vocally, explicitly or physically reinforced, though it can be.”

The solutions are so simple. While dehydration may not seem like a big deal, Beck said the body is put under a severe amount of stress when cells don’t get an adequate amount of water. For most people, proper hydration requires actively trying to drink enough water. He suggests following the golden rule of hydration: Drink enough clear, non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic fluids to be able to urinate every hour, on the hour in clear and copious amounts. And of course, knowing your limits is essential to staying safe as well.

“No one else is going to tell you you’re dehydrated,” Beck said. “Your body is the only thing that can let you know something is wrong.”