Ethics Quiz: The Deadly Rock Festival

Looks like fun! Little do these unsuspecting rock music-lovers realize that a deadly culture lurks at the festival, eager to kill them...

Looks like fun! Little do these unsuspecting rock music-lovers realize that a deadly culture lurks at the festival, eager to kill them…

The final day of New York City’s Electric Zoo Festival, held over Labor Day weekend since 2009, was canceled due to “serious health risks,” according to a release from NYC government.

The reason?  Two fans died and at least four became “critically ill” during the first two days of the festival on  Randall’s Island. The statement from Fortress Bloomberg  explained that the reason for the cancellation was “serious health risks.”  Jeffrey Russ, 24 and Olivia Rotondo, 20,  both died after ingesting the drug ecstasy.

The organizers posted, “The founders of Electric Zoo send our deepest condolences to the families of the two people who passed away this weekend. Because there is nothing more important to us than our patrons, we have decided in consultation with the New York City Parks Department that there will be no show today.” Thousands of non-illegal drug-users who planned their holiday around the festival have been sent home.

Your Ethics Alarms Labor Day Ethics Quiz is this…

Is cancelling the music festival an ethical response to two drug-related deaths?

Naturally, a lawyer thinks so. Ed McPherson of McPherson Rane LLP, who represented rock band Great White in litigation over the fatal Station nightclub fire in 2003, told Billboard:

“Electric Zoo organizers have done absolutely the right thing after the fatalities occurred – and that is to close the festival. Of course, that is a huge disappointment for everyone, and potentially a great expense for the promoters. However, if one life is saved because someone had to go home, where (hopefully) that culture does not exist, and they can make certain that nobody uses whatever drugs they have, it is obviously well worth the disappointment and expense.”

Ah, yes…the  insulting “if one life can be saved” rationalization! I am anticipating some articulate and intelligent arguments for why the festival’s cancellation—I wouldn’t make this a quiz if I was certain of the answer— is reasonable, responsible and fair, but this sure isn’t it.

Until some cooler head convinces me otherwise, this latest offense to autonomy by the nanny state New York City government makes me angry. Two people voluntarily take a dangerous and illegal drug while attending a public event, again of their own volition, and that constitutes a “health risk”? To me this is utter nonsense, and one of the most blatant examples of  Barn Door Fallacy insanity that I have  seen, and thanks to Newtown, I have seen a lot lately.

There were three deaths and over 80 drug-related arrests at the iconic Woodstock festival in 1969, and nobody in their right mind ever suggested that anybody but the drug-loving attendees were responsible for them. McPherson has quite a bit of gall talking about one particular  festival’s lethal “culture”: really, how dumb does he think everyone is? Illegal and risky drug use has been practically indivisible from rock and roll culture since the Sixties—RIP Janis, Jimi, Keith, Sid, Dee Dee, Bobby, and so many, many more—and a lot of irresponsible role models, entertainers, elected officials, journalists, cultural pundits, libertarians and, yes, lawyers have been fueling it for decades. I guarantee that a lot more than “one life” has been saved by the nation’s anti-drug law enforcement policies that continue to be derided, and I’m also betting Ed and his circle would not consider that to be a persuasive justification for its unquestionable expense and societal toll.

If a culture killed those two young people, it was not the culture of the Electric Zoo Festival. It was the campus culture that ridicules the regulation of recreational drugs, perhaps, or the intellectual culture that denies that glamorizing and legalizing pot will not have the effect of encouraging widespread and and destructive drug abuse, or just the rock culture that has had a deadly dark side from the very beginning. Not a single festival attendee not already infected with the toxic results of those cultures was in any danger from the continuation of the festival for its full three day span, nor were festival organizers in any way responsible for the risky habits and dangerous choices some festival-goers brought with them—not that lawyers like Ed McPherson wouldn’t try to sue them into bankruptcy by convincing a jury that it was all the festival’s fault.

Cancelling the festival allows two victims of the drug culture who caused their own deaths to compound the harm of their conduct post mortem,  inflicting monetary hardship on the event organizers and the loss of entertainment for more responsible music-lovers. I’m open to persuasive arguments to the contrary, but my current answer to today’s quiz is “Absolutely not.



Spark: CNN

Facts and Graphic: Billboard 1, 2

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work or property was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

49 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Deadly Rock Festival

  1. It seems self evident that your answer is the appropriate one. One can’t hold an event directly responsible for actions that can be directly linked to individual choices.

    I do eagerly await the leftist’s spin on this however and the resulting knots in logic to be tied justifying the mass punishment of the people at large for the individual idiotic choices of a few

  2. Drug tolerance and left-over hippies are usually classed as very left leaning and non-law and order. The nanny state seems to pull from a lot of pod-people who want easy answers.

  3. Yes, cancelling the music festival is ethical.

    Just like it would be ethical to ban operation of all motor vehicles in a particular city for a time, to temporarily halt losses of lives due to carjackers; other criminals using vehicles; police chases; speeding first responders; drunk drivers; road ragers; drive-by gang bangers; sleepers-at-wheels, and otherwise reckless drivers, pedestrians, operators of non-motorized vehicles, and free-ranging animals of all kinds. If just one death from vehicle use is prevented, all the deprivation would be worthwhile.

    Also, music festivals must be virtual from now on, accessible only via cyberspace – no more than five viewers per monitor allowed, and all monitors at least 100 feet apart – no more than 16 ounces of ecstasy per five persons per every 24 hours of festivity. Thus Bloomberg shall saith.

  4. This whole story just doesn’t ring true. No way does this stop for a couple of deaths. Even for ‘BAD DRUGS”, even in Bloomberg’s NY. Nothing definitive in the music press yet, but not many are buying the official line. How many drunks have died at Yankee Stadium?

      • Made Events, the promoter of Electric Zoo, is known as one of, if not the, most diligent festival organizer(s) about attendee safety. They are well staffed, do public announcements from the stage about drugs, (just like Woodstock, dude!), and provide a very well packaged experience. Why shut them down?
        Without drawing any conclusions, I also note that they are an announced acquisition target of SFX Entertainment, which is scheduled to do their IPO in the next few weeks.
        As to nanny Bloomberg and his hall monitors, they really, really seem to enjoy telling people what to do, and violating their rights. So who knows? Just strongly suspect that the whole story is not out yet.

  5. Is cancelling the music festival an ethical response to two drug-related deaths?
    No, not in my opinion.

  6. I’m going to disagree with all of you and back up Mayor (ghaaackkk) Bloomberg. How about that?!

    It’s been true ever since Woodstock (as Jack points out) that drugs, booze and every vice known to Man (including rape and murder) are not only expected to happen at such events, but are a part of the overall mentality that they employ and appeal to in their intended participants. Why, indeed, should any state, county or city allow such demonstrations of utter incivility to be done on public property and, thus, in the name of their citizens? To sponsor or co-operate with such an event also places a burden on police and medical units (taxpayer funded) as the inevitable criminality and drug casualties flourish with the overloud music. Essentially, the promoters of such events are asking their intended hosts for permission to create a huge public disturbance with a good possibility of deaths as a result.

    This event in New York- ill considered from the start- has ALREADY claimed two lives. No good can ever come of these rock concerts. If they want to hold these bacchanalias on private property- away from towns, as was Woodstock- then let them. It would be hard to stop them, anyhow. But no community needs to subsidize the self-destruction of a horde of older kids who are encouraged to think that mass, animalistic depravity in public is cool.

    • So you want to block all music festivals, then? There’s a lot of rock at Newport and New Orleans, too. A minority of drug-users get to remove a cultural resources and experience for thousands, without any affect whatsoever on drug use.

      This makes no sense at all.

      • This seems relevant:

        In defense of Steven, I don’t believe he is calling to “block all music festivals,” never mind that he seems clearly opposed to public subsidy of events such as the Electric Zoo Festival, and generally disgusted (as I am) with the way some foolish people seem to insist on “having fun” while attending such events. He is siding with our favorite nanny mayor in this case, in reacting for the sake of a greater good (preventing additional deaths at this year’s Electric Zoo).

        Jack, don’t you think it’s a no-win for a big-city pol, when deaths occur at such “taxing” (of public support services) events? If the festival is halted, the nanny-fascist-tyrant charges fly. If the festival goes on even after deaths occur, the pols get raked for “insensitivity.” If more deaths happen after a call to halt in reaction to deaths is loud enough, “murderer” or “sell-out to murderers, like a conspirator” become the charges.

        I just pray that I can go to a SXSW one of these years, before I die – and not be a crime victim or die there, or happen to plan to attend in a year when it gets cancelled, or attend in a year when it gets cut short for some stupid reason (like others’ stupidity). If I do die there, I know it won’t be because of knowingly and voluntarily ingesting stuff that’s bad for me.

  7. The answer to whether the city closing the festival was ethical or not, can’t be known by the information from the linked articles. They are no more than PR-speak press releases, and therefore don’t go into detail on the nature of the contractual agreement between the city and the concert promotion/organization.

    The way I see it, is that the question of ethics, and possible breach of ethics, is only related to security. If there was a prior agreement for the concert promoters to ensure full security, including illegal drug security measures, than the promoters failed to adhere to this and the city was within agreement rights and ethics to shut it down.

    • If there was a contract that required that, which would be an impossible requirement (and I would guess unenforceable), then the contract was unethical. How is a festival supposed to prevent people from bringing in their own drugs? Are we going to have TSA-style searches to get into public events now?

      And if the public statements were a smoke screen, I’m not obligated to find a reasonable explanation that the parties have chosen to hide. They have stated the official reason for the closing, and they are accountable for it.

      • Would you explain how a contract concerning security measures is unethical?
        As I understand it, the event is hosted by a concert/event promotion company usually in conjunction with a venue operator and the municipality. The owners of the businesses (event promotion and venue operators) generally enter into an agreement with the
        municipality complying to city and state laws.

        Regarding your question positing TSA-style searching:

        This is an example of reverse slippery slope rationalization.

        The answer to “How” is by security measures. Those would agreed upon by the state, municipality, venue operator and event promotion company. They would be in accordance with civil rights and publicized ahead of the event. Those wishing to attend the event will then have the option to comply and attend, or not.

        • All of the security measures in place failed to prevent this incident. Made Events is considered by festival goers to have an excessive level of security, including searches. Drugs are available in Federal prisons. Holding the promoter responsible for keeping thousands of patrons drug free is absurd.

          • To be clear, I am not advocating holding the festival organizers responsible for deaths that are obviously the result of people’s unwise use of drugs.

            What I am asserting and is that there is nothing unethical about expecting and agreeing to stringent checks and security measures so as to reasonably assume a safe environment. Note the use of the word reasonably. I am not arguing that complete and categorical safety can ever be achieved. This is taking my point to extremes and a rationalization.

            With regards to the quality of security that Made Events provided, here is a quote from the New York Times:

            “The organizers provided private security, including 550 licensed security guards, said Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for the organizers. The guards could observe the crowd from raised platforms using binoculars and night vision equipment, he said, adding that all concertgoers were required to pass five checkpoints and submit to a pat-down and a bag search before arriving. But some attendees said they had been asked only to open their bags or were not checked at all. ”

            “Police Department undercover narcotics investigators made 31 drug-related arrests during the festival, said Sgt. Lee Jones, a department spokesman. ”

            It would seem from some reports that the security measures provided by Made Events were less than great, when narcs inside the event are nabbing folks.

            • Less than great security!?! Raised platforms; binoculars; night vision goggles? 550 security guards? Check points and searches? Sounds like a prison camp, without the machine guns.
              Where were they,lax? How would you tighten things up? So that we could ‘reasonably assume a safe environment’.

        • A city requiring an organization running an event to agree to maintain a level of security that is 1) impossible and 2) will undermine the purpose of the event, in order to be able to shift blame and accountability when the unpredictable and unpreventable tragedy occurs is unethical, as are contracts of adhesion—making someone agree to unfair and unreasonable terms through the equivalent of extortion: do it this way, or not at all. Unethical.

          • Thanks for outlining.

            As I stated above, I am not asserting it is possible to have complete and categorical 100% full-proof security. Yes, that is highly improbable and absurd. However, reasonable expectations of security are in fact a part of planning a large scale social event. This policy ensures a measure of civility in society. I know it might be hard to swallow for some who mistake “freedom” for “free-for-all” anarchy. But, a crucial factor in a society which allows for a enjoying “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is also some form of policing, because it is a fact of life that there will always be criminals and stupid (self destructive) people. That is the pay-off for being part of a society. Of course there have to be checks and balances. It is not unreasonable, nor unethical to expect extra policing at a large event.

            To re-iterate, having an agreement in place for security is not the same thing as holding the organizers responsible or blaming them.
            The terms I was referring to as far as attendance, was in reference to potential attendees and not the organizers. That is not actually extortion. A festival if it is held by an organization, is a privilege, not a right. It seems that some folks are under the erroneous mind-set a la The Beastie Boys that “party til you drop” at the taxpayer’s expense is a basic human right. Now, that is absurd. I’m all for fighting for your right to party (in your own home), but arguing that it is an entitlement and that complying with reasonable safety measures for a civil event is extortion is a bit beyond the pale.

        • I don’t believe that. If you have laws, you have to enforce them. If society legalizes conduct, it approves of it. When the government approves of conduct, it encourages it–indeed, usually it starts trying to run it and make money out of it. When it encourages such conduct, more of it results. This particular conduct ruins lives, causes addiction, costs billions and is especially attractive to the young. It is unethical for the government to encourage it.

          • I don’t think drugs are “good” btw — I just look at all the money that we spend trying to enforce it. We can’t win this fight. Talk to any DEA person or narcotics officer — it is the most demoralizing job in the world because they succeed only in getting a single flea off the dog while millions more breed. Education is the only way to solve this problem — just like we did with smoking. We aren’t all the way there yet, but we’ve made progress. Just like we’ve made significant progress with drunk driving.

  8. Drug related deaths at these TYPES of music festivals, are fairly common. and as far as I know, they never cancel them for that reason.

    Without the details I don’t know how anyone could pass judgement on their decision to cancel the final day.

    One valid reason would be a dangerous mix of drugs were being sold and used at the concert, and killing unsuspecting drug users.

    Another, and this is the real killer, are that the sum of drug users’ idiocy is greater than the parts.. There is some kind of competition to see who can become the most f*cked up, so people consume more and more drugs, in combinations and quantities they would not normally take. Ending the concert puts an end to this self destructive contest.

    • It still boils down to a “Punish the majority of people, who have chosen to be responsible with themselves, to ensure that individuals who are irresponsible have no opportunity to be irresponsible (even though they probably will be anyways, despite the effort)”.

      Hell, that’s pretty much the Leftist attitude towards the 2nd Amendment abridgement efforts. I suppose that quoted sentence pretty much sums up all the nanny-state Leftist attitudes towards most things anyway.

      • Yep and that’s pretty much the attitude of the right wing Christian coalition GM attitude when these problems occur: “The Nut is Behind the Wheel!”

        • It surely is to all of those who lose money because of it. From the patrons with a worthless ticket, to the perishable food vendors, to the entertainers, all the way up the line to the company that organized the event. They all got screwed. I’m unaware of any event production insurance that pays out in the event that Bloomberg, or any form of government, forces the closing of an event.

          • Yes, that is a huge loss and wrong. They got screwed over and should seek damages. The whole affair looks like a fiasco.

            I was referring back to the comments regarding loss of an opportunity to attend a festival and how that is not a punishment.

  9. When I first read the article, I thought it was obvious that the mayor was doing the wrong thing. However, reading Steven’s comment, I can understand there is a very good argument for simply not holding such an event at the city’s expense in the first place. I can’t say whether it is a good or bad use of the city’s money. All I can offer by way of clarification is that civilizations often attempt to raise morale and enhance people’s experiences for a short while, kind of like funding a limited-time museum. Festivals can be compared to temporary exhibits, albethey ones that have greater risk of crime, which is the downside.

    We all take measured risks sometimes when we want to enjoy ourselves, and society as a collective does so, too. It counts on the majority of people not acting like idiots, and idiots (and accidents in general) will happen anyways. Which way a governing entity measures, whether to avoid crime by not having festivals, or to boost culture and morale and spend more resources attempting to keep crime down (and not always succeeding), it’s not an objective answer all the time.

    Ultimately, I do believe that if the government does decide to hold a festival, especially if it makes a commitment to the performers, it is unethical to back out of the deal simply because a handful of unreasonably stupid people were influenced to be particularly stupid in that region of spacetime (assuming they didn’t threaten massive harm to the public). As my rationale, I consider just how many government-sponsored events would have to be shut down under this policy, if anyone chose to do something stupid at them.

    On this note, I very much appreciate Eeyoure’s ironic call to ban automobiles. Can hooligans shut down a mayor’s speech by overdosing on drugs during it? If a small group of people incorporates the presidential election into a lethal game, can they halt democracy? Have the Newtown fanatics considered that the government could spend vastly less resources and guarantee every child’s life (and this administration would probably attempt to guarantee their livelihood as well) by shutting down schools altogether? The government had decided that educating the public (well, pretending to) is worth occasionally risking students’ lives because it is nearly impossible to prevent school shootings 100%. Sometimes the government decides that some public entertainment is worth a slightly increased risk of people killing themselves through sheer idiocy.

    “Too long; didn’t read” version: There is no way to be perfectly safe, therefore we (and the government ostensibly deriving its power and motives from us) must make life-risking tradeoffs with every decision, even if we refuse to acknowledge them as such or admit they are inevitable.

  10. A little late to the party here, but I have a thought…

    NYC is run by progressive ninny nanny puritans. They didn’t want the festival, or any music festivals, to happen. It wasn’t illegal, so they couldn’t bar it. Then two people died and now they have their excuse to do what they wanted to do all along.

    I quickly read the comments here and I agree with Jack overall – two individuals died because of their own actions. Shutting down the festival because of that is equal to getting rid of motor vehicles because of car accidents…or eliminating entertainment because of violent people.

    Oh wait, those acts were just used as excuses to limit and regulate something they wanted to destroy from the beginning.

    Bloomberg is gone and DeBlasio is turning out to be much worse than Bloomie ever was. Say goodbye to your mostly legal fun, NYC.

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