Why Doesn't SXSW Hand Out Free Water?
A reader named Shira Bannerman writes:
I just spent the week at SXSW, an indie music festival in Austin, TX, that attracted around 230,00 attendees. (Well, first it’s an interactive media and movie fest, but I only went for the music fest portion. I’d also specifically like to mention that my experience is only reflective of the free concerts, as I didn’t pay for a wristband and don’t know if that experience is much different.)
With all of the free giveaways –- food-related and swag –- one item that was especially difficult to come by was water. At some venues, there were coolers of Fizze Izze’s, PBR and Lone Star beers, coffee drinks, and ice cream, but there was hardly ever any water. Most venues made you empty a water bottle before entering (a practice that makes sense to me since bars don’t want to get into trouble for hidden alcoholic beverages), but there was hardly ever water for refills on the inner side of the fence. One venue (Cheer Up Charlie’s) forced you to leave your empty water bottle outside (a practice I don’t understand). And another venue (Fader Fort) made you empty your water bottle, and then choose between waiting in line for a bottle of water or a beer/liquor drink. The bartenders would not give you both at the same time, so if you wanted to hydrate while drinking your alcoholic beverages underneath that hot sun, you had to spend the time waiting in line for a drink again. It’s hard (if not impossible) for a concert-goer to choose free water (which should be free!) over free beer (which is not usually free). And, discounting what in our minds “should” be free, it’s hard for a 20-something concert-goer to pass up a free beer at any time.
My question is: Why would this ever be a sensible business model? How could putting up barriers to hydrating a drunk and sweating group of 230,000 benefit anybody? Certainly, all of the concert-goers, who had probably been drinking alcohol for most of the day and are consistently out in the hot Texas sun, could use water. I am surprised that I didn’t hear reports of dehydration or of SXSW-ers going to the hospital. Why wouldn’t the city of Austin or the concert hosts be incentivized to give us water –- only so that they wouldn’t have a sick and dehydrated crowd on their hands? And why didn’t Aquafina or Evian use the opportunity to promote their brand by giving out free water for advertising benefits? Who does it benefit to leave so many thirsty, but alcohol-loaded, young people at a city-wide festival? I’ve seen water tents and emergency personnel on-hand for other mass gatherings, like rallies. Why neglect a big, outdoor music festival?
My only thoughts:
- From what I’ve read, beer is actually “optimal for rehydrating the body,” — even for athletes.
- We need to know whether there actually were a lot of dehydrated people at the event. Maybe the beer worked out great.
- I am not sure that water wants to be free any more than information wants to be free.
- Even if something makes sense at the macro level, there is no guarantee it’ll get done on the micro level.