Virtual/Online Music Festivals: New Contexts for Substance Use Facilitated by the COVID-19 Pandemic
Virtual music festivals, online adaptions of in-person music festivals, have increased in popularity since the COVID-19 pandemic began due to social gathering restrictions cancelling in-person music festivals at this time. These events have received little attention in the literature which focuses on alcohol and/or drug (AOD) use, and it is largely unknown how AOD consumption presents in this context. The new heights of popularity and immersivity these events experienced during the pandemic means they may be a new context for AOD use – one that currently lacks a specific framework for reducing harm. This study aimed to explore experiences of virtual festival attendees using AODs, to find if these attendees consider harm reduction practices, and to highlight any utilised strategies. Informed by a phenomenological perspective, this study involved interviewing six New Zealanders aged between 24 and 50 (3 females, 2 males, 1 non-binary) who attended these events since the pandemic began to learn about these experiences. A thematic analysis of interview transcripts identified three themes. ‘Experiencing Festivals from Home’ encapsulated how participants felt the home setting brought changes to ways they used AODs compared to inperson festivals, with AOD use being generally determined by how social their experience was. ‘Enhancing the Experience with AODs’ captured how participants would use AODs to enhance various aspects of the festival, including enhancement of their physical and virtual spaces, music from specific artists, and how AODs were used to enjoy their psychoactive effects. The final theme, ‘Reducing Harm’, covered how participants were largely aware of the general risks that come with AOD use, with many describing how their utilisation of ‘basic’ harm reduction strategies helped them reduce risk and maintain control of their use. These findings contribute to the literature as little research exists on this topic, providing groundwork for future studies in this area while highlighting the need for harm reduction information to be available for those attending virtual festivals.