SEATTLE -- Despite a troubled run in Seattle, FreakNight has found a new home in Tacoma and promoters say they are more committed than ever to making the event safe for those in attendance.
The two-day electronic dance music festival and adult carnival is expected to draw around 12,000 attendees both Friday and Saturday at the Tacoma Dome.
In 2014, the second day of the event at Seattle’s WaMu Theater was cancelled after 20-year-old Aaron J. Altman died of an ecstasy overdose. More than a dozen other attendees required emergency medical attention – at least half for symptoms of drug intoxication.
USC Events, the promoter of FreakNight, acknowledged this week that drug use is part of the culture of those in attendance.
“And to say otherwise would not be acknowledging the issues that we have to acknowledge,” said Alex Fryer, a spokesperson for USC Events.
“Our main concern is making sure that everyone who comes has a great time and goes home safely. That’s it. That’s the bottom line,” he said.
His sentiments ring hollow to Altman's parents .
Over the phone Wednesday, the Altman’s detailed their frustration with FreakNight promoters and organizers – including a lack of available water and a perceived lack of medical personnel trained to deal with someone suffering from a drug overdose.
The Altman’s believe USC Events has a pattern of hosting deadly raves and fostering an “unsafe environment.”
Fryer said USC Events and the Tacoma Dome have taken increased safety and security measures, even allowing a controversial group of volunteers inside the venue for the first time.
“I think what the public wants to know, what moms and dads want to know is, ‘Are you acknowledging that there are some ways to make these events safer and are you taking actions to make that happen?’” he said.
Stay Safe Seattle will be allowed to set up a booth at the event and speak to those in attendance, offering literature on how to use various types of illegal drugs responsibly.
“Although we are acknowledging that drugs are present, we’re not condoning them,” said Amber, a Stay Safe Seattle Volunteer. “We’re merely acknowledging the truth that no matter how much security you bring in, people are going to get drugs into an event. The best way to keep people from ending up dead is giving them the education and the information to make educated choices for themselves.”
FreakNight organizers will not allow Stay Safe Seattle to bring in drug testing kits, something the group has done at similar events. Volunteers offer the kits to concertgoers who want to test their drugs – presumably to make sure they bought what they paid for and that the drug isn’t tainted.
Fryer said USC Events believes the testing kits go too far, but is happy to have Stay Safe Seattle participate in other harm-reduction efforts.
Aaron Altman’s death is not the first at an EDM concert promoted by USC Events.
In 2013, 21-year-old Patrick Witkowski died after attending Paradiso at the Gorge Amphitheatre, an EDM concert co-promoted by USC Events. His death was attributed to drug use, which led to massive organ failure when combined with the sweltering heat.
In 2015, two more people died after attending Paradiso. One of them, 22-year-old Beau Brooks, of Portland, died after overdosing on ecstasy.
“Kids shouldn’t go to a concert and die. That shouldn’t happen,” Heather Brooks told Q13 FOX after her son’s death. “And it shouldn’t be acceptable for this to continue.”
Heather, along with the Witkowski’s and the Altman’s, is committed to making a change.
“I need to make sure (Beau’s) death is not in vain,” Heather said. “There’s something that has to come from this. It cannot happen again. It cannot happen again.”
Fryer said safety measures at this weekend’s event will include 200 security personnel on site each night, 20 medics from the Tacoma Fire Department, and more than 80 volunteers trained in first aid. In addition, there will be 11 free water stations and two “cool down” areas inside the venue. Concertgoers are allowed to bring empty water bottles inside to fill them up.
Ultimately, Fryer stressed the importance of personal responsibility in making sure FreakNight 2015 is a success.
“Take care of each other and act responsibly,” he said. “It is vitally important that people understand the choices that they make will not only impact themselves, but their friends, their families, and the electronic dance music community that they love.”