Patron Death And Cancellation Rocks Pitch Music & Arts Festival

11 March 2024 | 10:05 am | Staff Writer

Things went from bad to worse for Pitch Music and Arts Festival with three overdoses as fire authorities cancel the event.

Pitch Music & Arts Festival

Pitch Music & Arts Festival (Credit: Ash Caygill)

In what was a nightmare weekend for organisers, Pitch Music & Arts Festival was hit with fire authorities warning punters not to attend, three suspected drug overdoses including one death and ultimately the event being shut down on Sunday due to fire concerns.

Amongst the cacophony of events, entertainment was halted and patrons were asked to leave the site on Sunday afternoon after the severe heatwave conditions caused fire authorities to finally mandate the event’s closure after earlier warning patrons to reconsider attending.

In a statement posted to social media, organisers Untitled Group said:

“Through consultation with authorities, we have been directed to cancel the remainder of Pitch Music & Arts 2024 in light of an updated extreme fire danger warning issued this afternoon for tomorrow (Monday, March 11).

“We have consistently followed the guidance of relevant authorities throughout the entire process. Nobody is in immediate danger. We encourage everyone on site not to rush, calmly pack up and depart either this evening or early tomorrow.”

Additional buses were immediately ordered for both Sunday evening and Monday afternoon, however, there were long waits and difficult scenes as the lack of mobile phone reception hampered communication efforts across the site.

Media reports had concerned parents driving to the Ararat site to retrieve their children as the earlier fire warning on Saturday morning already caused concern, with mixed messages seemingly coming from the Country Fire Authority (CFA), who on Saturday recommended that people leave the site, yet chose not to shut down the event.

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Despite the heatwave conditions across the state, other Victorian festivals including Port Fairy Folk Festival, Golden Plains in Meredith, Treaty Day Out in Ballarat, Sandford Bush Music Festival in Sandford, Brunswick Music Festival in Melbourne and Chillout Festival in Daylesford all went ahead without issue.

The chaos comes in the wake of the death of a 23-year-old man at the event from a suspected substance overdose.

Untitled Group issued a statement: “Pitch Music & Arts organisers are deeply saddened to learn this evening that one of our patrons has passed away after being airlifted to The Alfred hospital in the early hours of Sunday morning. Our thoughts are with their family and friends. We have our Crowd Care team on site to support patrons and staff, and are committed to providing support services to those who need them. We cannot comment further at this time given the necessity to protect the privacy of those affected.”

Two other suspected overdose cases were also taken to hospital, leading to calls for pill testing to be implemented at Victorian festivals.

Greens party spokesperson Aiv Puglielli said: “While this Labor government continues to stall, young Victorian lives are being put at risk. Even with pure MDMA we’ve seen how extreme heat can deal a deadly blow. So with untested drugs circulating, this was truly a disaster waiting to happen. It’s taking an already dangerous situation and turning it lethal.”

The Music understands that the festival’s “Crowd Care” team was on ground at the event with the Pitch website suggesting that the team “come from many backgrounds including nurses, social workers, paramedics & drug & alcohol counsellors”. Dance Wize, an initiative for harm reduction Victoria were also onsite.

The Music has reached out to organisers to clarify what refund arrangements will be put in place, given the cessation of music and entertainment on Sunday afternoon.

It is a cruel blow to organisers Untitled Group who just recently announced a “record-breaking” 2023/24 festival season with over 500,000 tickets sold across festivals and events including Wildlands, Beyond The Valley, Sun Cycle as well as high-profile concerts from Zach Bryan and Christina Aguilera.

Questions continue to be asked about the event’s disaster readiness, the efficacy of insurance arrangements, the refusal of governments to consider patron safety through the continued outlawing of pill testing and the consistency of rulings from fire authorities in an industry that is already suffering through a crisis of patron confidence and a decline in ticket sales.

While promoters need to do better to ensure a safe and comfortable environment for their patrons, climate change and extreme weather conditions are not going anywhere, nor are drugs at festivals. It is clear that fire authorities, the government and the promoters need to each look at how this weekend could go so horribly wrong.