The Festival Lawyer: What To Do if The Police Stop You at a Music Festival – Part 2


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Let’s face it. Sequels suck. The only exceptions are Godfather 2, Aliens (Game over man!) and Paul’s Boutique by the Beastie Boys.

On September 25th, I published an article with Showbams entitled “What To Do if The Police Stop You at a Music Festival“. If you haven’t read it you can find it here.

That original Showbams article started getting reblogged on other sites and tweeted and shared and re-shared on Facebook. Ultimately, it ended up going “viral”.

How viral? Well, the article has had over 250,000 unique views. It ended up receiving over 30 thousand Facebook likes. But I knew we were truly viral when someone in Australia asked me, “Is there an Australian version of this article that explains Australian law?”

If you’ve read this far, I know you think I am about to pull a Kanye and announce that I am now a “A Legal God” and want to be referred to as “Festival Yeezus Lawyer” from now on.

Sadly, no. I am not quitting my day job. However, I think the article went viral due to the fact that “doing whatever the police tell you” is not really what Jefferson had in mind when he came up with that whole Bill of Rights thing. And because we all recognize that the Founding Fathers wanted an educated, empowered citizenry who kept an eye on their police. And because a heck of lot folks have found that getting into a bad situation with a cop and not knowing your rights is one of the scariest things that can happen to you at a festival.

So despite the obvious danger, I really think a sequel is needed to talk about the great comments and reactions the first article generated. Wish me luck.

ADDITIONAL TIP 1: Educate yourself on how to legally record cops in your home state.

I had a LOT of lawyers in other states write me to tell me I had given bad advice about videotaping police making arrests. In particular I had several lawyers tell me that my advice was going to get someone going to Lollapalooza arrested. Their point was that Illinois had a law making it a felony to record video of an encounter with a cop. Several other attorneys pointed out that their own states had similar “wiretapping” laws.

Nice try, but when it comes to the Festival Lawyer, “There can be only one” (*Highlander theme plays*)

The actual law in this area is that in Illinois (home to Lollapalooza), the American Civil Liberties Union recently won a challenge to this law. A federal judge issued a permanent ban on enforcing the law. Also, almost every state has an exception for videotaping where there is no “reasonable expectation of privacy”.

I started to write up a little clarification of different State laws in this area and give some tips on videotaping the police. But one of the great things about this article was that it caused me to finally get to talk to the amazing Steve Silverman at

Turns out he had already written a great article explaining EXACTLY what you need to know to record the police in any state and in any scenario.

However, this is an excellent reminder to always do your own research and find out the law in your home state. I am a California lawyer and your state may have very different laws. So even though I just teased them slightly, I want to thank the out of state lawyers who took the time to contact me. Please keep the comments and questions coming.

ADDITIONAL TIP 2: Recording cops? There’s an app for that.

Several people also pointed out that there are numerous apps that allow you to upload your videos to the “cloud”. (For the purposes of this article, let’s just collectively pretend that I know what the cloud is and how it freaking works rather than get ourselves bogged down in unnecessary details.) The point is that you may need to have your video of the cops instantly uploaded to a secure location so that you have it in case your phone is taken from you or damaged.

As commenter “sarahrwilson” wrote:

As to making a video recording, the key is to also stream it from the phone so regardless of what the police do to the device, there will at least be a copy of the video they can’t touch. The ACLU of NJ has an app for I-phone or Android that does exactly that.

The ACLU has provided a collection of Apps on their website that lets you upload cell phone videos to the cloud immediately.

Festival Lawyer Protégé Tip: At the same time you download your Festival’s app, download the ACLU ‘cloud’ app, just in case.

ADDITIONAL TIP 3: These are “Break Glass – Only Use In An Emergency” tips.

A few members of law enforcement wrote in to point out that taking an immediately aggressive tone could actually inflame the situation:

As a police officer, I initially read this on the assumption I was looking at another story of how to “politely disrespect” officers (LEOs). I was pleasantly surprised to see that this was, in fact, a well-written article by an educated member of our society that gives valuable information on how not to become a victim of over zealous officers. That being said, I’d like to add that all of these tactics are great if you aren’t doing anything wrong; however festivalgoers and the likes should know the reason LEOs are at these events is ensure people have a safe and fun time. If you’re actually doing wrong, these tactics only stall the inevitable and eventually, you will be arrested and face the courts for your misdeed.

Also, recording an event does set the tone (from an officer’s point of view) that you are being non compliant and confrontational. Exercise your own good judgement, and don’t get excitable. Much like the open carry activist, if you handle law enforcement with respect, they will most likely return the favor.

I mainly quoted the above comment because it makes me look good. But besides that, it makes a valuable point. If I could add just one thing to the original article it would be that these tips are essentially a “BREAK GLASS – USE IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY” toolkit.

I think it was implied before but let’s add a step zero – be nice and treat the cop like a fellow human being. Personally, I hate when people wear “fuck the police” shirts to a concert. It’s not how I feel. And it sends a super negative vibe and message. I hold a huge amount of respect for the police and for the law. But I am also an Educated, Empowered, Positive US citizen. That means I love my Country, and want to make her better, but I don’t necessarily trust all of her employees. The comments page is FULL of real life innocent festivalgoers who ran head on into a bad situation: A sexist cop. A racist cop. An overly aggressive cop. A cop who didn’t like someone’s sexual orientation. Or a cop who just wanted to fuck with someone. (Not to get too legal or technical with you). You need to be prepared for THOSE situations.

All of that brings me to my final tip…

ADDITIONAL TIP 4: Educate and empower yourself, even if you don’t ever plan on doing “anything wrong” at a festival.

In some ways, Festivals can be kind of a clash of two worlds.

Cops see themselves as being present at Festivals to keep the peace, and to keep people safe. Festivalgoers see fests as a playground that consenting adults can attend, and the normal rules of society don’t necessarily apply. When you add in some super crazy choices we have made as a society about drug laws, there is always the potential for things to go really badly, really quickly.

That’s because there is a small percentage of cops who feel the drug war really is a war. And in wars, normal rules don’t apply. (People use the phrase “All’s Fair in Love and War” for a reason.) Added to that are police agencies who are not there to “keep the peace” at all. They are there instead to “keep the quota” and make arrests for stats. One of the many examples from the comments to the article should suffice:

Wish I had seen this a few months ago! After leaving (a music festival in an RV my husband and I were pulled over for an “Illegal lane change”. After the cop asked a bunch of questions, he nicely asked if he could take a look inside to make sure we didn’t have any “weapons or dead bodies inside”. Of course we stupidly said yes…becuz we didn’t want him to think we had either of these things inside. Upon entering the RV, he claimed that the straws in our garbage can are considered “paraphernalia” so he then had the right to search the entire vehicle. He made us stand 50-feet away while we watched him take apart the RV with an electric drill. He dumped out all my vitamins and medication into one big pile on the floor, open up all my cosmetics, went through my dirty (personal) clothes, dumped out all our food, and tore apart the lining on our RV rental. He then gave us tickets for the straws since in the state of Arkansas, “paraphernalia” is a crime. We didn’t argue or say anything, figured that was in our best interest. But because we (live out of state) we couldn’t exactly travel back to Arkansas to defend ourselves. We had to hire a local lawyer (that never met us) to defend us. My husband got the charges dropped against him, but the cop was adamant that one of us get charged with paraphernalia – so lucky, I am a mom, and had no record. I was coming from a music festival in an RV. Everyone I spoke to told me we should have NEVER let him search the vehicle, but I didn’t know my rights or the law. We were just scared.

So at this time, let’s all repeat the Festival Lawyer’s motto together:

“Better to know your rights and not need them, than to need your rights and not know them.”

More than anything I wanted to write a sequel so I could have a chance to thank you all. The idea of a legal article with zero cats in it going viral is seriously insane. But it did. And because of that, I got to meet a bunch of amazing people and had some really cool conversations. Believe me when I say I enjoyed being the “legal advice meme” for my entire 15 seconds (that’s not a typo) of internet fame.

Next Column: How to “upgrade” your entire Festival experience without spending a dime.

Like Showbams on Facebook and follow Showbams on twitter to get more advice from the Festival Lawyer and win free tickets to shows. Follow the Festival Lawyer on Twitter.


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  4. Earl Wallace says:

    This is all great, but, since “Juggalos” are considered gang members, does that change any legalities if a person attends the “Gathering of the Juggalos”?

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  7. Bob JMU '84 says:

    great articles…very informative . Small point….Jefferson did not write or introduce the bill of rights…that was James Madison.

    • great point Bob. I wrote “when Jefferson came up with it”. Meaning it was his idea. But you are totally correct, Madison and George Mason – who hardly gets mentioned, wrote it, introduced it and more properly should get the credit.

  8. You’re hilarious.

  9. Henry Parsons says:

    As a huge Widespread Panic fan and a festival goer, my motto has always been “There are ways to do irresponsible things responsibly”. Great article and excellent advice.

  10. This whole article is awesome and I don’t even smoke dope or go to music festivals anymore! And anyway, Festival Lawyer’s motto is a useful reminder to us all in any interaction you might have with the police.

    • Bob Page brings up an excellent point. Although it certainly doesn’t hurt to be drunk, high, or have a slight head injury to enjoy my writing, it is definitely not a prerequisite. In fact, many people find they can still enjoy my tips sober and in a completely rational state of mind.

  11. Reblogged this on The Live Bite and commented:
    Dive further down into the topic “What to do when the police stops you at a music festival.” The overarching theme of both blog posts highlights the ideals of being a good citizen-a good festival go-er. As an avid festival attendee, I am always conscious of my actions, my surrounding, my friends’ actions, and their surroundings. It doesn’t hurt to be too careful should you pursue in such activities, but you have to be responsible. Know yourself: how you are sober, how you are intoxicated. Should you be confronted by the police, act in a respectful manner. There’s been so many incidences where I see people giving them attitude, which doesn’t help! Ultimately, think before you act.

  12. Dear Festival Lawyer, your Festival’s app recommendation link is the same link for the ACLU app. Please update when you get the chance.

  13. I think the LEO quoted makes two excellent points.

    If you’re actually doing wrong, these tactics only stall the inevitable and eventually, you will be arrested and face the courts for your misdeed.

    Which is all the more reason not to surrender/volunteer anything you don’t have to. If you’re going to be arrested you’d rather it be without self-incriminating statements or volunteering up evidence. If you’re charged you’d rather be in a place where the prosecution is in a weaker position so you may get the charges dropped or reduced. If you’re going to accept a lesser charge for a plea you want it to be the less-est it can be, right?

    Also, recording an event does set the tone (from an officer’s point of view) that you are being non compliant and confrontational.

    This is true but ignores the reality: you’re already in a confrontation. The cop has confronted you, however gently and for whatever slim a reason. I can count the number of times a cop has engaged in idle chit-chat with me while s/he was working on one hand. They’re talking to you because they want to send you a message, gather information on someone else, think you might be up to something, whatever. I don’t think that means you should be rude – not only should you be polite in life overall, but you’re not going to make things better by antagonizing the person with the weapons and arrest powers.

    But at the same time I don’t see any reason you need to give them any more of your time than you would the street peddler who wants your attention to sell you an umbrella or ask for a donation. They’re doing their thing and if they do it respectfully, great, more power to them. But that doesn’t mean I’m interested and I don’t owe them my time. If they can’t handle that I’m being “non-compliant” when I don’t owe them my compliance then that’s something they can take up with their career counselor.

  14. I had the same reaction about the “don’t videotape” part of that comment. I mean, we are always being told “if you have nothing to hide why do you care if you are being recorded” but I guess that rule doesn’t apply to cops? If they are doing everything by the book why do they get agitated at being recorded at a distance?

  15. I disagree with the LEO that simply recording an encounter sets a negative tone. If it is negative, it is due to the officer, NOT the recorder. I have several recorded encounters, not at festivals, but open carry obama protests. State and local officers in Richmond, VA were all professional and respectful of my rights. I have NEVER given my name, even when asked. I have never been asked to produce ID, even when OC my AR.

    • I agree.. I think it’s weird that we are told “if you have nothing to hide than you should consent to a search” but that if we record the cops in public without interfering they suddenly get paranoid. If they have nothing to hide, then why can’t they just relax and do their job? if they are tense it’s because they have forgotten that they actually work for us and not vice versa

      • SmilinTash says:

        Hey, I know it’s weird. If I hadn’t been on the LEO side of things without being an LEO(I work event security at the EDMs, raves, etc), I would think it’s a weird request too. Most times when people are recording and they put the video up on youtube, they don’t include the entire story. There’s a lot of people who do the recordings, and do it in an intentional manner to cast the police officer in a bad light. I’ve had to assist officers in dealing with a guy who’d just sexually assaulted a girl at an event in Alberta. The male patron’s friends knew that they could record, but decided instead of keeping out of the officer’s way and filming the entirety of the arrest, that they would get into the officer’s face, spouting their rights, shouting F*ck the police anytime they were told to back off or stop recording. One example. I have more if needed. It’s one huge reason why I hate the news and almost always refuse to watch it, because the news media will never show the entire story in an unbiased light.

        The other thing, is that a festival is not “Public Property”. You had to pay to get in. If you didn’t have to pay, then the line gets more hazy. It’s like saying a mall is public property, it’s not, it’s owned by a private company that has allowed you to come in to visit it’s tenants(the stores) and it’s well within it’s rights to kick you out if it feels that you are committing a wrong. Festivals are the same thing. Big Valley Jamboree ring a bell to anyone here? I know it’s country music. But again, set rules are in place, because the event is “private property”. Any police officer that is at an event/festival, is paid to be there either by the property owners, the organizers of the event, or the promoter(s), along with security and any EMS. As such, to some degree the police are “agents of the landlord” and can ask you to leave if you refuse to let them search you. That being said, they do have to have reasonable suspicions, and/or witness the individual pulling a stupid.

        I love the EDM fans, them, along with the metal fans, are my favourite to work with and take care of. Emphasis on the above sentence. I would HATE to see the EDM and Rave scene go underground, because then there’s no police catching the shady drug dealers that I point out to them, or EMS saving a girl who’s overdosed, or a guy who’s been drugged with GHB.

        Bottom line, take care of each other, respect each other, and realize that your brains and attitude are your best weapons. Use them and have fun. Maybe I’ll see you at a future EDM show!

        And for pete’s sake. Hug a cop instead of “F*CK THE POLICE!” Spread the love instead of the hate.

  16. MiSTEVEious says:

    Festival Yeezus for President!!!


  1. […] Read the Festival Lawyer’s follow up article, highlighting the best reactions and responding to the most pertinent questions from this article. […]

  2. […] lifeline to friends and family. (If you need to get up to speed on this, here is Part 1 and Part 2 of “What To Do if The Police Stop You at a Music […]

  3. […] Part two of What To Do if The Police Stop You at a Music Festival. Read the original post on Showbams […]

  4. […] lifeline to friends and family. (If you need to get up to speed on this, here is Part 1 and Part 2 of “What To Do if The Police Stop You at a Music […]

  5. […] Read the Festival Lawyer’s follow up article, highlighting the best reactions and responding to the most pertinent questions from this article. […]

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