Blue Ridge Rock Fest Investigated Over Illness Outbreak

Music

Now three weeks after the ill-fated 2023 edition of the Blue Ridge Rock Fest, there continue to be issues related to the event with attendees of the festival reporting that they experienced gastrointestinal issues following the abbreviated music weekend. As a result, the Virginia Department of Health has launched an investigation.

In a report from local station WFXR-TV, festival goer Andy Petite revealed that he had experienced nausea and diarrhea following his attendance at the festival, while noting, “I’m 172 pounds right now which is 13 pounds less than I was at the age of 13.”

He says that he and three friends had all drank from water stations and all three had allegedly fallen ill afterward. “The symptoms were all relatively the same,” he said. He revealed that he was tested for parasites and received a prescription for parasitic infection. While his doctor stated that he felt he may have been exposed to giardia, his tests were negative by the time he sought care.

“Still unsure what the actual diagnosis is, so it’s a little concerning but I was cleared to return to work,” he said. “Yesterday or last night actually was the first time I was cleared to return to work since the festival.”

As stated, the Virginia Department of Health has launched an investigation. A survey was constructed for attendees that asks whether or not they filled water bottles at the festival, used handwashing stations or ate vendor food. It also asks whether or not any of the attendees went in or near the local Dan River.

The survey is available here and attendees are asked to share their experiences both while attending and after the event. The information on the survey will be kept confidential and no individual data will be used in any report.

Petit, during his chat with WFXR, noted that he camped at the festival and his account of the conditions after Thursday’s storm were as follows: “The camps, they were completely soaked and with the porta-potties overflowing with water we were all literally traipsing around poop,”

Blue Ridge Rock Fest’s Recent Statement

Earlier this week, Blue Ridge Rock Fest officials issued a new statement about the events of this year’s festival, revealing that further commentary on “misinformation” would be coming at a later time. They added that they were “in extensive discussions with our ticketing company and partners,” urging patience as more information regarding a “resolution” would become available.

Blue Ridge Rock Festival Sticking By Weather as Cause for Cancelation

“We are continually working around the clock for you. As one of the few true independent entities remaining, and with just one event a year, the process we are currently working through does unfortunately take additional time,” the statement begins.

“Blue Ridge deeply regrets the unexpected turn of events that led to the festival’s cancellation. The decision, although difficult, was taken in collaboration with an emergency management team, comprised of local, county, and state officials, as well as venue representatives. It was a collective choice made in the best interest of everyone’s safety, including attendees, musicians, and campers,” it continues.

“Contrary to some claims, the decision was based solely on safety concerns caused by the weather,” the statement clarifies as a catch-all regarding a slew of other reported problems. The Virginia Health Department confirmed they uncovered an unspecified amount of health violations and stagehands have come forth with details about a threat to strike on Sept. 9 if working conditions did not improve.

What Was the Weather Like the Rest of That Weekend?

In a TikTok video published on Sept. 13, Chris Michaels, meteorologist for southwest Virginia’s WSLS, addresses the weather conditions during the days Blue Ridge Rock Festival took place, as well as the cancelation overall.

“I reached out to the National Weather Service. They said they do not suggest canceling events — that’s just not something that they do. But they did send briefings to emergency management,” he says. Michaels also reviewed “archive radar data” from Sept. 9 and 10 surrounding the festival site, noting that little to no rain was in the Saturday (Sept. 9) forecast and that only “scattered showers” were expected on Sunday (Sept. 10). Those weather conditions, Michaels states, were “nothing that you can’t play or sit through.”

Kerrigan Smith, President of Virginia International Raceway (VIR – the site where Blue Ridge Rock Festival was held) told WDBJ7 that it was the storm that preceded the weekend that ultimately resulted in the cancelation and not the forecast for the event’s remaining days.

“We’re not talking about the the condition of when you look up at the sky. We’re talking about the aggregate of the effects of the weather that happened, people’s equipment damaged, tents destroyed. Then, the deterioration of the fire lanes that we had in those areas to where we were not going to be able to either get them out or access them,” Smith said.

However, in Blue Ridge Rock Festival’s initial statement announcing the cancelation of the remainder of the event, organizers cited on Sept. 9 that the cause was “due to this weekend’s continued severe weather.”

Blue Ridge Rock Festival Unable to Offer More Details At This Time

The second half of the statement said very little, thanking fans for their “patience and understanding.”

“Due to a combination of internal considerations and external factors, we are unable to offer more details at this time, but we are looking forward to doing so. We appreciate your patience and understanding and will communicate further information as soon we are able. We do want you to know we hear you and understand your concerns. We ask for your continued patience,” the statement concludes.

Full Statement From Blue Ridge Rock Festival (Sept. 23, 2023)

The statement was released on Blue Ridge Rock Festival’s Facebook and Instagram pages, but not X (formerly Twitter). The comments on the Instagram post have been disabled.

A significant amount of the Facebook comments express disbelief at the festival’s claim that weather forced the cancelation. Over half of the reactions have been met with a laughter emoji.

Blue Ridge Rock Festival has yet to address the issue of refunds.

“We are working diligently to provide refund details and will share that information early this week when business re-opens,” the fest claimed in a post published on Sept. 9, the day of the cancelation.

READ MORE:

15 Most Disastrous Music Festivals in History

Here are some of the most disastrous music festivals in history, many of which proved unacceptably arduous for attendees, but a handful of others that unfortunately turned tragic. You might remember many of these instances — others you may not know about yet. Keep reading to find out.

Gallery Credit: Philip Trapp

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