Music festivals vs the races: why the double standards?

UPDATE: Post-Melbourne Cup 2019 it seems our point has been proven. No sniffer dogs, one drug charge, one horse hospitalised with a broken pelvis.

Ahh… The Melbourne Cup. High heels, expensive frocks, delicate fascinators, suits, ties and champagne. It is truly a day of class. Isn’t it?

What always starts as a day where everyone dresses to impress quickly turns into one where people get as loose as possible, with many revellers participating in pretty dastardly behaviour. The end of the day results in immense amounts of rubbish, some humiliating drunken or drugged up photos, and videos of punters having a “classy” time.

melbourne cup the races music festivals
Photo: Getty

With numerous arrests and drug charges every year, it’s hard not to compare the Melbourne Cup and similar race day events to a music festival. One where slightly more affluent people get off their faces. 

The fallout of the Melbourne Cup seems pretty similar to a music festival. So why the double standard? And why don’t the races have to hold the same accountability that music festivals do?

In recent times music festivals – especially those in New South Wales – have been under threat, primarily due to government concerns that drug and alcohol consumption at such events puts punters at a high risk of danger. It even appears that a huge chunk of our favourite NSW festivals are considering their future in the state thanks to the lack of co-operation from NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and the state government.

But music festivals provide more than just an opportunity for people to get messy. Festivals allow us to be immersed in incredible local and international musical talent, plus they’re a chance to socialise, make new connections, or strengthen old ones. Rather than being an event of pure hedonism, festivals provide a platform for musicians who have worked hard to be heard, pumping a huge amount of money into the Australian economy. Furthermore, music festival organisers are subjected to stringent safety regulations during and post their event.

Melbourne Cup, which alone hosts a reported cast of 120,000 on the day, is celebrated by many for these same reasons as music festivals; copious amounts of alcohol, risky drugs such as MDMA and cocaine, and a chance to socialise. However, rather than providing opportunities for talented musicians to shine, the Melbourne cup includes whipping horses and gambling.

The result? Praise and celebration of the Melbourne Cup as a national treasure, with those in Victoria even treated to a public holiday. Sure the event does contribute to the economy, but how many people have lost their money as well? Not to mention the arguments which surround the severe animal cruelty involved in racing horses which pose whether the Cup is even a positive cultural event in the first place. 

In consideration of the overwhelming similarities of attendee behaviour at both music festivals and race day events, we would expect a similar level of scrutinisation by the Victorian police of the Melbourne Cup as you’d see at a music festival. While the Victorian Police have said they’re putting “Safety First” at 2019’s races and cracking down on criminal behaviour… apparently that plan doesn’t even involve sniffer dogs. 

If the Melbourne Cup were a musical festival, we doubt it would have lasted this long. While I am not calling for similar actions towards the Melbourne Cup, I do believe that ongoing restrictions and scrutiny towards festival punters and organisers will soon destroy an outstanding part of Australian youth culture.

Meanwhile, I’m sure the races will be allowed to continue.


UPDATE: Read our recap of Melbourne Cup 2019 here.