Summer music festivals are the highlight of the year for many young folk, as well as a few not-so-young. The likes of Glastonbury, the Isle of Wight, Leeds/Reading, Latitude, Boardmasters and all the rest have been famous not just for the wide array of big-name acts on the stage, but also for a few days of hedonistic fun around tents.
While illegal substances have long been a no-no, there will always have been lots of sex and booze at such events, which many have regarded as much a part of the fun as the music itself.
However, it seems that attitudes are starting to change somewhat. As ITV reports, the number of people in Generation Z who either consume little alcohol or don’t drink at all is so high that festivals are having to adjust by serving non-alcoholic beer.
For example, the founder of the Parklife festival Sacha Lord told the i organisers offered three alcohol-free beers for this year’s event. He remarked: "Would that have happened ten years ago? No. You’d go to a festival to get absolutely wasted.” A survey had also revealed a third of attendees had not intended to drink at the event.
Speaking to ITV, Colin Angus, from the University of Sheffield's alcohol research group, observed that "There is a long-term trend away from beer."
However, he explained, while the last half century has seen a reduction in beer consumption being partly replaced by alternatives like wine and cider, the trend now is downwards for all alcohol consumption as young people drink less than older generations. All this means that festivals "are not the same as they were 20 years ago" he said.
This is all backed up by NHS statistics pointed to in the report. Published in 2021, these show that 38 per cent of 16-24 year-olds did not drink or had not done so in the previous 12 months, along with 21 per cent of those aged 25-34. In 2011, the respective figures were 19 per cent and 16 per cent.
It is not just a matter of cultural change or cost; people are getting increasingly aware of the health impacts of alcohol. This means even research showing that there are some positive aspects to alcohol is tempered by the fact that there is much harm to be aware of.
For example, recent research by experts at the Massachusetts General Hospital, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, indicated that moderate alcohol consumption could reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by reducing stress-signalling in the brain.
However, the researchers were at pains to stress this did not mean everyone should start hitting the booze.
Lead author of the study, cardiologist Ahmed Tawakol, remarked: “We are not advocating the use of alcohol to reduce the risk of heart attacks or strokes because of other concerning effects of alcohol on health.”
Writing in the Guardian, columnist and TV presenter Adrian Chiles went further, saying the headlines arguing there are any health benefits to alcohol could be misused by heavy drinkers to justify their excessive consumption, but the reality is very different.
It seems that message is getting through to younger people, even at hitherto hedonistic summer music festivals.