The Evolve Music and Awareness Festival was nearly derailed this week when its insurance was pulled over a decision to offer free drug-testing kits to concertgoers.
Jonas Colter, the festival's producer, said he had secured insurance after signing a waiver promising the kits would not be handed out during the three-day event, which begins Thursday in the Antigonish area.
"The Evolve Festival would not distribute drug-testing kits or paraphernalia to any persons attending, which is kind of sad, but what would be even more sad is if Evolve was cancelled altogether," said Colter.
Despite having to cancel the testing, he said he hoped the controversy would draw attention to the efforts the festival was making to reduce harm.
"In the big picture, it's just about keeping people safe. It's not about condoning drug use, it's about offering information and letting people make hopefully wise decisions," Colter said.
He said he intends to pursue having the drug-testing kits for next year's Evolve Festival.
Colter said there was a flurry of calls Tuesday and an "amazing" outpouring of support from many in the music festival industry when Colter revealed insurance woes could scuttle the event.
Evolve had planned to become the first music festival in the province to offer the drug-testing kits, giving those who attend the chance to know exactly what they are using.
That decision, however, didn't go over well with underwriter Wynward Insurance Group. It pulled the festival's liability insurance this week.
In previous years, drug use has put stress on the limited number of local emergency responders. Colter said ambulances took at least four concertgoers to the hospital last year — three for drug overdoses, one for heat stroke.
The drug tests the festival wants to offer are capable of analyzing LSD, MDMA and speed. If a festival attendee wants their drugs to be tested, they can submit a small sample to festival staff. A primary and secondary litmus test will determine the chemical makeup.
Colter said he's spoken to organizers from other festivals — such as the Shambhala Music Festival in Salmo, B.C., and the non-profit group DanceSafe in the U.S. — who have used the same kits successfully.