Water is your friend. Especially when you’re dancing for hours on end in desert heat. But it’s not uncommon for festival attendees to neglect hydration amid the deluge of sensory overload that is EDC Las Vegas. Fortunately, Laura Newton and her Ground Control minions have your back.
“We like to make it rain free water,” Newton says. “Last year, it was 114 degrees. They’re in Vegas. I can’t imagine they’re eating healthy and staying sober in their hotels. They’re partying beforehand. They’re going to pool parties and being in the sun dehydrates you. And then dancing for hours.”
Free water at a festival—both filtered and bottled water, at that—isn’t exactly commonplace. Many festivals gouge their patrons in the H2O department. But patron health is important to EDC promoter Insomniac. And Ground Control helps keep tabs on guests’ well-being. Ground Controllers are the near-omnipresent eyes and ears of Medical & Safety, an outreach team that prevents and diffuses crises. It runs like a well-oiled machine these days, but getting the program off the ground wasn’t easy. Newton was 19 at the time, and still living at home.
“My parents didn’t want me to go,” Newton says. “I just took the car keys and ran. I wasn’t going to party at a show. I had a team to run.” And teamwork made the dream work. Insomniac’s Beyond Wonderland SoCal saw the official debut of Newton’s crew, clad in their then-new purple shirts with screen-printed angel wings on the back (and armed with multichannel radios and bandages), in 2011. Hugs and high-fives were given, dead cell phones were recharged, kandi was exchanged, lost festies were reunited with their squads and, when necessary, drunks were even babysat.
“First and foremost, Ground Control makes sure that everyone’s having a good time,” Newton says. “They spend their entire shifts roaming around the festival introducing themselves to people, making their presence known and then looking for anyone who looks like they’re not enjoying their experience.”
If someone is sleeping, Ground Control wakes them to make sure they’re not passed out. Similarly, the merry do-gooders routinely check porta-potties for the unresponsive. Though initially a volunteer program, Ground Control soon began paying its employees. Newton and company have since played the rave version of Baywatch at dozens of events all over the world.
“EDC Brazil was the most incredible opportunity that we’ve had,” Newton says. “Only three people on my Brazil team spoke English. So I couldn’t communicate verbally with the majority. But we all still bonded. Language barriers are only a small part of culture—we all share love for music.”
Ground Control’s responsibilities are often fairly black and white: Helping attendees in need is the focus. And then there are gray areas. Sometimes, Ground Controllers witness quarrels between lovers, and there is debate about whether to intervene. And though illegal narcotics are technically prohibited inside the festival grounds, some partygoers still manage to ingest a rainbow array of psychedelic substances.
“Safety is our priority,” Newton says. “It’s not our decision how to take care of a patient. We always have them checked out immediately if we feel they’re having a difficult time. We make sure that they receive the medical attention they need. Sometimes, we tell white lies. If someone wants to know where the fairies are, we tell them the nurses are the fairies.”
Individuals can behave in interesting ways when they’re in altered states. In 2012, a video of an intoxicated girl getting intimate with a tree at Miami’s Ultra Fest went viral. While hugging trees may be good for your health, the girl in this instance may not have wanted to be the focus of tens of thousands of internet gawkers. Ground Control doesn’t want that to happen on its watch.
“We teach team members that it’s not OK for someone to photograph another person without their consent,” Newton says. “If we see people trying to photograph others, we ask them to stop. The girl from the Ultra video has a family and a career. We’d never want that to happen to us, so our team makes sure that they protect everyone else’s privacy.”
Ground Control considers itself the heartbeat of Insomniac. Just like an actual heartbeat, Ground Controllers are rarely hard to find.
“If you’re looking for Ground Control at EDC [or any other Insomniac festival], you can find them at the Ground Control Oasis—a cool, relaxing area where you can take a break and learn about our team, in front of all the first-aid tents, roaming in visible areas around the event and at all the water stations,” Newton says. “Their guest services cohorts are at the ADA access center, ADA viewing areas, lost and found and information booths.”
Interested in working with Ground Control? Email them at GroundControl@Insomniac.com. And either way, stay happy, healthy and hydrated.