Waterfront Blues Festival Announces No Outside Food or Drink Policy for 2024

The policy is focused on safety and protecting vendors, but some attendees want more clarity.

Waterfront Blues Festival (Connor Meyer)

This year’s Waterfront Blues Festival will feature Ben Harper, Bobby Rush and Leyla McCalla, among others. But this summer, you won’t be eating any homemade meals as you watch these artists. For the first time, the festival will no longer allow outside food or drink.

“This is a policy we’ve been thinking about for the last several years, and are probably one of the last major urban music festivals to implement,” says festival director Christina Fuller. “This festival has a lovely legacy that’s almost four decades long, but the realities of producing a large-scale festival have changed.”

Fuller says safety concerns are driving the shift.

“When folks are bringing in big coolers and we can’t search through all of it, it truly is safety thing,” Fuller says. “Thirty years ago that worked, in 2024 it doesn’t. The change is hard, and we get that.”

According to Fuller, ticket sales are strong, and “98%” of attendees have been on board with the changes. But not everybody.

“People kind of went ballistic,” says Jennifer Gunter, a longtime attendee who contacted WW to voice her objections. “I felt their pain because say you’re diabetic or you have a heart issue, which means you have to have low sodium—you can’t just eat a Caesar salad that has 1,000 mg of sodium and say, ‘I’m good.’”

Gunter is 67 and one of the youngest in her group of friends that’s been going to the festival for several years. She contends that the changes create new dangers for an audience that skews senior.

“I used to do crowd management security—I had my [Department of Public Safety and Standards Training]—so I understand safety standards and support them,” Gunter says. “My question is, are you confident [vendors] really will offer heart-smart and diabetic-accessible food? And not just, it looks nice, but medically it is something people can eat? This festival, you go in at 11 am and you’re out at 10 pm. That’s a long time to not have safe food.”

Attendees with four-day passes are allowed to leave and return, while those with single-day passes are not permitted reentry.

“I’m not trying to be a rabble-rouser, I just want to know they’re doing due diligence,” Gunter says.

Some of Gunter’s fears have been addressed. Festival organizers are offering exceptions for medical needs, whether that’s diabetic options, baby formula, or other medically related food or drink, and encourages anyone with concerns or questions to reach out directly through info@waterfrontbluesfest.com. As far as drinks, the festival will allow factory-sealed water bottles, along with reusable bottles to fill at free hydration stations set up throughout the festival grounds. The festival team is also working to find vendors with healthy and snack-sized options, and to bring more business to the vendors.

“There’s a whole festival ecosystem that goes into producing a festival,” Fuller says. “Food vendors are a critical part of our ecosystem. It becomes increasingly hard to recruit food vendors and support these local independent businesses that need festivals to sell when people are walking in with their picnic.”

The festival’s team is currently recruiting food vendors and will announce the selection of vendors in the spring, alongside general menus.

“All we’re asking folks is to reach out to us and communicate,” Fuller says. “We’re humans that eat three meals a day as well. We’d be thrilled to hear what [people] need or concessions we can make.”

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