A Rock Festival, as Seen for Its Trash

Observing the refuse habits of tens of thousands of concertgoers at Kanrocksas

hampton trash 3.jpg

Hampton Stevens

On a sweltering night five days ago, the thick, newly-trampled grass of the Kansas Speedway was glazed by multicolored confetti, fallen steamers, shards of popped balloons, and luminous, half-spent glow-sticks. The white stage lights were glinting off the hundreds of aluminum cans and plastic bottles that once held water, soda, sports drinks, liquor and beer.

This was the waste of the inaugural Kanrocksas Music Festival, which boasted an impressive lineup that included Eminem, Muse, Flogging Molly, Primus, Kid Cudi, A Perfect Circle, D12, OK Go, Cage the Elephant, and Ween. There's no question of which performances left behind the prettiest trash. Flaming Lips, who played just before Eminem's headlining set on Friday night, won that high honor—a victory made even more impressive by the presence on the bill of Bassnectar and Girl Talk, whose audiences also know a thing or two about popped balloons and glow sticks.

The Lips' trash was so pretty, in fact, it was almost a shame to see the janitorial teams from City Wide Maintenance come to clean it up. But come they did, just as their crews in red tunics did after every one of the almost three-dozen performances at the two-day event.

If you watched, there was a kind of poetry to the cleanups. Immediately after the Black Keys' played on the alternate stage on Saturday night, the crowd vamoosed, heading to the main stage for Muse, the world’s greatest U2 tribute band, or to the electronica tent for Sound Tribe Sector 9. Even before the event security team, augmented by a few uniformed police, could shoo off the stragglers, a crew of City Wide workers swooped in with empty trash bags. Fanning out from the stage like benevolent locusts, they picked the field clean of every used cup, bottle, can, napkin, lost flip-flop, or stray cigarette pack, tossing their now-stuffed trash bags on to a flatbed trailer hauled by an ATV, and vanishing just as quickly as they came.

For a rare few, discarding trash was a grave business. If the can was overfull, they would often place their contribution beside it, or gingerly on top, like the cherry on top of a sundae.

The human waste removal process was even more elegant, especially by music festival standards. Kanrocksas fans were blessed with 441 state-of-the-art “Johnny On The Spot” portable toilets, or JOTS, delivered and serviced by a 10-worker team from Deffenbaugh Industries. That number, determined by taking into account not only the event's expected attendance, but also factors like the weather, the male-to-female ratio, and whether food and alcohol were being served, turned out to be overkill. The underwhelming attendance—which peaked at around 35,000 fans for Slim Shady's set—meant that anyone who did go to the festival experienced luxurious bathroom conditions. The entire weekend, in fact, the crowd produced a mere 40,000 gallons of human waste, using only 2,900 rolls of toilet paper (along with, reassuringly, 420 bags of hand-sanitizer). That low volume made keeping the toilets clean a breeze

Karissa Totten, 20, a tattooed blonde and veteran of festivals like Bonnaroo and Wakarusa, was absolutely ecstatic about Deffenbaugh's work at Kanrocksas.

“These bathrooms are so ridiculously clean, it's awesome! I even sat down!” she gushed. “Girls never get to do that! We always have to, like, straddle.”

Alan, her boyfriend agreed: “I walked into one and could actually breathe.”

They weren’t the only ones thrilled with the port-a-potty conditions.

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Hampton Stevens is a writer based in Kansas City, Missouri. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, ESPN the Magazine, Playboy, Gawker, Maxim, and many more publications.

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