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Could music festivals be good for your health?

Millions of people around the world go to music festivals each year. At one time, they were seen as encouraging heavy drinking and drug-taking while providing poor facilities and bad food. But now organisers are more focused on festival-goers’ wellbeing.

“The music is great, it’s educational and it’s therapy,” says Marta Pibernat, from Catalonia in Spain.

“But we do end up drinking more than we should,” admits her friend, Patricia Torne, who is also from Catalonia, but lives in the UK.

It is Friday morning and we are in a field in rural Wiltshire, in southwest England, where the two women and several hundred other people have just taken part in a 90-minute yoga workshop.

We are at the Womad world music festival, where performers such as Macy Gray, reggae star Ziggy Marley and Malian singer Salif Keita are performing over the four-day event to a total of 39,000 people.

There are workshops, talks and therapies, along with exotic and familiar foods.

James Mowbray, from London, has just had a gong bath when I meet him.

Massages, reiki, reflexology and inversion therapy are all on offer, while two shamans offer to remove “ancestral traumas from the vibrational field of your DNA”.

Mowbray lies on his back on a couch while two therapists gently bathe him in the sound of their gongs.

“It’s extremely pleasurable and relaxing,” he says of the 30-minute session, which cost £40 ($49).

“I used to go to dance music festivals, which are not necessarily good for your health,” he adds, referring to their reputation for drugs and overindulgence.

The health benefits of listening to live music are borne out by studies.

“We found that going to concerts significantly reduces the levels of the stress hormone cortisol,” says Daisy Fancourt, associate professor in epidemiology at University College London.

They took saliva samples from people attending a classical and a pop concert to compare stress levels.

“Both groups were biologically calmer afterwards. That suggests it’s more about the event rather than the type of music.

Her studies also found that going to live music events could help reduce the risk of developing depression and preserve cognition in the over-50s.

Julie Ballantyne, of the University of Queensland, has studied the effects on people’s wellbeing of music festivals in Australia.

“The experience of being separated from everyday life prompts people to reflect and spend time on themselves and this is important for their wellbeing,” says the associate professor of music education.

“But we also found that if they had a positive social experience with friends, their subjective, psychological and social wellbeing were all the more impacted.”

She says that bad experiences, such as drinking too much alcohol, being jostled in big crowds, poor toilet and shower facilities or queuing, can reduce the benefits.

Ziggy Marley tells me that festivals such as Womad are good for the collective wellbeing. “They represent the potential of the world. Thousands of people together in unity,” he says.

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