London

Volunteer quits in disgust over $5 bottled water at 'Rock the Park,' calling it 'gouging'

A volunteer has quit in protest after she learned the only source of water at London's annual 'Rocks the Park' concert would be sold at $5 a bottle, something she calls gouging and a human rights issue.

Helen Riordan, 72, quit after learning $5 bottled water will be the concert's only water source

Concert goers pose for a selfie at Rock the Park from this still image taken from the 2016 edition of the show in Harris Park. (Jones Group Entertainment/YouTube)

A 72-year-old volunteer with the "Rock the Park" music festival says she quit in disgust after learning the only source of water at the July concert series in London's Harris Park would be bottled water sold at $5 apiece, a practice she says is akin to gouging people for their basic human rights. 

The four-day music festival will take place from July 13 to 17 in Harris Park this year. It comes after after a two-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tickets are $90 and this year's show features big name acts such as Alanis Morrisette, Garbage and the Crash Test Dummies, among others. 

Some of the money from beverages sales is being donated to charities, including the London-Middlesex Humane Society (LMHS) and Big Brothers and Big Sisters of London. Both charities will be deploying their volunteers at the event. 

Helen Riordan, who volunteered through the LMHS said she quit after she learned that the only source of water for thirsty concert goers at the festival would come at a price. 

'I believe water is a human right'

"I was shocked to learn they were going to charge $5 a can for bottled water," she said. "I asked a question if they could have a water station where people could fill up with their own bottle of water and they guy said, 'no, that doesn't work.'"

I resigned my volunteer position over this.- Helen Riordon

Riordan said she was told that concert goers would be searched when they entered the venue and that any outside food or beverages, including water, would be confiscated.

"I resigned my volunteer position over this," she said. "I believe water is a human right."

Rock the Park is organized by Jones Entertainment Group, a family-run company based at Centennial Hall that also runs a number of landmark events in the city.

The company and its president Brad Jones did not return requests for comment from CBC News Tuesday or Wednesday. 

Forced to pay for water?

The company's website includes a laundry list of things that aren't allowed at the venue, including outside food, beverages, and "in and out privileges." 

This picture, taken in 2016, shows thousands of people attending Rock the Park. (Jones Entertainment Group/Youtube)

It means people would not be allowed to leave the concert venue to access free water fountains at nearby Ivey Park. It means anyone who goes to the concert is forced to pay for water rather than get it for free. 

Riordan said anyone bringing a child, or even a dog would have to pay for what should be considered a basic need, especially when the temperatures from July 13 to 17, which last year ranged from 21C to 29C. 

"That is just ridiculous," she said. "They can charge whatever they want for beer and coolers and pop, whatever they've got, but water is a human right. They can sell the water for $5 fine, but they also need to have water stations available so that people can fill up their own water bottles." 

"The solution, I believe, is the city should step in. The city should get in touch with the organizers."

City of London requested to intervene

Riordan even wrote to city councillors, asking them to intervene.

"There is no need to gouge the people for our basic human rights," she wrote in the email,  which was reviewed by CBC News. 

Concert goers celebrate at Rock the Park in this 2016 image. This year's edition of the concert saw a volunteer quit after she learned the venue would only be supplying patrons water at $5 a bottle. (Jones Entertainment Group/YouTube)

Riordan said Anna Hopkins was the only city councillor to write her back. 

"I would hope they would allow people to bring their own water, just from a safety perspective," Hopkins told CBC News Wednesday. 

"I understand from a fundraising perspective, you need to make money. When it comes to water, we should be able to have access to water when needed, especially in emergencies." 

"We should be allowed to bring in our own water, I think that's fair."

While city hall can issue the permit for the private event in Harris Park, the city's own policies say it can't determine vendors or pricing. 

Thirst stations are available to community event organizers and can be requested by emailing water@london.ca, but a city hall spokesperson did not say whether one would be deployed to Harris Park during the concert. 

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this article inaccurately stated that Jones Entertainment Group was the organizer of the Western Fair, when in fact the organizer is the Western Fair District.
    Jul 05, 2022 9:30 AM ET

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Colin Butler

Reporter

Colin Butler covers the environment, real estate, justice as well as urban and rural affairs for CBC News in London, Ont. He is a veteran journalist with 20 years' experience in print, radio and television in seven Canadian cities. You can email him at colin.butler@cbc.ca.

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