Home News Coachella festival wants billboard on sexually transmitted diseases removed

Coachella festival wants billboard on sexually transmitted diseases removed

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A billboard near the Coachella festival advertising free sexually transmitted disease testing should be removed, concert organizers said — but the group behind it says the message is staying put.

“Catch more than vibes?” the billboard reads. Beneath it is a bubble listing the freestdcheck.org website and an photo of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, which is held at the Empire Polo Club in Indio.

The ad was paid for by the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a global nonprofit organization that provides HIV/AIDS medical care and other services.

The Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival in Indio is seen April 21, 2019. A version of the photo appears to have been used in the AIDS Healthcare Foundation's "Catch more than vibes?" billboard that urges testing for sexually transmitted diseases. (File photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images for Coachella)
The Coachella Valley Music And Arts Festival in Indio is seen April 21, 2019. A version of the photo appears to have been used in the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s “Catch more than vibes?” billboard that urges testing for sexually transmitted diseases. (File photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images for Coachella) 

It went up beside the westbound 10 Freeway on Tuesday, March 26, according to a foundation news release. By Thursday, March 28, the foundation had been asked to take it down.

“What are Coachella organizers afraid of?” Michael Weinstein, foundation president and co-founder, said in the release. “Do they really not know how people spend their time during festival weekends?”

“It doesn’t help anyone to bury their heads in the desert sand and pretend people aren’t having sex,” Weinstein said. “We want everyone to use condoms and practice safer sex, but if they don’t, we also want them to know where to get STD tested easily and for free.”

Foundation Vice President of Marketing Jason Farmer said Monday, April 1, that the billboard would remain.

“We don’t feel like we’re in the wrong,” he said.

“We talked to the owners of the billboard, too, and they were against taking it down.”

Farmer said Jason Bernstein, an attorney for AEG Presents — the parent company of Goldenvoice, which organizes and promotes Coachella — contacted the foundation’s media placement company to request the billboard’s removal.

Bernstein and a Goldenvoice representative did not respond to requests for comment this week.

Farmer said “they felt that there was a copyright infringement” and asked that the billboard be taken down within 48 hours.

Farmer said it also seems the company may have “felt it was putting a negative light” on the festival.

The billboard doesn’t name the festival, but features a photo of it, and its style echoes that of the Coachella poster. The photo appears to be from Getty Images and has been used by several media outlets.

Farmer said the foundation has placed billboards along the 10 in previous years to be seen by festivalgoers — or anyone else — headed toward Los Angeles, where the nonprofit group has multiple testing locations.

Attention-grabbing ads are a foundation tradition.

Last month, its ad saying “Just use it.” above a condom-clad banana — echoing Nike’s “Just do it.” and swoosh decal — became a finalist for the OBIE advertisement awards, a foundation news release states. Several advertising companies turned down the artwork before it finally ran, another release states.

Its other billboards have included a warning about drug-resistant gonorrhea that showed a ship sinking after hitting an iceberg, messages about syphilis and homelessness that incorporate the California flag and an STD testing ad that read “Feel the Burn?” in a play on Bernie Sanders’ “Feel the Bern” slogan.

The nonprofit group’s involvement in the Rose Parade also has made waves over the years.

In 2014, a gay marriage took place atop a wedding cake float. It drew support and opposition, including an effort to boycott the parade. Some TV stations cut away rather than broadcast the wedding. The foundation was absent from this year’s Rose Parade, which spokesperson Ged Kenslea said in December was due to design difficulties and a desire to maintain the nonprofit group’s reputation for delivering thought-provoking messages. Tentative float plans involved Steamboat Willie, a precursor to Mickey Mouse that lost its copyright protection Jan. 1.

The foundation isn’t the first to capitalize on the extra traffic near the Coachella concert.

Last year, 10 billboards featuring farmworkers put up by the Perris-based TODEC Legal Center sought to remind festivalgoers who “The Real Coachella” is: the farmworkers who live in the Coachella Valley and make up much of it workforce. The campaign returned again this year, a March news release states.

Though Farmer said the foundation doesn’t have data on the level of STD transmission at Coachella, the location provides an opportunity to spread the word about the available services.

An AIDS Healthcare Foundation billboard off the 95 Freeway in Florida depicts a condom and directs people to the website useacondom.com. (File photo by Scott Travis, South Florida Sun Sentinel)
An AIDS Healthcare Foundation billboard off the 95 Freeway in Florida depicts a condom and directs people to the website useacondom.com. (File photo by Scott Travis, South Florida Sun Sentinel) 

The festival averages 125,000 daily attendees from around the world, but they converge in the Coachella Valley in eastern Riverside County for a weekend and then leave. Symptoms of STDs may not appear for days, weeks or years.

In 2019, there were rumors of a herpes outbreak at the festival. Riverside County health officials said they weren’t aware of a spike, though herpes is not among the diseases that must be reported to public health agencies, nor is it routinely tested for unless someone has symptoms, according to the CDC.

“We wouldn’t get reports about herpes unless there was a big spike at a clinic,” then-county spokesperson Jose Arballo Jr. said at the time.

Whether or not music festivals are a hotbed of disease, some STDs are on the rise.



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