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Rock music and drug culture are linked in the minds of many, and now that you are in recovery, you may be thinking that your days of having fun and seeing live music are over. Smaller bands generally perform in bars, and you would like to avoid those. Larger bands play at large scale venues where there is usually rampant drug and alcohol abuse. Festivals are even worse. Thankfully, however, artists, promoters, and other fans are understanding of this giant obstacle for clean and sober fans, and are working to find ways to help recovering fans feel comfortable at live shows. This trend is especially evident in the jam band scene, but it is starting to take root at festivals, too. Read on to find out how you can enjoy a concert surrounded by supportive folks who are drug and alcohol free – just like you.
The Wharf Rats
The idea of sober groups of fans at shows is not new, although the concept of groups to support these fans has certainly been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years and decades. The very first sober fan group for a large, touring band – the one that started it all – was The Wharf Rats. The Wharf Rats are sober fans of one of the most hard partying bands (and fan bases) ever, The Grateful Dead. This group was begun by a group of Deadheads that wished to remain clean and sober at Grateful Dead concerts in the 1980s; it still exists today to support fans at the band’s side project events. The name of the group comes from the song of the same name, written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter in 1971, and which tells the tale of a down-and-out alcoholic named August West.
The Wharf Rats were begun by a small group of NA members who, together, attended a Grateful Dead concert in Philadelphia. They found each other by writing the NA symbol on yellow balloons with marker. Over time, more people joined, and the group severed ties with NA (although many members of The Wharf Rats remained twelve steppers, too). At the peak of the Grateful Dead’s popularity in the 1990s, the group’s mailing list included over 3,000 members.
Today, the Wharf Rats still meet at Grateful Dead related events, and have a healthy online presence on both Dead.net(the Grateful Dead’s official site) and on social media. Two Facebook groups of the organization have 9,800 members and 6,600 members, and are very active on a daily basis. If you are someone who likes the Grateful Dead, but are concerned about your ability to stay on the clean and sober path at their concerts, then reach out – they will welcome you with open arms.
The Grateful Dead had (and has) a large touring fan base for several decades and is well known to most, but another band that has a similar following that is lesser known is Vermont’s fabulous four, Phish. Phish has been around since the mid-1980s and has had people following them around the country since not long after their inception. Like the Grateful Dead, partying and consumption seem to be a big part of the live concert experience for many Phish fans, and that can make anyone in recovery feel apprehensive about attending. However, also just like the Grateful Dead, Phish’s fans began a group where sober fans can get support and can be made to feel right at home. The Phellowship was founded in the late 1990s and has been present at every Phish concert since then. Continuing the tradition of The Wharf Rats, The Phellowship is identifiable by yellow balloons, and their table is staffed throughout the show for clean and sober fans who need someone to lean on. At set break (intermission), the group holds half-hour support group meetings where participants can discuss their struggles and strategies and also meet likeminded fans. Many fans that have met through The Phellowship travel together on tour, hang out together, and dance together at shows, and some have even started families together! This group has been a big help to so many fans. Guitarist Trey Anastasio is in recovery himself, and has been clean and sober for over a decade; he is a big inspiration to fans who are also on this life-saving path.
As with The Wharf Rats, The Phellowship is a continuous strong and ever-present force in the Phish scene. They can be found online at www.thephellowship.net, and their Facebook group has 5,500 members and is always looking for new people who want to join too.
There are a number of other, smaller, less-well-known jam bands that also have recovery groups founded and staffed by fans. It’s hard to say which one of them was first, but they all seem to have developed after The Phellowship began, and certainly after predecessor The Wharf Rats. Southern rockers Widespread Panic have a group called The Gateway,and Philadelphia trance-fusion kings The Disco Biscuits have The Digital Buddhas. Moe’s sober touring group is known as The Happy Hour Heroes, and The String Cheese Incident’s organization is called The Jellyfish. Midwest jam band Umphrey’s McGee’s sober fans call themselves Much Obliged. Even EDM giant Bassnectar’s fans have created a group for their fans in recovery; that group is called the Hummingbirds.
Each of these groups is made up of likeminded, healthy, sober people who want to help other people like them to see live music in a supportive and comfortable atmosphere. All of these groups have meetings at the concerts of their respective bands, and also have active online and social media presences.
A number of large-scale music festivals are getting in the game, too. Coachella was at the forefront of this movement and offers “Soberchella,” a safe space that not only provides a place to meet with other sober fans, but also offers twelve step meetings for musicians and attendees. Tennessee festival Bonnaroo does the same thing with Soberoo. Governor’s Ball, a non-camping yearly festival in New York City, provides on-site support for fans who are sober as well in their Soberball area. These are just a few examples; most festivals these days do offer support for people in recovery. It seems that more and more festivals are understanding of their fans’ varied needs and are responding to them. It is heartwarming and inspiring to know that bands and promoters take the time to think of these concertgoers that are working hard on something so important, and are giving them the environment and tools they need to see music that they love while staying clean and sober.
Although not all genres of music are embracing the trend of supporting fans in their sobriety, the jam band scene is really doing all it can to ensure that their fans can come see them play no matter what their desires or behaviors. Soon, other genres will surely follow suit, and all fans in recovery can get out there, hear some of their favorite live music, dance with their friends, and meet similar minded people.
Do you love a band that is not listed above? Maybe it’s time for you to start a sober group for fans of your favorite band, too! What’s stopping you? Start today!
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