Sober People Finding Kindred Spirits at Music Fests
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Sober People Finding Kindred Spirits at Music Fests


When I quit drinking, I thought I’d never be able to enjoy a concert again. I’ve admittedly never been a die-hard live music person and I never even tried a drug beyond marijuana so it’s not like I was regularly rolling on ecstasy at raves but the live music I did encounter was one hundred percent synonymous with alcohol. I have always loved a good country concert (I’m from the South, forgive me) and have attended an ungodly amount of Southern weddings with live bands at the receptions. One of my all time favorite activities used to be dancing right in front of the stage with a solid buzz in my brain and a bottle of Bud Light (Bud Light being my end of the night go-to once I’d gotten too drunk to care if what I was drinking was fattening or top shelf) in my hand, not giving two shits about my mediocre Caucasian dancing skills. Turns out that there’s a way to get all of this sober, thanks to a slew of sober folks who are, yes, banding together at the now ubiquitous music festivals taking over the world.

All the Cool Kids Are Going to Soberoo

A recent story in The New York Times music section highlighted the increasing popularity of these sober factions at popular music festivals. Turns out that beloved summer staples like Bonnaroo in Tennessee and The Governor’s Ball in New York are sporting some serious VIP sections. And by VIP I mean, Vodka Isn’t Permitted. (Yes, you can use that, sober jam band lovers. You’re very, very welcome.) The group at Bonnaroo, led by grass roots organizer and Kentucky native Patrick Whelan, affectionately call themselves Soberoo. And although it isn’t mentioned in this particular piece, there has also been a Soberchella crew happening at Indio, CA mainstay Coachella for quite some time. The leaders of that group actually facilitate AA meetings on festival grounds (Soberoo and off shoots like Sober Ball are not necessarily 12-step rooted).

These drug and booze free troupes began forming back in the 80s when loyal Grateful Dead followers who hit their weed limits got together to try and still enjoy their beloved Garcia without relapsing. These “Wharf Rats” started signifying their presence at concerts with a yellow balloon—a symbol which has continued to serve as the marker for the soda seats today.

And in case you thought doing molly was a requirement as vital as a purchased ticket for entry at a rave-worthy electronic music fest, think again. Nocturnal Wonderland and Electric Daisy Carnival both have sober tents this year. (Like how I wrote that as if I knew those festivals existed before reading this New York Times piece? For non-cool music people such as myself, those are both very youth oriented musical gatherings that occur in San Bernardino, CA in September and Las Vegas, NV in June, respectively.)

Everybody Wins

Promoters are a big supporter of these yellow balloon brigades as the presence of non boozing and drugging folks helps negate the bad press that’s come from past overdoses and even fatalities that can result from a little too much fun at the festival. The promoters even supply the advertising and section off a piece of fest property for the non-drinkers. While right now there is occasionally a lack of volunteers for the sober section, I imagine that finding more people to help won’t be a problem as this movement grows. A free ticket to a cool music festival is certainly a commitment that’s a hell of a lot better than making coffee at your morning meeting, am I right?

Photo courtesy of Jon Elbaz (Black Star, Bonnaroo 2012) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons (resized and cropped)

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About Author

Mary Patterson Broome has written for After Party Magazine, Women's Health Magazine Online, AOL, WE TV and Mashed. She has been performing stand-up comedy at clubs, colleges, casinos, and festivals for over a decade.