I Survived a Music Festival Sober
Need help? Call our 24/7 helpline. 855-933-3480

I Survived a Music Festival Sober


While thousands were sweating off the shackles of society at Burning Man on August 23, I was sweating in line for FYF Fest, an aspiring mini-Coachella in the heart of Los Angeles. I’d bought my ticket at the urgings of my boyfriend and was somewhat skeptical about dropping $140 on a bunch of bands I liked but didn’t love. And being eight months sober, I was also apprehensive about the environment. I’ve been to plenty of shows since giving up drugs and even a few good ones since giving up alcohol. But despite the fact that sober people do go, festivals are practically synonymous with intoxication—thanks in part to the tragic drug deaths that have perennially plagued them. How much would I actually enjoy FYF, assuming I escaped with my sobriety?

From the vantage point of Saturday’s lines, the outlook was grim. All around Exposition Park, hipsters and bros formed a human labyrinth. Even locating the back of the line was a journey in its own right as we wound past the tattooed hordes cooling off with kitty fans and $5 popsicles. This was a new location for FYF, and clearly somebody had under-planned. It looked like we’d have to wait for several hours unless someone decided to open up another line—which, mercifully, they did. When we’d finally breached the gates, the first thing my normie friends wanted was beer. Frankly, so did I, but I opted for 12 ounces of coffee ice cream instead. Winning.

Compared to last year, the veterans among us attested, the new layout was less than optimal. With acts spread across three outdoor stages plus the L.A. Sports Arena, almost everyone had to make tough choices, and the distances between sets put serious mileage on everyone’s Chuck Taylors. These issues are never entirely avoidable at festivals, but it could have been done better.

We linked up with my boyfriend’s coworkers on the small lawn dubbed The Trees, chilling to xxyyxx. I wasn’t feeling the glorified DJ set, but I loved sitting under the trees themselves. Despite the inescapable odor of pot in the air, the general vibe was surprisingly civilized. I probably would have stayed above ground for Little Dragon, but the group wanted to hit the arena for a set of electronica acts. So we filed into the bowels of the stadium and squeezed beneath a galaxy of disco balls, where good old-fashioned body odor took up residency alongside the ubiquitous pot smoke.

For me, most electronic music is just a vehicle for dancing your overtaxed heart out on club drugs. Even in my using days I was never hugely into it as music, so it’s not surprising that I can’t get into it sober. I did enjoy Chet Faker thanks to his smooth singing voice, and my boyfriend was pumped for the next act, Todd Terje. During the interlude the lights went up, and I amused myself by admiring people’s hair and outfits. But 20 more minutes vanished in another planning fiasco that may or may not have involved a fire marshal, and when Todd and his turntable finally took the stage, I was thoroughly bored.

Fortunately, FYF offered plenty of opportunities to hear people play actual instruments and sing actual songs. I half-dragged my boyfriend to Against Me! for an injection of punk that substantially boosted my mood. And while I may have been leaning towards Interpol over Tycho, he chose the latter, which sounded lovely beneath the stars—much better than would have been cooped up in the concrete dungeon. This felt good, and I was glad it wasn’t over yet.

Sunday kicked off to a good start with functional lines and an energizing set by the Presidents of the USA. I’d decided after Day 1 that I didn’t want to watch any act I wasn’t thoroughly feeling. The Arena, as far as I was concerned, was the equivalent of CalTech: just because it was hard to get into didn’t mean it was where I wanted to spend my time. So while my boyfriend and his coworkers were grooving underground to Darkside, my one techno-averse friend and I sampled the Murder City Devils and overpriced pizza.

But dancing to the beat of my own actual drum meant breaking the cardinal rule of festivals. As in horror movies, once you split up from your friends you can abandon all hope of ever seeing them again. Though my boyfriend had planned to reunite with us before HAIM took the stage, we (stupidly) hadn’t set a location. My partner in rock was exhausted and bailed early with my blessing, leaving me alone with a thousand strangers in identical Strokes shirts closing in on me from all sides.

At this point the evening basically morphed into a Verizon commercial, because my boyfriend’s AT&T reception was a complete joke. When he failed to respond to all my texts, I assumed his battery had died. Combing the margins of the main stage and surveying the sea of half-lit faces proved fruitless. Had I been intoxicated, depending on the substances involved, I might have either curled into in a panicked ball of paranoia or blithely run off with some attractive rocker boy in the crowd. But sober, I trusted it would all work out if I relaxed and enjoyed the headliners. Sure enough, my texts finally went through and we were able to reconnect mid-Strokes.

So while FYF Fest had its ups and downs, my sobriety helped more than it hurt. In the pulsing ravebox of the Arena, I often did feel like I was missing something. But when it came to acts I could connect with on an emotional level, I was happy. Yes, there were people who were obviously loaded, but there were also more semi-sober people than I would have noticed if I’d been drunk or high. No one threw up on me, and the sweatiest I got was waiting in the epic entrance line. On the whole, I had fun. Would I go again? Probably not unless the lineup blew my socks off or I somehow scored a free pass. But my apprehension about handling festivals sober? Totally up in smoke.

Any Questions? Call Now To Speak to a Rehab Specialist
(855) 933-3480

About Author

Erica Larsen AKA Eren Harris blogs at Whitney Calls and Clean Bright Day. Their writing has also been published on Salon, Selfish, Violet Rising and YourTango. They live in Los Angeles with their husband and their enormous cat.