Festivalgoers at Stagecoach 2017
Photo: Matt Cowan/Getty Images
Music Festivals 2018: 7 Ways To Enjoy Festival Season Without Drinking
Picture this. You've landed in the California desert and are stoked to pitch that tent. You've got the lineup pulled up on your phone and you're arguing with your travel companions about whether you'll catch Beyoncé's must-see headlining set or catch a one-of-a-kind performance from Japanese rockers X Japan, who play at the same time. And you still haven't worked out if you'll see Portugal. The Man or Kamasi Washington. Mid-argument, out comes the six-pack and now there's a tougher choice to make.
While they offer life-changing experiences and the chance to get up close and personal with music of all genres, music festivals also include lots of alcohol consumption and drug use. In fact, this darker music fest culture comes with some cold, hard facts that would sober anyone up. A 2016 Canadian study found that 13 percent of reported festival deaths between 1999 and 2014 were the result of alcohol or drug abuse.
The studies may be new, but music festivals and substance abuse have been nearly inseparable since their inception. However, what's starting to change today is a focus on sobriety and recovery for those who want to attend music festivals without imbibing in the chemical party atmosphere.
"I went to Woodstock in 1969 and all I did was get loaded with everybody else. That's never really changed," shares Dr. Howard Samuels, founder/CEO of The Hills Treatment Center in Los Angeles who has 33 years of sobriety under his belt. "The thing that has changed though is that there are more young people that are sober."
While festivals may be a highly charged space for maintaining sobriety, those in recovery can enjoy music festivals without drinking. So bust out your fanny packs, signature shades and water bottles, because you're headed to your favorite festival armed with these seven tips to maintain sobriety.
1. Make The Trip With Other Friends In Recovery
Rule number one: Don't go alone. Plan to attend a music festival with other community members who support sobriety.
"I would go with other sober people. And when I say sober, I mean other people that you're in recovery with," says Samuels, who also recommends waiting until at least six months of sobriety to take on a music festival. "Don't go alone or don't go with your old friends."
When surrounded by others who share the same mission, it's much easier to resist the temptation to drink. Not to mention, if a craving gets triggered, you can discuss the moment with someone who understands and supports your decision to remain sober. Alcohol isn't required to have a good time. Being surrounded by the right people, though, can make all the difference.
"My favorite part about festivals are the people I meet," says rapper Kosha Dillz, aka Rami Even-Esh, who has been sober for more than 13 years. "Go with someone you'll have a great time with."
2. Plan Lodging Wisely
During a festival, the stages may go dark at a reasonable hour, but the partying continues long into the wee hours of the morning. Instead of dealing with the pressures of other drunken attendees, plan to have a safe space to go at night or anytime a break is needed.
"Don't be cheap," advises Even-Esh. "If you have to get your own place and it means being able to sleep in a room versus all of the room partying until 7 a.m., it might be worth it to spend the money."
Also look into sober housing options at music festivals. As the recovery movement grows, so too do the sober safe spaces at events. Organizations such as Camp Traction offer sober areas at a handful of festivals each year, and check other festivals' websites because they may offer their own clean and sober camping options.
3. Devise An Escape Plan
If the atmosphere becomes too overwhelming or tempting, have an escape plan figured out ahead of time. This could mean driving separately so there's always a way out without being dependent on another group member, having a nice quiet place to come back to at any point during the day, or simply hailing an Uber or Lyft.
You may experience some FOMO (fear of missing out) in the moment when leaving friends behind, but you'll be glad you did.
"I make sure I don't take things personally and always have an exit plan if it gets weird," says Even-Esh. "It usually does, and in my experience I don't really miss anything when I leave."
4. Phone A Friend, Often
For Even-Esh, having a fully charged phone is of paramount importance. Samuels agrees.
"The most important thing is that you have easy access to other recovering people in order to express the feelings of being overwhelmed, of being triggered by seeing people use — by all of it," says Samuels. "You've got to be able to communicate your feelings and your thoughts."
Keep phones charged with some of these portable charger options, and don't be afraid to reach out to your support network as much as needed.
"Once I start feeling anxious, the phone is a great tool to have," says Even-Esh. "Be able to call other people that are sober or even your friends back home. It's always good to call someone not at the festival to bring you back to reality."
5. Find A Local Or On-Site Meeting
As awareness about substance abuse issues and recovery grow, so do the resources for those looking to have a great experience and maintain their sobriety. Enter on-site festival 12-step programs and other resources.
"At most festivals these days, there are 12 steps and all you have to do is ask one of the organizers or the event staff where there's a 12-step meeting," recommends Samuels. "Recovery has gotten to be so in the mainstream these days, which is really positive, that there can be a lot of safe places for recovering people at music festivals."
For example, MusiCares' Safe Harbor Room program will be available at many major festivals throughout the U.S. this year, including Coachella and Stagecoach, which provides 12-step meetings and an information booth for those attending festivals.
— Recording Academy (@RecordingAcad) February 14, 2018
6. Take Care Of The Basics
In Alcoholics Anonymous parlance, HALT — hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness — mark four pillars of well-being that must be addressed to prevent vulnerabilities to relapse.
In a music festival setting, this means eating nutritious and regular meals and snacks and drinking water. Avoid isolation and loneliness by choosing the right people to have by your side, while using your phone support network to vent anger and frustrations that might arise, say pushy crowds or a rude fan. And finally, do get some sleep. No all-nighters here!
"Sometimes getting something to eat and taking a nap can really change your mentality," says Even-Esh.
7. Set Boundaries For Yourself
Finally, it's important to know your own limits because at the end of the day you're responsible for your health and sobriety.
By setting yourself up to take care of the basics, engaging support networks, acting on escape plans as needed, and picking the right people to travel with, you've got a great head start. From here, rocking out during a weekend of unforgettable music without drinking is definitely attainable. Just keep your goals top of mind.
"Depending on where you are, there can be an absurd amount of drugs available and always large amounts of drinking happening," Even-Esh says. "For everyone else that's OK, but for me that is a problem and I'm the only person who needs to know that."