I've never been sober at a concert before this summer. Here's how it's going.
Ed. We got a dispatch from this weekend's Bassnectar show by a young writer and music lover who is just over three months sober. We've chosen to leave her name off of it because the Internet never forgets anything. She is experiencing her first summer in the concert playground of Colorado without booze. Note that none of the people in the photos is the author. Enjoy her perspective!
For the last four years, my weekends have been filled with electronic shows everywhere from small Fort Collins venues to 1STBANK Center ragers and out-of-state festivals. And my only memories are pictures on my phone.
This past weekend, 10,000 scandalous rave outfits, hippie skirts and "basshead" T-shirts filed into the rows at Red Rocks for Bassnectar's annual party. I'd been here before. But this show was different. I didn't puke in the parking lot.
My love for music is rooted in childhood piano lessons and dance classes. But when drinking became my favorite pasttime in my late teens, going to concerts turned into a dangerous binge.
My 21st-birthday celebration at a Bassnectar and Pretty Lights collaboration concert turned seriously sour, and it was apparent that, while most young adults were just learning how to have a crazy time, I was headed down a terrifying road.
I left the concert culture of Colorado for a professional setting to try and get my problem in check. I went to work for a music-advocacy group across the country. It was all going great, until I went to a concert and had a drink in my hand.
I love music so much I want to make it my career. But how was I ever going to be in the music industry if I could never stay sober enough to remember concerts?
On March 28, I sat uncomfortably in a nondescript building with a dozen strangers for my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. I was more nervous for the meeting than any job interview I've ever had. The day before,t I hadn't left my bed, much less my apartment. My pillow was stained with mascara and guilt. Building up the courage and energy to just get to the meeting required help from one of my favorite comfort albums -- A Color Map of the Sun, by Pretty Lights.
When a group of musicians are sitting at their favorite dive bar watching a friend play on a small stage nearby, I imagine that they feel at home. They know what it's like to struggle with their craft. The long hours for little to no pay, nights of song revisions, chasing the next gig. They're all in the same rocky boat.
In that AA meeting, I felt at home in this group of strangers. It's not the same, obviously -- musicians are brought together by their work and passion, and we were brought together by something putting a strain on those things. Still, it was a relief to be in a room full of people who could relate to what I was going through. We know each other's struggles: the guilt of hurting relationships, the confusion of not remembering, the constant anxiety of not knowing how the night will end.
From that very first meeting, I knew that both my life and my passion for music could only move forward if I could stay sober. I vowed to not let sobriety affect my summer concert life, which last season included fourteen shows at Red Rocks. Last year, most of them ended in tears, fights and blackouts. But how does one watch a set without a beer in hand? It was all foreign to me. Not drinking at a show was absurd. Wasn't I going to look like a loser?
I was fifty days sober when I got back to Colorado. I went straight from the airport to Red Rocks for a show by Gramatik. My first sober concert.
I had a Red Bull in my hand for the entire three-hour show, but I made it. I still enjoyed myself -- I couldn't wait to go back for more. And my sobriety was no longer terrifying. Hard as hell, yes, but not unattainable.
Concerts without alcohol are a different experience for me. It means focusing on the art of the show rather than my next drink. I am finding that it's easier to lose myself in the music.
This past weekend at Bassnectar, I found myself thinking deeply about the emotions of the songs and how the audience was affected by the different beats and track combinations. I followed the light and graphic show intelligently. Being sober at an EDM show has freed my senses like I would have never imagined.
DJ Lorin played his new song "You and Me" off of his upcoming album Noise and Beauty. I was moved to tears as I thought about the dark world I was leaving behind. I can even tell you some of the lyrics: "Cause it's easy to feel weighed down/And it's easy to blame ourselves/When the sky is filled up with clouds."