A Sober Music Festival Debuts in Denver

Ambie and Mike Handby perform as DoubleCrush.
Ambie and Mike Handby perform as DoubleCrush. Alana Watkins
Mike and Ambie Handby have been testing the theory that if you provide a sober environment for people who crave nightlife, they will come and have a good time. Turns out it works. The husband-and-wife team started their Secret Dance Addiction event company last year and threw a series of virtual parties during the pandemic, getting positive feedback from those who attended.

Since then, they’ve taken their parties out into the real world, including three events they hosted this summer. The Handbys invite everyone to join them for dance music and non-alcoholic cocktails, wine and beer; the parties aren't limited to those living a purely sober lifestyle. Folks who are taking the month or the night off from drinking are welcome, as are those who just want to avoid the drama that can accompany an evening of drinking and potentially ruin an otherwise fun time.

“By removing the filters that we put up for each other and ourselves, we're able to connect more deeply with each other and with dance and music,” Mike says. “People are just loving the concepts. It’s so simple. Just removing something leaves a lot of room for other awesome things.”

Ambie says this summer’s dance parties happened on the street in front of Awake — billed as the country’s first sober bar — in Denver's Jefferson Park neighborhood.

“The joy on people’s faces and the positive energy...and we're still drinking, man, we're still partying," she says. "We just don’t invite intoxicants.”

The couple — who also run Ignight, a wedding and event company, and perform as DoubleCrush — want to take the sober-party concept to the next logical step, so they're throwing what they say is Denver’s first sober music festival, Sundown Colorado, on Saturday, September 11, in RiNo.

“Sundown is like the baby of the two companies,” Mike says. “They’re just both growing and rising so much this year that they had enough excess energy to fund and create Sundown.”

He says the festival (motto: "Party positive") will include disco- and funk-inflected house music courtesy of Autograf, Yolanda Be Cool, DoubleCrush, DSQISE, N2N and Ishe. There will also be installations by local artists, a local vendor village, a healing tent with guided meditation, and plenty of non-alcoholic drinks, both free and for sale, from companies including Grüvi and Lyre's.

“We’ve been calling it Colorado’s first detox music festival,” Ambie says. “We didn’t pull an alcohol permit. There won’t be any alcohol served, but there will be hella drinks.”

For the Handbys, the concept of mindfulness includes something they call “consciously connecting —  turning down before you turn up.” Secret Dance Addiction parties have included a collective moment of silent meditation and reflection before the partying begins.

“In order to experience the dynamics we want in ourselves and our world and in our relationships, we have to know what zero feels like,” Mike says. “How are you going to turn up to ten if you don’t know what zero feels like?”

The pre-dance meditation, he explains, makes the experience better for everyone.

“Instead of rolling into a club or a festival, and it’s already turned up — everyone there is already lit and you have to play catch-up and drink or whatever — we have a moment of connection to silence or connection to that space, and we do it together," he says. "Then we turn up.”

The Handbys often have conversations with people who come to their parties about why they attend. Obviously, some people are simply looking for a sober environment, but they also crave the positive energy that comes from knowing everyone is coming primarily for the music.

“We attract the vibe that we experience in this world,” Mike says. “It’s magnetic. When it’s a group of people getting together in the name of mindfulness and music, it’s a special experience, for sure.”

“We're all about having a fun time,” Ambie agrees. “It’s for everybody, too. You can do anything you want to do with your life and come to Sundown and experience that positivity and magic."

Sundown Colorado takes place from 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday, September 11, at the RiNo Festival Grounds, 3715 Chestnut Place. Tickets, $30 to $34, are available at the Sundown Colorado website. Learn more at Secret Dance Addiction and Ignight Entertainment.
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