Music News

Coming Clean

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"The tour is very dangerous for people in recovery," says Don. "There are a lot of people who do use drugs. It stands to reason that there would be a proportionate number of people in recovery from drug abuse. It's a natural place for us to meet.

"I didn't get in to a lot of shows when I was using," he adds. "I would be the one who was so drunk or high I couldn't move. And I could never remember much of what happened. To the extent that I can enjoy the shows now and remember it, yeah, it's a lot better."

As part of his Gateway and Jellyfish duties, Steve meets recovering fans at their first sober shows and keeps them company. In April he attended the String Cheese Incident's performance at the Fillmore Auditorium with Jay, a new Jellyfish member.

"I'm new to recovery. I was afraid to go into an environment like a concert," Jay says. "There were lighters going everywhere. It seemed like this big wall of smoke descended on me." In the company of Steve and the Jellyfish, he says, "I felt a sense of belonging, a 'welcome home' kind of deal. We have our own little subculture inside the larger one, our own little family."

Jay got his first taste of jam-band music several years when he attended a Dead show high on cocaine. The combination was a bummer, he says. When he returned to the jam scene, free of a chemical influence, he worried that his interest in the music would decline. So far, though, that hasn't been the case. "I went to the [String Cheese] show, and now I'm addicted, so to speak," he says. "As goofy as it may sound, I find this music to be very spiritual in its effect on me."

That's no surprise to Steve, who constantly meets fans who are considering the sober lifestyle. "I tell them, 'Hopefully, you'll still be alive, and we'll be there for you.' You have to want to help yourself first. That's the only way to get clean," he says.

"Phil Lesh once told me in Denver a couple years ago that the Wharf Rats save lives," Don recalls. "That says it all. How many lives do you have to save for it to be successful? I've had innumerable people come up to me and get help they would not have otherwise had." Helping others, he says, "helps me stay clean and allows me the privilege of being there for somebody in need."

Steve also says his volunteer work helps keep him drug-free. Better still, the concert experience holds richer rewards now than it did before. "The music gets me high," he says, "I enjoy the shows now more than ever. I'm much more alert to what's going on. It's easier [to tell] when the magic isn't happening, when the band's not on.

"It's changed what I heard and how I felt about the music."

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Marty Jones