On March 17, S.A.F.E. — which stands for Sober AF Entertainment — had big plans to support and party with sober people at otherwise drunken events in Denver. But St. Patrick’s Day was called off over COVID-19.
The next night, S.A.F.E. was going to make a splash at the Nuggets game. S.A.F.E. had purchased a block of tickets for people wanting to take the night off from drinking and drugs; lawmakers and politicians were going to join them on the court to bring out the ball and celebrate two years of creating successful booze- and drug-free zones at concerts, raves and games. During that span, S.A.F.E. had partied with more than 4,000 people at over 62 events, and it seemed like high time for some recognition. But then that was called off, too.
It wasn’t just the cancellation of big events that worried Duke Rumely, who's been in recovery for thirty years and co-founded S.A.F.E. with his daughter, Jordan. He was panicked that twelve-step meetings were being called off, too. When so many people work to avoid drugs and alcohol by gathering in community, he wanted to be sure that there would still be places to meet and have fun.
So his group organized the S.A.F.E. Music Festival, a free online event that will take place on three stages from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily from Thursday, May 7, to Saturday, May 9, and 3 to 8 p.m. on Sunday, May 10. The fest will include DJs, bands, yoga and other workouts, interactive chat rooms, video conferencing and even a virtual festival that one of the organization’s boardmembers set up through the online game Second Life. More than sixty musical acts will participate, including CADE, Danny Quest, DWILLY and the Jake Bartley Band.
“We have already pre-sold over 1,000 tickets, and we're still a week out,” Rumley said in late April. “We're expecting between 5,000 and 10,000 people to attend the virtual music festival. We’re just trying to help people take the night off from drinking or feeling like they have to do drugs.”
People in recovery are especially likely to relapse when they're alone at home during a pandemic; after all, loneliness and isolation are common triggers, he notes.
“How do we have some kind of social connection during physical distancing?” he wonders. “We've seen alcohol sales spike during this time. There’s an assumption that there’s been a big relapse spike when people can’t get to their twelve-step meetings or recovery meetings. We’re trying to set up a national community where people can sit on their back porch, watch one of their favorite DJs or bands play, and feel [like] part of that community.”
While the festival is free, there will be a chance to donate. The event is doubling as a fundraiser for a fall college game-day tour, when S.A.F.E. will travel around the country to the biggest football games, setting up sober sections in stadiums and also hosting pre-game tailgate parties — assuming that colleges open up again and games happen.
“Our goal is to build a national Do-It-Yourself sober tailgate movement so people don’t think they’re the only ones taking the night off of drugs and alcohol,” Rumley explains. “We try not to be preachy. It’s not any type of meeting or sober coaching. It’s just a group of people not wanting to be near the whiskey drunk guy. My daughter calls it the Dad Zone.”
During more than sixty events, Rumley has seen and heard it all — including some people who reject the idea of sobriety. On New Year’s Eve, S.A.F.E. was at Decadence, an event nearly synonymous with intoxication. Rumley enjoyed the music, but was troubled to see so many kids who had overdosed being carted out of the venue. And not everybody at Decadence was happy that his group was there: Several people walked by the S.A.F.E. table and booed.
“Any time you talk about abstinence, it’s going to ruffle some feathers,” Rumley says.
But he doesn’t show up at events like Decadence to scold people. He’s there to party.
“I really enjoy electronic dance music,” he says. “I stayed to the end both nights. It’s just funny being the 52-year old-guy at the festival. When I was 45, I was getting double takes: ‘Are you a cop or a parent?’ At 55, they come up and are like, ‘Way to go, man!’”
Showing up for others is part of what gives meaning to his life, Rumley says. Being able to organize a sober music festival also keeps him busy and on track.
“I would say the solution to most addiction is getting out of yourself and helping others,” he explains. “It’s really difficult right now being sequestered at home, being as effective in that area. We are hoping this virtual music festival helps people keep a little more connected.”
Find out more about the S.A.F.E. Music Festival online.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.