By Melissa Unger
The summer concert season is here, and this weekend Governors Ball takes over Randall’s Island in New York City for a three-day music festival! Acts include the likes of Outkast, The Strokes, Jack White and Vampire Weekend. Plus there will be all the usual activities, like silent disco, lawn games, art installations and something called “Sober Ball.” Wait, what’s that last one?
Yes, the festival’s promoters say, “You don’t have to indulge in order to enjoy music festivals.” And for folks that like to enjoy life without indulging, there will be a sober group on-site where you can hang with like-minded friends and enjoy the day. Patrick Whelan, who organizes the Sober Ball, said it is a growing trend that is being embraced by music festivals.
“Our message is simply [to] provide support in a slippery environment for people who have already made their own choices if they are going to or not going to [use],” Patrick explained. “We don’t advocate one way or another. We have no opinion on people using or choosing not [to use]. We are simply there as a support mechanism. Our support is there to provide a place for people who are not going to be using that weekend and make sure that they can have a good time.”
At the festival, music fans can expect to find the Sober Ball lounge staff with a dozen or so volunteers. Patrick clarified there “will be meetings three to five times a day for those people who just want to come and get out of the heat (or get out of the rain) and have a place where they can check in. It’s not going to be 12-step-related and [it’s] not affiliated with any type of anonymous program. It is simply a place for people to take a load off and grab a chair.”
The not-for-profit Sober Ball experience actually started at another music festival, Bonnaroo, about 12 years ago. Patrick said, “Just a group of us started meeting at Bonnaroo every year and over the course of time the festival got wind of what we were doing and really started to embrace us.”
This isn’t a totally new idea, though. He noted that back in the day — we’re talking with the Jam Bands scene — there were traveling sober groups that most musicians embraced. Even the Grateful Dead had their own sober group of fans. And if you go, you might just see a musician or two as well at Sober Ball.
“We have had musicians come in our tent before,” Patrick revealed. “We have had musicians walk right in.” Hey, did you catch that lineup? This might be the place to be!
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