For the past three years, 40,000 + people have made their way into a magical place located in central Florida. They venture out to a little place called Sunshine Grove, and over the next four days they will be part of largest party happening on Earth. Amazing artists from around the globe, including Snoop Dogg, Arcade Fire, Bassnectar, Halsey and The Flaming Lips, made their way to Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival last weekend. Okeechobee Fest has such mystical allurement that surrounds the entire festival. When such a large amount of people get together to celebrate things they love, together, magic happens.
On my way up to Okeechobee this year, I stopped at an old family run gas station down the road from my house. The cashier is a friendly older man, his hair more salt than pepper, an accent that hints of a childhood from the deep south, but his long time in Palm Beach County has masked it away. Looking over his thick glasses to type out the total, we make small talk as I wait for my credit card to go through. He saw my car packed to the brim and asked if I was going camping. I told him yeah, that I was heading up to Okeechobee for a music festival. “Like Woodstock?” he asks.
“Yeah, kinda like Woodstock, just a bit smaller,” I respond. He laughs and a smile fills his face.
“I was at Woodstock, I would love to experience something like that again. I’m probably too old now.” I wish this old dude could come with me and relive the joy of his past, I tried explaining that there is such a huge variety of people that go to Okeechobee, that he would almost fit right in. “I bet there are no drugs there, huh?” he says with an obvious sarcastic tone in his voice. I wanted to let him know that I was going there to write about attending a music festival sober, but being the awkward dude I am I just laughed and walked out the door.
Even this guy, the gas station owner from a 1970’s romantic comedy, associates drugs with music festivals. While yeah, there are some people that attend music festivals and use mood and mind-altering substances, there is so much more to a festival than this. I had the opportunity to meet some amazing people who attend music festivals with no intent of getting high or drunk.
A Life Full of Happiness and Music Festivals
Once upon a time, this was very far from the case. Drugs and alcohol were the main things on their mind. Once the pain of their drug addiction became too much, they took action to change their life. Now they have recovered from a hopeless state of mind and body and are able to live an amazing and fulfilling life. A life full of happiness, adventure, friendships, family and music festivals.
Okeechobee Fest has Soberchobee, a safe place for people who are in recovery can go to meet with other recovering addicts and alcoholics. They host a meeting every 2 hours where attendees can share about anything and not be judged. I sat down to speak with two guys who were at the Soberchobee tent.
He’s 22 years old and originally from NJ. He came down to Florida over 2 years ago to get help for his heroin addiction. Now living in Fort Lauderdale he works as a behavioral health technician at a rehab facility. Ryan actually first started using drugs at a music festival when he was a teenager, now he’s there to show other young people that an amazing drug-free life is possible, even at a music festival. With more than 2 years clean he spends a lot of his time working, playing guitar and going to the gym. He hopes to be a bodybuilder one day. He was super excited to see Big Gigantic (who killed it) Bassnectar (face melted in sobriety) and Foster the People (very surprising how rock and roll these guys were).
This dude has over 22 years clean, he was born and raised in Miami and now lives in Fort Lauderdale. He’s a vice president of business development for a mental health and drug abuse counseling center. He’s a doctor in psychology and dedicates his life to helping those who struggle with addiction. This was his first year ever working at the Soberchobee tent, but this was not his first festival. He’s been to Zen Fest (now Ultra) and Lollapalooza, plus he used to follow Phish. He has two kids, has been married for almost 8 years and has been working in the recovery field for over 15 years. This guy was the real deal, he’s been through it now he wants to give it back.
This amazing woman had such a positive glow around her, she literally didn’t stop smiling through our sit down together. That’s an amazing thing, when in the midst of addiction we rarely smile and when we do it always feels forced. Kasey is a 29-year-old recovering opiate and benzo addict, now with over 4 years clean she is an RN who finds joy through various outlets in her life. She loves going fishing, hiking and anything music related. She has a little Yorkie whom she loves unconditionally and wants everyone to know that her life is truly “happy, joyous and free. That you can go to a festival and stay sober. Make sure you’re comfortable in your recovery, live in the moment and have some good sober supports.” Anything is possible.
Charles got clean at a young age and has built an incredible life for himself. At just 25 years old, Charles has 6 years clean. He graduated college from an amazing university and is now a financial analyst. He loves traveling, has been to over 10 different countries and has also been skydiving and cave diving. His first festival was Hulaween in 2017 and he was instantly in love, Okeechobee Fest is his 2nd festival ever, and he’s doing it all sober. He had two shoulder reconstructive surgeries where he refused narcotic pain medication. “I just took ibuprofen and I was fine.” The life he has built for himself is extremely inspiring, at 19 he was going to die from his heroin addiction, now he’s living a life that only some can dream of.
Taking This Step
Soberchobee is a beautiful thing, a place where no judgment exists, where everyone is there to just help each other. Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival in a whole, felt similar. Of course, there are some rotten apples in the bunch, but they are few far and in-between. The overall group of people there are marvelous. The weird and wonderful people make Okeechobee one of the best fests in the United States. If you are thinking about going to a music festival sober, know that there is great support here. Okeechobee hosts a special place in my heart, and I can’t wait for year 4.