Manchester, TN. For 360 days out of the year it is a small town with a population just over 10,000. For the other 5 that population grows to over 100,000, as people from all over the world join together to be a part of Bonnaroo: Music and Arts Festival. Bonnaroo has become one of the largest, most popular and well respected music festivals in the world.
This is the 15th year for Bonnaroo. It all started with an idea that quickly exploded into a movement. The music is what originally drew 70,000 strangers to take the journey; the people and culture keeps everyone coming back. Bonnaroo was graced with the amazing talents of hundreds of musicians and artists this year including headliners Pearl Jam, LCD Soundsystem and Dead and Company.
A music festival usually isn’t the first thing to come to mind when someone is talking about recovery; rightfully so. Drugs are pretty damn common at Bonnaroo; molly, ecstasy, mushrooms, acid and weed are the most prevalent. Beers are being cracked and wine bags are being slapped as often as high fives. Does anyone go to a music festival like Bonnaroo sober? If so how do they do it?
This is my 4th year at Bonnaroo, but it is the first time that I had the opportunity and the privilege to sit down with those who do Bonnaroo sober. Some of these people are recovering drug addicts and alcoholics who choose to live everyday sober, others made the decision to stay clean just for ‘Roo. Some of the people I met were there for work, others for the music, some were there to give back.
The guys and gals over at Soberoo help hundreds of recovering addicts/alcoholics stay clean during their stay at Bonnaroo. Soberoo officially started in 2009, but have been there helping people stay clean since 2002. They host 4 meetings a day for all patrons, these meetings are free to attend and are 100% anonymous. Average attendance per meeting is around 50-75 people.
These meetings are a safe place for the attendees to speak freely about their experiences and ask for advice. Some people will talk about their current day or past days at ‘Roo, while others will share their stories. These groups have an amazing energy and the amount of support amongst the meetings is astounding. They also host 2 meetings a day for the artists and the crew, these are not open to general admission.
Soberoo isn’t just limited to Bonnaroo, they go to over a dozen major festivals throughout the US, helping thousands of people a year stay sober at music festivals. Festivals like Lollapalooza, Outside Lands, Panorama, Electric Daisy Carnival, Lightning in a Bottle and Governors Ball. Their name changes depending on the festival, but it’s usually just the festival name with “sober” added to it. Soberoo was founded by 5 guys including Q.
Q is 23 years old and has been sober since 12/20/2010. This is his fifth time going to Bonnaroo and his fifth time going to Bonnaroo sober. In 2013 Q’s close friend passed away from the disease of addiction. That night Sir Paul McCartney was headlining the main stage.
When he played “Blackbird” Q broke down. His friends and sober family held him, while he was overwhelmed with gratitude to simply be alive. When asked what Bonnaroo meant to him he said “Radiate love – hear the best music around.” His energy was awesome and his message was powerful.
Morgan and Nathan are also part of Soberoo, both are Bonnaroo virgins. Nathan is a Tennessee native, who has over 3 ½ years clean from opiates, weed and various hallucinogens. Morgan took the journey from Richmond, VA. He is a recovering opiate addict who has been clean since 11/15/2013.
Their whole group is in sobriety. Both guys were there to have fun and give back. Even though it was his first year Nathan has a great understanding of what Bonnaroo is. “It’s just beautiful people coming together to do beautiful things. Groovy vibes, groovy times, clean and serene.”
Danielle V is part of Soberoo, “34 years young” and a recovering alcoholic. This young lady has been sober since 1/28/2005. She has been to Bonnaroo 3 times, all 3 years at Bonnaroo she has been sober. Pearl Jam blew her mind this year, but it’s a close call to her favorite set; Ms. Lauryn Hill in 2014. “I love music & I want to encourage other sober people to enjoy music too! We can do it and have fun.” She has “immense gratitude and joy shared with loved ones.”
(Danielle declined to have her picture taken)
I met George on Reddit, in a thread about being sober at Bonnaroo. I asked if it would be cool if we sat down for a minute, thankfully he agreed. George is an awesome dude. This was his third time on the farm, but his first ‘Roo sober.
He’s a recovering cocaine addict and alcoholic with a little over 8 months clean. He was there to work, but also have the time of his life. Bonnaroo is “the shared love of music.” He said “it’s good clean fun. I can remember everything.”
I also had the opportunity to meet John from New Jersey. John is a 24-year-old recovering heroin addict. He’s been to Roo 3 times, this is his second year going clean from heroin. “Come with me and don’t do drugs. We’ll have a great time,” the smile on his face was proof of Bonnaroo bliss. He was so thankful for his new life and the opportunity to go to Bonnaroo without heroin fueling his every decision.
We started talking about past Roos and our favorite acts, Radiohead in 2012 topped his list. When I asked him what’s different about going sober he said it’s “the same experience as it was the first year I went inebriated, only now I remember things.”
Getting clean and getting sober isn’t about white knuckling through everyday life. It’s about having fun and following your dreams. The sober community at Bonnaroo is one of the strongest I have ever seen. Everyone is there to help each other, it’s a place where lifelong friends will be made, where there is no normal; where everyone is ready to get weird and let go.
The dance parties go from sunrise to sunset. You don’t need to fill your body full of various substances to have a good time. Almost everyone I spoke with said they’ve had the best times at ‘Roo sober. For almost all attendees, Bonnaroo is a place to let go and be whoever you want to be. There’s a unique magic in the air at Bonnaroo, everyone should experience it.
I asked Q to sum up ‘Roo in 10 words or less – “best music in the world meets the best people in the world!” I couldn’t agree more.
View more images from this years Bonnaroo: Music and Arts Festival here.