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Sober Nation

Putting Recovery On The Map

03-30-15 | By

“Who Are the Wharf Rats? – Enjoying Concerts and Music Without The Drugs

who are the whark rats?

Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll….’

Music lovers of all stripes have long understood that alcohol and drugs have been a part of music culture. Whether you rock the glow sticks, throw up the horns or prefer boots and jeans, it is pretty much a given that any concert you attend will be singing, dancing and enjoying the event in an altered state. If you are in recovery, concerts and festivals can provide the perfect storm of temptations and triggers that can lead even those strong in their recovery back to relapse.

While chances are high (no pun intended) these events provide significant obstacles for those who are sober, loving music doesn’t have to mean substance abuse or addiction. There are many people who attend concerts who are in recovery from substance abuse, and there are numerous recovery groups who regularly attend these events to offer support and fellowship to those who seek to get high through the music and not through substances. The most famous of these recovery groups are called the Wharf Rats.

Who Are The Wharf Rats?

Wharf Rats are a group of concertgoers who choose to live a clean and sober lifestyle and are present at concerts to provide support and encouragement to others who live a drug-free lifestyle. Their name came from the song of the same name which was written by Jerry Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter of the iconic jam band The Grateful Dead. The song tells the story of a wino named August West and the consequences of his decision to choose alcohol over all other things.

This sub-group of music lovers first appeared at Grateful Dead shows in the early 1980’s and were comprised of AA and NA members who are afraid of divulging their status as Deadheads during Twelve-Step meetings. Members of this group could be identified by the presence of yellow balloons that were clearly visible overhead, and during intermissions would hold (and still hold) Twelve-Step type meetings. While the group is comprised of those who are in recovery, they are not affiliated with formal Twelve-Step groups; instead, they see themselves as a group which can provide information and support in an environment which is hostile to those in recovery.

Where Can I Find People in Recovery At Concerts and Festivals?

At Grateful Dead or Dead offshoot shows (i.e. The Other Ones, The Dead, Furthur), Wharf Rats are easily identifiable by their ever-present yellow balloons. Addtionally, they often have informational tables or booths set up at shows and offers those in recovery a safe, informal meeting place. There is also a Wharf Rat website in which fans can sign up for their mailing list, can receive regular newsletters, and provides a link to Twelve-Step meetings that are “Deadhead friendly”.

Since its’ inception, The Wharf Rats philosophy has been adopted by several other bands who want to provide a safe, recovery-based environment at their shows. Most of these bands are part of the jam-band scene and fans of these bands have formed their own recovery groups. Examples include:

Additionally, major American music festivals such as BonnarooCoachella, and Lollapalooza provide recovery-based activities and chances for those who are clean and sober to meet and establish fellowship. Both of these festivals provide websites, message boards and forums, and Facebook and Twitter pages which provide valuable information for those who wish to stay substance-free while attending these festivals. These groups, like the Wharf Rats, are not affiliated with any Twelve-Step groups or organizations and their only basis for membership is the desire to stay substance free.


A New Movement is Underway…

While the presence of drugs and alcohol in the concert and festival culture is as commonplace as the extended guitar solo and groupies, the emergence of organized recovery-based subgroups at these events makes in possible for those who are in recovery to enjoy music while providing a safe environment. If you are in recovery, these support groups can allow you to enjoy the full concert experience and you have the opportunity to forge new friendships while taking your sobriety to new levels.


Reboot Your Recovery