‘Dive Into Life Again’: 1 Million Strong Initiative Brings Sober Supportive Spaces To Festivals

One in every six Americans over the age of 12 meet the diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder, according to the federal government.

For decades, substance abuse, addiction and alcoholism were secrets to be kept. The door is opening on that with people being far more willing to share their struggles and their successes. There’s no reason to have to recover alone, especially with so many other people walking that road.

“There is a cultural moment where people are being more vulnerable and it’s being reinforced as a way to heal. More and more folks are being open with their recovery stories to find help and hope,” Scott Strode, founder of The Phoenix, says.

The Phoenix, a non-profit that builds active sober communities for those recovering from substance abuse, believes in the power of connection and community to aid in recovery. Some people — like Strode himself — find that in the gym, rock climbing or at triathlons. 

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A SPACE FOR US: Stand Together Music and The Phoenix has joined forces to offer alcohol- and drug-free wellness tents at events including the New Orleans Jazz Festival. Photo courtesy 1 Million Strong

And some people find community when they experience live music, but often, there’s a catch-22. Concerts and festivals are often beer-soaked. The “rock ’n’ roll lifestyle” is a cliche because cliches come from truth. A newly-sober person working through the early stages of their recovery may associate live music with their substance abuse and stay away in fear of triggering a relapse. But isolation is counterproductive to recovery.

“What finding long-term recovery is about is finding out how to live a rich, full life in recovery,” he says. “For a lot of us in recovery, we feel like we can lose music when we get sober.”

The Phoenix teamed up with Stand Together Music in the 1 Million Strong initiative to transform how people think about recovery and to provide avenues for those choosing a sober lifestyle to live that “rich and full life.” At Indio, California’s Stagecoach Festival and at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, 1 Million Strong set up “a free sober-supportive wellness retreat experience for festivalgoers to cool down, recharge, and enjoy the music of Jazz Fest and alcohol-free cocktails in a relaxing environment.”

The reason it’s important to have sober-supportive spaces at festivals and venues is so that nobody is left outside the gates,” Stand Together Music head Colette Weintraub says. “The 1 Million Strong wellness retreats are in the heart of the footprint of the festival experience — in the fun, with the community, and celebrating the strength and resilience of people.”

“When you look around, it doesn’t seem different than what may be happening one space over,” Strode says of the tents. 

“It’s just a mocktail, instead of a drink. There’s a slightly deeper connection. We are acknowledging we have struggled with something and we can ask for help and offer help to others.”

Weintraub says the response has been heartwarming: people celebrating recovery milestones, families with members in recovery able to attend events together and a crew member who said if the idea had come a decade earlier, he’d have friends who would still be alive and enjoying music.

The tents in Indio and New Orleans weren’t 1 Million Strong’s first forays into the festival space; the group has been visible at Danny Wimmer Presents events Louder Than Live and Bourbon & Beyond. Weintraub says DWP was receptive from early on and is bringing 1 Million Strong to more of its festivals. 

“We want to get the word out and get people out to music sooner. In those early days, you’re afraid to leave your house,” Strode says. “It’s a way to help you find community more quickly. It can be beneficial … It means we get to listen to music and dive into life again.”