Music festivals can create an environment conducive to drinking alcohol or consuming controlled substances. Shay Jasper, co-producer of Roots N Blues Festival, wants to provide an alternative. “You can have fun in a festival setting without drinking, and we definitely want to emphasize that,” she says.
Roots N Blues offers a designated location for those who choose not to drink at the festival: the Alcohol-Free Zone, previously known as the Sober Party Tent. The area was renamed this year to be inclusive of all those in attendance, whether participants are living a completely alcohol-free life, taking a break from alcohol or anywhere in between.
This year, the tent will also feature meditation, yoga and active conversations about living alcohol-free. “It is targeted for folks who might need support throughout the weekend,” Jasper says.
According to a study from Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention and Policy, a peer-reviewed journal with research on substance abuse, 81% of attendees surveyed at a music festival in Sweden reported consuming alcohol. The festival was comparable to many in the U.S. With so many peers under the influence, festival attendees facing substance use disorder might be at higher risk of consuming alcohol.
“Concerts can be triggers for some people because there is alcohol, there’s marijuana, there’s drugs everywhere,” says Kiersten Montagna, who has been in recovery from a substance use disorder since she was 23. She now works with people with substance use disorders at the Reentry Opportunity Center. “The fact that (Roots N Blues is) trying to reduce those triggers is just ... I’m emotional right now. I have some tears in my eyes, because it’s just amazing that people are taking this seriously.”
Although a music festival environment can surround attendees with triggers, Stephanie Parsons, a licensed clinical social worker and an owner of Counseling Associates, says those in recovery can still attend and have a good time.
“Talk to your sponsor or your therapist (whoever supports you through your recovery process) … it is possible to attend an event like this successfully!” she told Vox in an email.
Major U.S. music festivals such as Lollapalooza and Coachella have included similar spaces or limited alcohol consumption at their festivals, but it’s not a common feature.
“It’s amazing that people are sitting here thinking, ‘This is an issue we have in our world,’” Montagna says. “I’ve never heard of (a festival) doing something like that.”
The Alcohol-Free Zone is free if you already have a pass to enter the festival, and no sign-up is required.
“There’s no barriers for anyone to come in and feel safe there,” Jasper says.