Sitting under redwood trees and listening to great music with a community of people was how I experienced RockSoberFest 2019. The three day event, in the small town of Boonville in Northern California was organized to provide a safe space for people in recovery to have fun with friends and family.
“Our goal is to provide a great weekend of fun, fellowship, friends, family while enjoying music. A grass-roots organization trying to create a place where performers who are clean and sober can present their music to an audience, including families, who are also committed to sobriety. Our roots are based in providing viable models that include the prevention of substance abuse, as well as the promotion of wellness, mindfulness, and compassion, including educating the youth of our communities and providing them with a safe place to enjoy life.” Festival Director, Jeffery Trotter.
Besides the music, what stood out for me was the fellowship among the 100 or so concert goers. During the break between bands, several people stood up and shared stories of their journey from addiction to sobriety. Many spoke of the importance of connection and giving back to the community.
Jim spoke to the group about what sobriety means to his life. Later he shared with me that he found the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous while in prison, where he said he was surprised that inmates serving life sentences also participated. “AA is about what’s inside you,” he said while pointing to his heart. “Helping others and talking about sobriety is what keeps me sober".
At one of his lowest points, Jim told his sponsor, that life was too hard and suicide seemed like the answer. “My sponsor said something that shocked me and has stayed with me ever since,” said Jim. “‘It wouldn’t be suicide,’ he told me. ‘It would homicide because you would be killing someone you haven’t had a chance to get to know’”.
Paul Murguia III, a member of the Pinoleville Pomo Nation, said one of the keys to his sobriety was “trusting in the Creator and all that He has to offer”. These are the “Creator’s gifts and not mine to keep”. I have to share the gift by reaching out to help my brothers learn to live without drugs and alcohol.” He noted that it is often fear, shame, and guilt that prevent people from seeking help. “When we feel hopeless or helpless,” he said, “we choose not to reach out, to not step out of our comfort zone and take healthy risks. Learning how to recognize healthy risks, trusting in the program, is also key.”
For him, having a sponsor and staying busy were important to his sobriety. Paul immersed himself in two outpatient programs, attending AA meetings in the morning and at noon, college at night, and also participated in cultural and traditional teaching. He now works as a substance abuse counselor for the Hopland Band of Pomo Indians.
“Now I can go to Raiders without using, go fishing without using, BBQ and picnics, being with others without drugs or alcohol,” said Murguia, who incorporates drumming, traditional dancing and meditation as part of healing. “It’s a process, I’m learning everyday”.
Throughout the day there were several performers including Stephanie Keys a musician from Petaluma, who spoke of their paths to recovery and how sobriety has influenced their music. “Say goodbye to the man in my back pocket,” sang Stephanie Keys. The lyrics of her song and songs of other performers provided a gripping image of their difficult journey towards sobriety.
Brian Birkes, a guitarist and storyteller said: “I’ve played in 50 states drunk, now I’m working on playing 50 states sober.”
ACEs Connection member Joanie Lane, plays flute and sings backup for the R&B and Funk band called “Clean Sweep” based in Lake County California. In addition to performing with the band, Joanie Lane founder of A Positive Light Center for Spiritual Awakening offered meditation classes.
Towards the end of the day, one song in particular brought many to their feet, dancing and singing along while Clean Sweep played “Take Me To The River” whose lyrics speak to the journey to sobriety: “Take me to the river, wash me down, keep my feet on the ground.”
Driving home past the rolling hills dotted with oak trees and occasional vineyards I was struck at how different it felt leaving this concert compared to others I have attended. My ears were not ringing from the loud music, instead of the typical frantic post-concert feeling, after the RockSoberFest 2019 I had a sense of peace and community. Knowing $2 from each $25 ticket went to support the Mendocino County Youth Project added to that good feeling.
Performers included;Paul Haywood & Friends, Mumblefinger (Brian Birkes), Clean Sweep, Stephanie Keys, Tyler Allen, Wendy DeWitt & Kirk Harwood, Levi Lloyd & Friends and more. Jake Bernie & Kristee Ono performed Recovery Comedy. RockSoberFest, presented by Clean & Sober Music Fest.