COLUMNIST: Why drink and drug free music festival was fabulous

In today's column, a volunteer at Sheffield Alcohol Support Services explains how good a drink and drug free music festival can be.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 29th June 2016, 9:00 am
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 5:09 pm
Josie Soutar
Josie Soutar

I’ve just been to SASStonbury: a mini drink and drug free music festival, organised by the charity I volunteer for - Sheffield Alcohol Support Service (otherwise known as SASS, hence the silly festival name).

I thought it was a nice idea but knew I would probably only stay for an hour as I’ve never been one for music festivals, even during my heavy drinking days. I also had images of everyone being in ‘recovery’, quietly sitting around listening to folk music. The place would be empty by 7pm guaranteed. I returned eight hours later absolutely shattered and with a massive grin on my face.

It was fabulous and here’s why: The venue - Foodhall is a brilliant ‘pay-as-you-feel’ café at the top of Eyre Street in Sheffield city centre. No offence to charities, but often they run these kinds of events from either their own premises or the local community centre. Now I’m certainly not saying there isn’t a place for that, but if you’re trying to put on a music festival that’s usually associated with licensed premises or undergrown venues, then it’s difficult to replicate that atmosphere in venues that have been designed to run support services. Foodhall is quirky: based in a former funeral parlour, with a dusty, upcycled feel and really good food – perfect for an up-and-coming music festival such as SASStonbury.

The line-up - One of the things I loved about SASStonbury was that the musicians and dancers were there because they were really good, not because they were former addicts – some were; most weren’t. I understand there is a big drinking culture across the music scene with musicians often drinking during sets and local bands being paid in beer. SASStonbury challenged that with its alcohol-free approach and I praise the musicians who gave their time for free when this was probably out of their comfort zone.

The audience - However, what surprised me and really made the event into something special was the complete mixture of the audience. Instead of feeling like the weirdo non-drinker or that we ‘recovery people’ need to have our own separate event – this was just a bunch of people, young and old, all backgrounds, getting together to enjoy themselves without the need for alcohol. I’m sure even those who normally drink were surprised by how much they enjoyed the sober vibe. Bring on the next one.