Stagecoach performers, others get help staying sober at alcohol-heavy festival

Stagecoach performers, others get help staying sober at alcohol-heavy festival
Performers and support staff at the Stagecoach Country Music Festival who are in recovery for alcohol or substance addictions can attend support meetings at Safe Harbor Room sponsored and staffed by the Recording Academy's MusiCares Foundation. (Randy Lewis / Los Angeles Times)

In one short stretch Saturday on the biggest stage at the 2015 Stagecoach Country Music Festival, the Eli Young Band sang "Drunk Last Night" before Dierks Bentley got a huge cheer at the opening notes of his recent hit "Drunk on a Plane."

Then headliner Miranda Lambert told a sea of at least 60,000 fans in front of her, "If you have a cold beer, raise it up -- we're gonna do a drinking song," as she started in on "Heart Like Mine," in which she sings "Somehow I always get stronger when I'm on my second drink."


There's a long, proud history in country music of songs about drinking and its effects, positive and negative, on the drinker.

Literally and figuratively at Stagecoach, the signs are everywhere just how integral country music and alcohol are -- among the food and beverage booths are multiple stands trumpeting "Beer and Wine," "Beer, Wine & Cocktails," "Margaritas" and yet another stretch of a half dozen for "Cocktails."

For most Stagecoach-goers, the biggest price to pay for overindulging is the morning-after hangover.

But for the minority of people who struggle with addiction, those signs can be reminders of broken lives, and can beckon them back toward a path they know all too well leads only to institutions and death, or into recovery.

That’s the reason for a different sign, one outside a Safe Harbor Room tent that sits unobtrusively backstage in the artist compound at Stagecoach, and which was there for both previous weekends of the Coachella Music and Arts Festival as well.

It is sponsored and staffed by the Recording Academy's MusiCares Foundation, which supports people in the music business who are in sobriety. Similar facilities are offered at music events across the country.

"I am so grateful to MusiCares for having this here," said one attendee at a meeting over the weekend in which two women -- one a famous actress -- and about a dozen men gathered to reinforce one another's efforts to stay sober amid the ocean of alcohol, and other substances, surrounding them at such festivals.

Most were crew members and support staff, and all routinely participate in 12-step recovery programs. Some, as they shared with each other, have been sober only for a few weeks, others have lived without alcohol for more than 30 years. Some knew each other, others arrived as strangers.

"I don't know you people," said one man relatively young in his sobriety, "but I feel like I know you because we all have this in common."

It's a challenge, several agreed, to look everywhere and watch others happily drinking and partying, knowing what the consequences would be -- and have been -- for them if they were to go back to their old lifestyle.

Although the MusiCares tent is accessible only to musicians and festival workers, one of the co-hosts of the session said it's not uncommon among sober fans to use social media to connect during events such as Stagecoach to help each other maintain their sobriety.

One woman noted the surreal aspect of renting a house with a group of non-sober friends who are in Indio for Stagecoach and occasionally thinking "that drink they're having looks pretty good." But she also remarked "how great it felt this morning waking up, instead of coming to."

The 30-minute gathering ended with participants in a circle, collectively reciting the Serenity Prayer -- "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference" -- before they went their separate ways and returned to work, moving invisibly and with new resolve back into the festival crowd.

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