Is It Possible to Stay Sober on Tour?



Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.

Dear Fan,

I'm the only sober member in my band, coming up on nine years in recovery. I'm active in AA. It's a big part of my life. I love and need the consistency of meetings, regular prayer and meditation. You know, all the good stuff that makes it work. My bandmates are not sober. The festival scene which we were on all this summer is also not a great place to hang for a sober person. I find myself trapped and unable to get in a good routine with the stuff that keeps me sane and sober. I also look around and think "they are having much more fun than me. If only I were drinking." Now, of course, I don't listen to that voice for more than a second, but it can get lonely in that space. I try and do things like just be a good bandmate. Load all the gear while they are going nuts after gigs. Be of service and all of that. I also try and hit as many meetings as I can on tour. It still gets hard and I wonder how other musicians who are sober do it happily and successfully?

--A Sober Guy

Hey A Sober Guy,

Congratulations on your nine years. No easy feat, especially given the world you work in is basically contact highs with solos thrown in for good measure. It's important for people who think that if they get sober they have to quit music, to know that's not the case -- there are plenty of people out there who have managed to get clean and still play in bands.

The people I know who have managed to stay sober and active in recovery have managed to do it best on tours with other sober people either in the band or crew. Some bands I know who are smart (and empathetic) about their sober member have made concessions like bringing along a sober friend of the member to do merch or making their room backstage a dry/drug-free environment.

Given that you are in a group with people who party pretty hard, I don't imagine your struggle as a sober person is on their radar, especially since it sounds like you keep it under wraps. Maybe some day in the van, you can bring it up. You don't need to tell them your whole story necessarily, but tell them that given your tour schedule as of late, it taxes your routine and so, some times when it fits in the group's schedule, you are going to have to dip. Because for your sake and for the band's continued success, you never want to return to be the wasted asshole you were nine years ago. You can also frame it in that standard explanation that alcoholism is a disease, and just like people with other diseases or health issues, you have have to be proactive in your treatment of it. As you know, ultimately there is little if anything they can do, per se, to try and help keep you off the bottle--but you need to create space for you to stay sober in this band and hopefully they can accommodate that.

The other thing is to check with the production office at these festivals you are playing--there might be roadies who have an informal meeting; Lollapalooza has three on-site meetings daily, listed in the program. Maybe when you get routings for your tour, you Google city by city and find where there are dawn meetings near the place you are staying. And if there is no meeting, maybe you go take a walk to the park and read your sober literature and call someone. I have tour managed bands with sober members before and all of them had to have an on-tour sober-routine that they could manage regardless of their circumstances, because the only reliable thing about tour is that you never really know where you will be and when, outside of the show itself.

Good luck! Fan


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