Why Phish Shows Are Perfect for Recovering Addicts

Categories: Phish

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Eric Gruneisen
Editor's note: A writer sent us this essay on her experience at one of this weekend's Phish shows at Dick's Sporting Goods Park -- the first with recovering-addict support she's seen since she stopped drinking six months ago. We're publishing it anonymously to protect her privacy.

When I tell people I don't drink, the normal response is, "Wait -- never?" For the last six months, I have chosen not to drink, and I hope I can choose not to drink for the next six months, and the next six months after that, and the next six after that, for the rest of my life. The first question many acquaintances have is, "How do I go to so many concerts, then?"

Being stone-cold sober at a concert makes me a minority (for most concerts I go to). But this weekend at the Phish concert, I didn't feel so alone because there was a community of also-stone-cold-sober people at a bright-yellow table, ready to give support to others like me. Phellowship, "a community of Phish Heads who choose to remain drug and alcohol free" was set up in the very center of the arena, parallel to the stage.

See also: A Guide to Phish's On-Stage Hand Signals, From Drunken Bar Swing to Pork Tornado

I was stopped dead in my tracks when I saw the stickers they had sitting on the table, also bright yellow, with the phrase "One concert at a time." I have a tattoo on my arm that I got after my first month sober which says "One day at a time," a mantra popular in A.A. communities.

Sometimes, though, being a music enthusiast, I feel like my life is "one concert at a time." Some concerts I feel the cravings for a beer in my hand and feel jealousy toward the partiers around me taking shots from flasks they snuck in.

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The Phellowship table, staffed by volunteer "Phellows".

The "one concert at a time" stickers made me feel like someone in this mega-arena of fifteen thousand people was in the same boat as me -- a feeling I rarely get at concerts. The table was staffed by an older man and a girl just a little bit older than me. I smiled at the man and he asked how I was. I thanked him for being there and told him I was six months sober. He fist-pumped me and smiled, and I walked away because the first notes of the first set blared from the speakers.

I was dancing at the show, thinking about the yellow table. I was waiting, actually waiting for the set break so I could go back up for when they had a meeting. While dancing and waiting, I saw a man curled up in a ball, obviously having a terrible trip. I also witnessed a woman being carried out of the concert floor by a paramedic because she was so drunk she couldn't stand. These are not abnormal sights at concerts, and I have been that person on the other end of the paramedics' arms. But remembering the yellow table gave me support during those moments when I felt sick remembering my past and scared thinking that could be me again. The yellow table was still on my mind by the end of the set.

I went there during the set break. I watched from afar the friendly faces chat next to each other, hug and embrace. It seemed like they were all old friends, but I knew most of them were meeting for the first time. There were old men in tye-dye shirts with long hair and weathered skin. There were women who didn't look that different from me, full of energy, high on the vibes of the music. There were couples with kids, and there were outsiders watching, like me. It was a concert scene I had been waiting to see for the last six months.

I wasn't ready to talk to anyone there -- going to A.A. is a struggle every time (Phellowship isn't associated with A.A.; that's just my comparison). Walking into the room and introducing yourself with your weakest foot forward, your addiction out front, just isn't easy. I just wasn't ready to do that at a concert, which is my release, where I don't have to talk about my past. I knew that all of the people surrounding this bright-yellow table had stories to tell, struggles they overcame and strong decisions they made. I knew that they made a choice to not abandon their passion, but to unite in their love for it. As I watched, I felt calm knowing the table was there, and I walked on to get a water.

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Dick's Sporting Goods Park

6000 Victory Way, Commerce City, CO

Category: Music


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13 comments
Stephen Felt
Stephen Felt

I'm not an alcoholic but I don't drink alcohol at concerts either. Mainly because I want to see the show and not wait in line for the men's room every half hour. But I'm glad to see there's support for those that have an addiction.

Susan Donlan Roy
Susan Donlan Roy

I saw more middle-aged clean cut ppl at phish than the stereotypical stoner Westword portrays.

yayus
yayus

In order to get over your past, choosing to ignore it and go to Phish shows will not help you in the long run.

Patrick O'Smitty
Patrick O'Smitty

enough about phish already. they don't 'rock', and they're not even from colorado. quit wasting time and resources on this fiddle-faddle. westword? more like phish-food, if you can grasp where I'm coming from.

PhreakySTS9
PhreakySTS9

Yup, "One Show at a Time" is what they say. <3 Phellowship.

Brian Lee
Brian Lee

Love going to Phish shows sober. I finally remember the whole show.

mikobro
mikobro

Glad you found us. We've been waiting for you  :). BTW It's One Show at a Time, not one concert . . .   I am a founding member of the Phells.  We started in the fall of 1996 and were in earnest and on tour by Summer 1997.  I have been going to shows sober since 1993 and the granddaddy of these groups is the Wharf Rats.  I have been around to birth almost all the other Yellow Balloon Groups.  We are present at all the major music festivals and are amongst bands, you would never expect.  Thanks for giving the world a little insight in what we do.  Dance like phreaks without dope or booze. Our community exists outside of the shows.  I have a drug and alcohol phree place to stay almost everywhere in this country.  See ya down the line . . .

Justin Andrew Gatz
Justin Andrew Gatz

Why? because going to a Phish show must be rock bottom, and the only way to go is up hahaha

ColonelForbin
ColonelForbin

Everybody should just lighten up on Patrick. Some people--even though they don't try, or want to be--are just ignorant. Be thankful you're not. Be thankful that you've experienced the magic of Phish in Colorado. Feel empathy towards those closed-minded, negative people, who have nothing better to do and have no idea what incredible times they're missing, and be happy that you're open-minded and adventurous enough to have experienced some of the best times on planet earth.

Some people, like Patrick, are doomed to a life of loneliness, negativity, TV watching, and masturbation. Other people are on a constant quest for adventure, connection, and excitement. When you think about it that way, is it really necessary to respond negatively to someone like that? Isn't it obvious that he already has it bad enough?

garriswh
garriswh

Shut the fuck up already. No one cares about your opinion on Phish. 

PhreakySTS9
PhreakySTS9

I guess if you consider one of the greatest musical experiences a human could ever possibly witness to be "rock bottom" then yeah they're rock bottom alright!

garriswh
garriswh

Says the fucking douchebag who likes Phoenix and the Arctic Monkeys...

GordonofGordo
GordonofGordo

You wish buddy.  Phish is one of the reasons I live, sober or not.

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