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Table of Contents

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Susana Spiegel

Recovery Writer and Advocate

Last Update on October 27, 2023

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Music festivals are iconic cultural events, a blend of artistic expression, community, and, yes, often enough, substance use.

While the party atmosphere is a big draw for many, it can be a minefield for those who want to stay sober, either by choice or necessity.

From beer gardens to groups doing shots beside the dance area, the temptations are many and in-your-face.

So, what’s the alternative if you still crave the experience but not the substances?

Enter sober spaces—a revolutionary concept changing how we think about festival fun.

 

What a Sober Space Is

At its core, a sober space is a substance-free designated area within the festival grounds.

But it’s more than just an empty tent with a ‘No Alcohol’ sign.

Done right, a sober space should be a haven where attendees can escape the intensity of the main event without feeling like they’re missing out.

Think comfortable seating, engaging activities, refreshments, and even counseling services.

In essence, it’s a festival within a festival, offering its own set of attractions but with a focus on sobriety and well-being.

Why We Need Sober Spaces

While festivals often celebrate an “anything-goes” vibe, the reality is that not “anything goes” for everyone.

For attendees in recovery or those who opt for a sober lifestyle, the pervasive culture of substance use at music festivals can pose significant challenges, sometimes even deterring people from attending these events altogether.

But the joy of live music, the exhilaration of dance, and the sheer magic of communal experiences should not hinge on one’s participation in substance use.

This is where sober spaces come in: they provide necessary safety buffers against the risks associated with rampant substance use, offering an inclusive haven for those who abstain from alcohol or drugs.

These spaces also serve as retreats for festival-goers who want to protect their recovery in a temptation-filled environment.

So when you ask why sober spaces are needed at festivals, the answer is simple yet deeply impactful: they enable a more affluent, safer, and inclusive experience for everyone.

Now, let’s dive into how to make that inclusive, sober space a reality.

Providing a retreat for festival-goers who want to protect their recovery

 

Research the Festival Guidelines and Policies

Visit the festival’s official website to look for guidelines, FAQs, or other informational resources that outline the festival’s policies.

Pay special attention to any sections that discuss health and safety and rules for setting up booths, tents, or other designated spaces.

 

Contact Festival Organizers

Write a concise but detailed proposal outlining your idea for a sober space.

Make sure to highlight the benefits to both the festival and the attendees.

Use your proposal as a talking point and contact festival organizers through official channels, such as email or a formal meeting, to discuss the feasibility and get preliminary approval.

 

Scope out Potential Locations

If possible, visit the festival site in advance to understand the layout and traffic flow.

Identify locations that are easily accessible but not directly in the path of main stages, bars, or other high-traffic areas.

Confirm the location with festival organizers and secure any necessary permits or authorizations.

 

Budget Considerations

Create a detailed budget that outlines all potential expenses, such as tent rental, furnishings, lighting, signage, and staffing.

Factor in costs for water, non-alcoholic beverages, and any planned activities or educational materials.

Explore funding options, such as seeking sponsorships, crowd-funding, or partnering with organizations that support sobriety and wellness.

 

Staffing Needs

Determine the number of staff and volunteers needed to run the sober space effectively.

Create a list of roles and responsibilities, such as space manager, activity coordinator, peer support, etc.

Recruit staff and volunteers, providing adequate training on managing various situations that may arise in the sober space.

By following these steps, you’re laying down a solid foundation to implement a sober space at a music festival successfully.

Remember, the key to a successful sober space is careful planning, open communication with festival organizers, and a well-executed operation that aligns with the festival’s guidelines and budget constraints.

 

Location and Setup

Choosing the Right Location

You’ve got the approval, the funding, and the team.

Now it’s time to pinpoint where your sober space will live within the festival grounds.

Please don’t underestimate the importance of location; it can make or break the success of your venture.

Look for a spot that’s easy to find yet offers a sense of retreat.

You want a location that allows people to escape the sensory overload of the main festival but isn’t so remote that no one can find it. Think of it as creating a haven amidst the hustle and bustle.

 

Visibility Matters: Making Sure You’re Seen

Once you’ve chosen a location, consider how visible your space will be to festival-goers.

How can you attract attention in a positive, inviting way?

Perhaps banners, signs, or even balloons could help your space stand out.

Visibility isn’t just about being easy to find; it’s also about making attendees aware that a sober option exists. The more visible your space, the more people you can help.

 

Proximity to First-Aid and Security Services

Last but certainly not least, think about the safety aspects of your chosen location.

Is it near a first-aid tent or security personnel?

In the rare event that someone needs medical attention or there’s a security issue, being close to these services is invaluable.

This proximity ensures rapid emergency response and contributes to safety and well-being in your sober space.

Choosing the right location, ensuring visibility, and staying close to safety services are crucial in setting up a successful sober space.

Getting these details right will make your space a refuge and a vital part of the festival’s community.

 

Sober Tent Setup Essentials for Festivals

Essential items to make the sober tent comfortable and inviting for people recovering from addiction.

 

Essential Needs Items
Basic Setup Tents, Tables, Chairs
Hydration and Snacks Water and Refreshments
Signage Signs, Banners

Services to Offer

Community is Key.

Let’s face it: Festivals can be overwhelming.

One of the most empowering services you can offer in a sober space is peer support.

This creates a welcoming environment where people can speak openly about their experiences and challenges.

Whether attendees are in recovery, struggling with temptation, or simply wanting a sober friend to chat with, peer support can be a lifeline.

 

Recovery Meetings

Why not schedule recovery meetings within your sober space?

These could range from 12-step meetings to other group discussions centered around maintaining sobriety in a festival environment.

Recovery meetings allow attendees to recharge their emotional batteries and refocus on their sobriety goals.

Mental Health Resources

Festivals can be mentally taxing for anyone, and the mental toll can be even more challenging for those in recovery.

That’s why offering mental health resources can make a world of difference.

Whether you’re offering informational pamphlets, a list of hotlines, or even an on-call counselor, these resources can offer practical support to those in need.

 

Activities

And let’s not forget, festivals are supposed to be fun!

Including activities like yoga or meditation sessions can add a dash of wellness and enjoyment to the sober experience.

These activities are engaging and beneficial for mental and physical well-being.

Your sober space will be a refuge and a vibrant part of the festival community by incorporating peer support, recovery meetings, mental health resources, and wholesome activities.

 

Staffing and Volunteers

 

Getting the Word Out

Before you can build your team, you’ve got to let people know what you’re up to.

Use social media, flyers, or even good old-fashioned word of mouth to share your plan for creating a sober space at the festival.

Networking with recovery communities and health organizations can connect you with people passionate about helping.

Finding Volunteers

Once the word is out, you must sift through interested parties to select volunteers.

Look for people who are not only passionate about the cause but also reliable and capable of handling the emotional weight that might come with the territory.

Interview potential volunteers to gauge their understanding of sobriety, recovery, and mental health.

Training is essential to ensure your volunteers are equipped to handle a range of situations that may arise.

 

Mental Health First Aid

Given the sensitive nature of your services, mental health first aid training is crucial.

This involves learning to listen without judgment, offer reassurance, and encourage professional help when necessary.

A certified course can arm your volunteers with these vital skills.

 

Communication Skills for Sensitive Topics

Knowing how to communicate effectively about sensitive topics is a must.

Training sessions can guide volunteers in maintaining confidentiality, showing empathy, and setting boundaries.

It’s all about making sure everyone feels respected and supported.

By taking these steps to build and prepare your team, you’re setting up your sober space for success.

With the right people and training, your tent becomes a haven and a highlight of the festival experience.

 

Scheduling

Shifts to Cover the Entire Duration

Let’s be honest; festivals are marathons, not sprints.

You’ll need a detailed schedule to ensure your sober space is available to attendees throughout the event.

Volunteers should be organized into shifts that cover from the moment the festival gates open until the last encore fades away.

Please work with your team to create a schedule that accommodates their availability while ensuring there’s always someone on duty.

 

Consistency is Key: Meeting Schedule

Having a regular meeting schedule can offer a sense of stability within the chaos of a festival.

Plan and publicize times for recovery meetings or other group sessions and stick to them.

This way, attendees know when to drop by for that extra support or community.

You might also consider ‘pop-up’ meetings if the need arises during the festival.

 

Emergency Contact List

Preparation for emergencies is non-negotiable.

Compile a list of emergency contacts that’s easily accessible to all volunteers.

This should include numbers for the nearest medical facilities, festival security, and critical members of your team.

You never know when you’ll need it, but you’ll be glad you have it when you do.

Scheduling might not be glamorous in creating a sober space, but the backbone holds everything together.

From ensuring your tent is always staffed to ensuring help is just a phone call away, a well-thought-out schedule is worth its weight in peace of mind.

 

Publicity and Outreach

Social Media Announcements

In this digital age, do you even exist if you’re not on social media?

Use Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok to inform people about your sober space.

A well-timed post can reach those already interested in sober spaces and those who didn’t even know they were looking for it.

Utilize hashtags that are relevant to the festival or sobriety to increase visibility.

Don’t forget to engage with your audience—reply to comments and messages to build a sense of community before the festival starts.

 

Flyers and Posters

Yes, the paper still works.

If permissible, distribute flyers and posters in strategic locations like cafes, community centers, and rehab facilities.

You’ll capture an audience that may not be as active online.

Ensure that these physical materials are eye-catching and contain all essential details—where you’re located, what services you offer, and why your space is a must-visit at the festival.

 

Collaboration with Festival Organizers

Never underestimate the power of an official nod.

Collaborate with festival organizers to get mentions in festival materials, whether it’s a shout-out in the program, a link on the website, or even a spot on the festival map.

Their endorsement can lend credibility and help reach attendees newly interested in sober spaces.

Getting the word out is essential to ensure your sober space reaches the most needy.

With a mix of online buzz, traditional publicity, and a thumbs-up from the festival organizers, you’re setting the stage for a successful, well-attended, sober space.

 

On-the-Day Operations

Checklist for Setup

As they say, “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.”

On the day of the festival, arm yourself with a comprehensive checklist.

This should include everything from setting up tents, tables, and chairs to ensuring adequate water and refreshments are available.

Don’t forget the importance of clear signage so festival-goers can easily find you among the sea of attractions.

Go through the list item by item, double-checking each task as completed.

 

Troubleshooting Common Issues

No matter how much you prepare, it’s a festival—something’s bound to go sideways.

Have a troubleshooting guide at hand to manage common issues that could arise, such as disruptive attendees, medical concerns, or even unexpected weather changes that might require moving or reinforcing your setup.

The goal is to resolve issues quickly so they have a minimal impact on the safe and inclusive atmosphere you’ve worked hard to create.

 

Monitoring and Adjusting Services as Needed

The work isn’t over once your sober space is up and running.

Monitor how attendees use the space and what services are most popular.

Be prepared to adapt; if no one’s interested in the scheduled yoga session but there’s a demand for more recovery meetings, be flexible enough to make the switch.

Constantly check in with your volunteers to get feedback and make necessary adjustments.

The big day might be a whirlwind of activities, but focusing on the smooth operation of your sober space is critical.

From meticulous setup to agile problem-solving, your hands-on approach will make all the difference in providing a haven of sobriety amid the festival’s frenzy.

 

Post-Festival Actions

Cleanup and Teardown

The cleanup begins as the final chords resonate and the festival-goers begin their departure.

Following the same rigorous checklist approach as you did for the setup, make sure everything is packed away neatly, waste is correctly disposed of, and the area is left as you found it—or even better.

This respects the festival site, sets a good example, and boosts your chances of being invited back.

 

The Heartbeat of the Event: Thanking Volunteers and Supporters

None of this would be possible without the hands and hearts that helped along the way.

A heartfelt thank-you goes a long way, but consider other ways to show your appreciation, like small tokens of gratitude or a post-event get-together.

Remember, today’s volunteers could be tomorrow’s team leaders, so keep the relationship warm and appreciative.

 

Evaluation and Feedback Collection for Future Events

As you look back, don’t just rest on your laurels—think about what can be improved for next time.

Send feedback forms to volunteers and attendees to get insights into what worked and what didn’t.

Hold a debrief meeting with your team to discuss successes and areas for improvement.

Collate this information as a foundation for planning future sober spaces.

The festival might be over, but the work of refining and improving your sober space never really ends.

Take thoughtful post-festival actions to ensure that your sober space initiative doesn’t just end when the music stops but continues to evolve and serve the community in future events.

 

Why Sober Tents Are on The Rise

It’s no secret that the culture of drinking and drug use at festivals can be overwhelming for many.

Enter sober tents—a space designed to provide an alternative experience that’s still jam-packed with the essence of festival life.

The impact of these zones goes beyond offering a refuge from substance temptation.

They create an atmosphere of inclusivity, allowing more people to participate in the festival experience without compromising their personal choices or well-being.

The rise of sober tents signals that the festival scene is evolving to become more respectful and considerate of diverse needs.

 

Encouragement for Other Festivals to Adopt Similar Spaces

If you’re part of a festival organization, or even if you’re a festival-goer who’s been impacted by the presence of a sober tent, consider this an invitation to advocate for more such spaces.

The more festivals that adopt this concept, the more normalized it will become.

By setting up sober tents, festivals broaden their appeal and promote safety and well-being, which are increasingly becoming core values of such events.

So why are sober tents on the rise?

Because they add another layer to the festival experience—one that embraces diversity, supports mental and physical health, and still resonates with the festival spirit.

It’s a trend that enriches the tapestry of festival culture, and it’s here to stay.

Published: 10/27/2023
Contributor: Susana Spiegel and Bliss Lavelle

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Author & Reviewers

susana spiegel recovery writer and SEO expert
RECOVERY WRITER & ADVOCATE

Susana is a recovery writer and advocate with over 8 years in addiction recovery. She is passionate about sharing accurate and helpful information about mental health, addiction, and recovery. She holds a Bachelor’s in Christian Studies from Grand Canyon University and has over 7 years of working in the addiction field. 

lionel estrada lisac clinical director
CLINICAL DIRECTOR & REVIEWER

Lionel is the Clinical Director of Cornerstone’s Scottsdale treatment facilities. He has had over 4 years at Cornerstone. He is personally in recovery and passionate about helping others overcome substance abuse and mental health challenges; he is trained as an EMDR, adopting a trauma-informed approach to treat the underlying issues.

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