Cheers to the rise of the sober movement! Whether you are fully sober, sober curious or just feel like taking a break from drinking for the weekend, when it comes to socializing, your options are limited. Bars and restaurants offer few non-alcoholic options, comedy clubs have two-drink minimums and what the hell do you do with your hands at a concert without a drink in one? Sobriety can feel isolating, and often impossible for those beginning their journey. In partnership with Youth on Record, this year’s Underground Music Showcase (UMS) is striving to change that.
“Choosing to be sober should be as normal as choosing to drink. It has to be,” said Jami Duffy, executive director of Youth on Record. “That’s what true equity will look like with this, when abstaining is just as normalized as drinking.”
Running from July 29 to 31, the popular South Broadway music festival will offer its first fully sober bar concept, as well as a number of mental health and wellness resources to musicians and attendees.
Duffy knows first-hand the stigmatization surrounding sobriety. “I have been sober for almost seven years. It wasn’t until I had spent years sober that I realized how isolating sobriety can be in social situations,” she said. “Especially ones that don’t acknowledge sobriety or reasons for abstaining, and just don’t offer you any options.”
She compares it to choosing to be vegan — the guilt around asking for substitutions, the uninvited questions about why you chose this apparently unbelievable lifestyle. Over time, one navigates these questions with ease, but the isolation never changes. Options for those choosing not to drink remain limited, and one can only drink so many seltzer waters without their stomach creating a fizzy water baby.
With sober curiosity on the rise amongst Gen Zers, Duffy saw UMS as the perfect opportunity to bridge the gap, ridding the music festival of all sober inequity. The first of its kind, the sober bar will offer a variety of delicious mocktails, non-alcoholic beer, coffee and juice carts, as well a number of products from sponsor Liquid Death. Several of the venues along South Broadway will also be featuring their own specialty mocktails for the event.
“I have just loved to see the way Gen Z approaches drinking; I think it’s amazing. That’s a lot of our music fans at UMS, I want to support their preferences in wanting something else, wanting an alternative,” Duffy said. “They have all kinds of reasons they’ve slowed it down or choose to abstain, so we are saying sober bars are for everyone. You could be pregnant, you could be training for a marathon, you could be somebody who just smokes weed. There are so many reasons that people don’t actually drink or drink as much, and we want to de-stigmatize that. If we have bars, we should also have sober bars.“
Focused on mental health and wellness in all forms, UMS has also partnered with WellPower (formally the Mental Health Center of Denver) to offer three free sessions of telehealth therapy to festival-goers through Therapy Direct. Each reusable tin cup — purchased at the sober bar for just $1 — will hold a QR code offering access to these mental health resources.
“What I love about this is that you can go up to the sober bar, get something delicious, and on your cup is a little bit of support,” said Duffy. “Our strategy for UMS is this about mental health, for everybody. Music is a huge part of our mental health, it just suspends us. Of course then it makes sense for us to take care of the musicians and the fans in as many ways as possible. Sober bars, and the resources that come with them, are just one way we are going to do that.”
Beyond the attendees, Duffy is committed to making this year’s UMS a safe space for not just its attendees, but its performers as well. Her involvement in the entertainment industry has brought to light inequities and barriers that inevitably harm the musicians we so admire.
“Myself and my team were really paying attention to the needs of the music community, and wanting to have a real strong focus on mental health and a harm reduction strategy at the festival,” she said. “What we have observed is how much support musicians in particular need in the areas of addiction and recovery, even just slowing it down a little bit. The music industry is just so tied up with alcohol, alcohol is currency in this industry.”
Addiction among artists is far from uncommon, and understandably so. Musicians are handed drink tickets the minute they arrive at their show and have them pushed on them the minute they leave the stage. Alcohol surrounds them with seemingly no escape, creating an unsafe environment for those newly in recovery. Partnering with Chaos Bloom Theatre, Duffy and her team created the artist-care lounge, a five-day entirely-sober alternative to the typical greenroom.
“The artists care lounge is for all 600 artists at UMS, and we are offering everything from a therapy kiosk to card-reading, ear acupuncture, tai-chi and yoga. That space is going to have all kinds of delightful things to drink like Novo Coffee, Liquid Death and mocktails,” Duffy explained. “That space intentionally is the sober space for artists so that folks who choose to abstain have a safe space, and the rest of us who don’t can support them in that as well, as just go and have a relaxing atmosphere.”
Duffy’s inspiring and unrelenting dedication to mental health awareness and equality is unheard of within the music industry. However, her hope is that this soon becomes the norm, proving to the world that the choice between entertainment and wellness are not mutually exclusive.
“Music festivals and sober bars for everyone go in hand in hand. We need the choices, we need the options, it reduces harm at the festival, it makes everybody safer, and it’s delightful,” she said. “The more people do it, the more industries start to accommodate it. My hope is that this creates a wellness focus within the music industry, and we are going to start this right here in Denver at UMS.”
The Underground Music Showcase will take place July 29-31. Their sober bar concept will feature a variety of non-alcoholic beverages including mocktails, non-alcoholic beer, juice and coffee. If you are a Colorado-based brand looking to feature your zero-proof spirit at the festival, contact the event organizers directly here. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit their website.