Making sacrifices to stay clean and sober is an aspect of life that most, if not all, people in recovery identify with. For some, this means ending toxic relationships with friends or loved ones. Others might struggle with activities that they previously enjoyed while using drugs or drinking alcohol, such as going to concerts or music festivals.
Enter The Wharf Rats, a recovery group of music lovers that, as their website says, are dedicated to “a little traction in an otherwise slippery environment.”
Founded in the 1980s, The Wharf Rats began as sober individuals in active recovery from drugs and alcohol who shared a common love of the legendary jam band The Grateful Dead.
In fact, “Wharf Rat” is the name of a Dead song about a down and out wino named August West. The Grateful Dead sparked a culture of “deadheads” that followed the band from one concert to the next.
The group recognized the inherent danger of relapse in attending these shows, which are notorious for people imbibing psychedelic drugs and drinking alcohol.
But these devotees of the Grateful Dead found sober strength in numbers, even holding impromptu support meetings during the band’s breaks.
“The music and scene was much too fun to let go of just because we sobered up and could no longer indulge our addictions,” writes Wharf Rat Don Bryant on the group’s Facebook page.
The Wharf Rats Have Inspired These Offshoots That Share Their Sober Devotion to Other Favorite Jam Bands
- The Phellowship follow the band Phish
- Digital Buddhas follow the band Disco Biscuits
- Happy Hour Heroes follow the band moe
- The Gateway follow the band Widespread Panic
The Wharf Rat philosophy is “you’re a Wharf Rat if you say you are – no judgment – no requirement.” The group, which sprung out of 12 step organizations, is not affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. In the early days, members found one another by holding yellow balloons. But they’ve come a long way since then.
“Our niche,” writes Bryant, “became an entry point for deadheads in crisis or a sort of safe zone for recovering ‘heads’ to support and love each other.” These days the Wharf Rats have tables or booths at Grateful Dead concerts that offer information and a place that sober people can gather and enjoy the music that inspires them.
The trend of safe and sober places for those battling addiction has also created a movement in the music festival scene.
Large-scale festivals, like Lollapalooza, Bonaroo and Coachella, now have tents that offer water and shade, with some even holding support meetings three times a day.
“This really sprang from a group of music lovers who thought their life would be over without using,” Patrick Whelan, a founder of one such organization, told the Huffington Post.
Getting treatment for addiction to drugs or alcohol and staying sober will never be free of sacrifices. But the Wharf Rats and other groups like them are proof that life in sobriety is full authentic and long lasting joy.