Good clean fun at Petaluma’s first RockSoberFest
“Music is about passion and emotion and joy, it’s about your heart and your soul,” exclaims Nick Petty, of the surf-punk band The Happys. “Music is about the effort you put into it and the life you live because of it. Music isn’t about drugs and alcohol. At least, it doesn’t have to be. That’s what RockSoberFest is all about. It’s about celebrating the power of music without all that other stuff.”
The RockSoberFest music festival, launched two years ago by Marin County producer/theater director Jeffrey Trotter, is coming to Petaluma’s fairgrounds on Saturday, Sept. 28 after debuting in Booneville, and then returning the following year in San Geronimo, in Marin County.
Described by Trotter as Northern California’s largest “fun and sober” music festival, the event was championed by the late Stefanie Keys, who was slotted to headline the Petaluma event, before passing away in July after a battle with cancer.
“She was a legend,” says Petty. “For all of her fans, and also for a lot of people in the recovery community, her death is a big deal. It’s so surreal.”
Despite her absence, Petty says the show will go on, as Keys would havewanted it to. In addition to The Happys, the lineup will feature rock legend John Allair, Paul Hayward, Tyler Allen, John and Camilla Ford, Angel Amador, Venus in Scorpio, and blues band No Account.
“Someone who knew I’d been clean for a while passed word to Jeffrey suggesting the Happys would be a good fit,” says Petty. “I was so thrilled that this is being put together. I totally believe in the idea that alcohol and drugs are not necessary to have a good time. Jeffrey knows it too, aand has been working around the clock to make this successful.”
The daylong event will run from ?1-9 p.m. In addition to the music, which begins at 3 p.m. and plays throughout the day, RockSoberFest will include food, vendors and activity booths, and will kick off with a large AA meeting and inspirational speaker.
“This festival,” says Trotter, “will help artists and artists-in-recovery find their community. Community is what we need in these times. We lose lots of things in life, but this type of event is a safe space. I think the time has really come for this type of an event.”
Trotter adds that RockSoberFest is not intended just for those who identify as addicts or alcoholics, but anyone, young and old, who enjoys music and dancing but prefers to experience it without the additional distractions of drugs and alcohol. The festival comes at a time when “sober breaks” are trending among many young people. Along with alcohol-free “bars,” and some establishments expanding their menu of “mocktails” and other non-alcoholic offerings, sober breaks, like “Dry January,” are alcohol-free periods of time observed by people who simply want a healthier lifestyle. RoockSoberFeest fits right in.
“I hope that this festival is the first of many in Petaluma, and other places,” says Kegan Stedwell, of the Marin County based Rhythm and Blues band Venus in Scorpio. Stedwell also mentions Keys, who was a friend and supporter. “Stefanie really believed in the importance of a an alcohol free festival where everybody can get down, and have fun, and feel great, without the pressure of alcohol being present.”
Venus in Scorpio, featuring a first-rate ensemble of players, is one of those bands that incorporates a degree of theatrics, including a number of costume changes during the band’s set. The whole goal, says Stedwell, is to have fun.
With a laugh, she adds, “Truth is, people in recovery are often the hardest partiers in the room. They just had to clean up a little earlier than others, but they like to have fun and they know how to have fun. For there to be an opportunity like this is just good for everybody. Maybe it’ll encourage people to come and experiment with what it’s like to be present in the thrill of the music without having to be buzzed at the same time.”
Dan Curry, of the Petaluma-based blues band No Account, was aware of the RockSoberFest events in Boonville and San Geronimo. When he learned that it was coming to Petaluma, he immediately got in touch with Trotter and pitched No Account to be one of the festival’s featured bands.
“As a person in recovery myself, and as a chemical dependency advisor with Kaiser Permanente, I know how much an event like this means to the recovery community,” says Curry. “People in recovery are always looking for things to do, to keep busy and have fun and stay active, but they don’t want to put their recovery at risk by going to some standard-issue concert or festival where, to a lot of people, the drinking is as important, if not more important, than the music is.”
Curry is also hoping that RockSoberFest Petaluma becomes an annual event.
“Something like this,” he says, “is not just a fantastic idea. I think it’s really going to one of the most fun and entertaining and joyful happenings of the year.”