Being on the Sober Side at Lollapalooza


(CHICAGO) Lolla Cares is the division of Lollapalooza which promotes education, service and environmental sustainability through the duration of the four-day festival in Grant Park. From registering to vote to finding bone marrow donors for cancer patients, the organizations strive to gain awareness while doing good. One of the featured Lolla Cares tents is Sober Side.

Via the Lolla Cares page on the main website:

[Sober Side’s] simple purpose is to provide support and information to those who seek the comfort and camaraderie of other clean and sober people at Lollapalooza. The only requirement is a desire to stay drug and alcohol free at the festival. Though we consist mostly of people in recovery from alcoholism and addiction, Sober Side exists for anyone wishing to stay clean, sober and those seeking serenity and fellowship at Lollapalooza.

The Soberside Sign at the tent at Lollapalooza
The Soberside Sign at the tent at Lollapalooza

Q Brickell from Laguna Hills, CA, and a director on the board for Harmonium, the organization bringing the services of Sober Side, explains that the group provides “provides a safe place for clean and sober music fans to come and get away from the craziness.”

The mission of Harmonium is to provide a “sober sanctuary for music fans who choose to be abstinent” at music festivals around the country.

Harmonium holds daily meetings at festivals multiple times throughout each day at more than 16 festivals across the nation. This is the third year they have participated at Lollapalooza in Chicago as Sober Side.

Why the need for Sober Side?

Roughly 8-12 percent of the population is genetically predisposed to alcoholism and addiction. With the 100,000 festival attendees daily, that would put this number somewhere between 8,000 and 12,000 people struggling with the disease.

Though it is not merely people who suffer from addiction or work a recovery program who visit the tent at these festivals. Q says that many visitors to the tent come in the form of pregnant women who want to make a connection and gain support since often times their friends continue to use alcohol when they attend these events together.

“We have a lot of people who are ‘Straight Edge,’ ex-punk rockers with the big ‘X’ tattoos on their hand who come out and are really excited to meet other people who won’t judge them,” Q Brickell continues. There are also many individuals who are in their 30s and have burnt out on the scene.

During Lollapalooza, Sober Side touches thousands of people who stop by the tent just to find out what the tent is about. Many want to help or participate, but for those who aren’t in need of the service, receive the knowledge to pass on to others can be of great help.

Brandon Graham, 25, was reclining in the tent on an Adirondack chair, cooling off in the Sober Side tent. He says that he is content spiritually and has done a number of festivals sober including five years of Bonnaroo and three years at Lollapalooza.

When asked how long it took for Graham to feel comfortable in his own skin at music festivals, he replied, “I played music most of my life, and just love festivals. I’ve done so many more of these sober than I have partying that it has become natural.”

How did it all begin?
“In 2000, I started a group for Widespread Panic fans,” Patrick Whelan, board member and one of the founders stated. “In 2001, they played the first Bonnaroo, so we all gathered there. I’ve been going back to Bonnaroo ever since, and we started ‘Soberroo’ in 2004.”

“It’s not just for people in recovery, it’s also for people in recovery from loved ones who are suffering,” Patrick Whelan. “Festivals have wondered why they haven’t thought of it first.”

It is emphasized that the organization is not affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or any other 12-Step programs, and also “makes no judgment on others’ decisions related to drugs and alcohol, neither condemning nor condoning their use.”

One of those loved ones is Sean Brickell, father of Q, and a board member for Harmonium.

“I had 40 years in the business, and my son went into recovery,” Sean Brickell, father of Q and also a board member for Harmonium said.

Between Q’s love for music and Sean’s connections in the industry, they were able to put this program together.

“All of the promoters understand what we are trying to do and are accommodating,” said Sean Brickell.

“It needs to be said that while we are serving the sober community, we are also serving the promoters,” Sean Brickell said. Promoters of these events are looking to find an option for people, and the services that the Harmonium groups bring provide that at no cost to organizers.

“It’s a hot day and beer is starting to look good,” Sean Brickell explains. “These people can come in here and sit for a while, and they can go home with the same sobriety date.”

When asked about the transformation in the industry over the past 40 years, it was noted that promoters are taking a more responsible approach.

“Before it was just you have a party, you have a festival or a concert. People get high, and they get seriously messed up. That’s a consequence,” Sean Brickell said. “We cannot say how appreciative we are of the promoters, and that in itself is probably one of the most important changes that I’ve seen in the industry over the last 30 years.”

You can find more information on Harmonium and view their work at

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