MANCHESTER, Tenn. — Brent Weber is attending either his fifth or sixth Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. He's not sure, because the details of one or two of them are so fuzzy he simply can't remember if he was there or not.
This is his first festival sober, and he is volunteering in the Soberoo tent along with a dozen or so other folks. They're spreading the word that attending an event known for the partying that goes on is not only OK, it can be enjoyable.
"It's almost spiritual for me," said Nathan Payne, who is attending his third festival. He was more of a single-concert guy before, but freely admits he was there more to get drunk or high than to listen to the music. Now he not only enjoys the performances, he remembers them, he said.
Soberoo is manned by volunteers with Harmonium, an organization started in 2002 that blends "music and recovery in harmony."
It mans such tents at festivals in San Bernardino, Calif., Las Vegas, Louisville, Ky., New York City, Bradley, Calif., Arrington, Va., Chicago and San Francisco. In addition to having people at the tents throughout the festivals, Harmonium holds daily sobriety gatherings at regular intervals. There are four each day at Bonnaroo.
At the first noon gathering on Thursday, which is essentially moving-in day at Bonnaroo, about 30 people attended the meeting.
"I've heard there can be as many as 100," said volunteer Morgan Tomosovick, who is attending his first festival sober.
The volunteers work in two-hour shifts. They talk to people who are maybe in a program and at home and need a booster meeting, or people who are reaching out for help for the first time, according to Doug Heck, who is attending his third Bonnaroo with Soberoo.
Mason Joyner recently graduated from high school in North Myrtle Beach, S.C., and is attending his first Bonnaroo with about 35 friends who are all camping together. He and Lauren Baldwin, a rising senior, were out exploring the site and stopped to get a giant slice of pizza and a burrito.
"This is pretty awesome," he said. "We've got everybody in one camp with a whole bunch of canopy tents."
Joyner is most looking forward to Sunday night's show featuring the Dead and Company with John Mayer. Baldwin is looking forward to seeing Pearl Jam on Saturday.
Contact staff writer Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.