"Soberchella" Kicks Off in Coachella Valley

By Victoria Kim 04/12/19

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the sober community at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

soberchella at coachella
It's all about the music. via Soberchella

Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival kicks off today in Indio, California. It’s probably safe to say that there will be plenty of drugs and alcohol to go around—but if that’s not your thing, you’re not alone.

In the nearly 20 years of Coachella’s existence, Soberchella—a small but growing sober community at the festival—has been around for 10 of them. This year, it is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

The two-weekend festival will feature performances by Ariana Grande, Childish Gambino, Tame Impala, Janelle Monáe, the 1975, Kid Cudi, Khalid, Aphex Twin, Weezer, and more.

Last year, we discussed the roots of the growing movement with Soberchella co-founder Joseph G. This time around, neither he nor his fellow co-founders will be making the trip to Indio. They’ve passed the torch to a dedicated group of volunteers to carry on Soberchella’s mission—to provide sober support and fellowship to festivalgoers.

“People are so grateful to find us before they arrive,” Joey W of Los Angeles, who is part of the new team running Soberchella, tells The Fix. This is her third Soberchella.

“We have a wide variety of Soberchellians, from 70-year-old dancing hippies with 90 days of sobriety who come back a year later still sober, to sober mothers and daughters, ex-gang members, stagehands and Coachella food servers—you name it,” she continued. “People with more than two decades of sobriety down to two days with new perfect strangers and repeat friends, with one thing in common—to have fun and stay sober at Coachella.”

Joey W, who is 10 years sober, is largely responsible for getting the sober community back on its feet. “It was starting to stagger, and I just want to revitalize it and try and make it really thrive into the next decade,” she said.

Joey W started by ramping up outreach efforts and getting the word out to meetings and support groups worldwide. “We really wanted to beef up the outreach and let AA/NA and all other 12-step programs know we’re here,” she said.

In addition to the noon meetings that Soberchella is known for, there will be additional meet-ups at various sets throughout the festival. And if that’s not enough, they also provide information on meetings and support outside of the festival.

“We also have helped people connect out-of-town travelers with other sober people for meetings in Vegas, LA and the desert,” says Joey W. “One of our Soberchellians’ wife got really sick and he gifted his tickets to another member on our GroupMe Chain who wasn’t able to afford tickets. And they had never met in person. How cool is that?”

And fielding last-minute calls from fellow festivalgoers in need of support is typical at the festival, she adds. “I hope it has helped someone stay sober another day.”

Another team member, Fred E from the OC, is helping out for the first time this year, though this will be his 10th Coachella. With 12 years sober, he says that the meetings at the festival are as meaningful to him as the performances. “The amount of gratitude and euphoria that I feel sitting in those meetings with the thump of the bass in the background rivals many experiences that I barely remember from before I got sober,” he tells The Fix.

Soberchella’s presence at the festival is vital to its members, who hail from all backgrounds. They have one shared goal: to listen to good music, have a good time, and to do it all while maintaining sobriety.

“No matter who people are coming to see, why people come, or what stage of sobriety people are in, we are all excited to party, listen to music, and have a complete escape from the real world. We are all here to help support people being able to have maximum fun in an environment that can be dangerous for some of us,” says Fred E.

Kurt G went to his first Coachella back in 2010, with just 22 months of sobriety. After doing a quick “sober at Coachella” Google search, the rest was history. Now 10 years sober, he’s been attending the annual music festival for pretty much his entire recovery.

“Coachella is an amazing experience but it can be treacherous ground for a sober person to walk,” Kurt G tells The Fix. “I love live music and I love the excitement and joy it brings me and to the other 99,000 of my newfound friends here on the polo fields.”

“For a lot of attendees, it’s a drug- and booze-fueled party and that can be a scary place for me and my sober brothers and sisters,” he continued. “Attending the Soberchella meetings through the years, I’ve met some old-timers and I’ve met a person that had literally 3 days—a noon meeting sometimes doesn’t seem like enough. For that moment though, we can be candid, we can listen, we can be of service, and we keep coming back.”

If you would like to learn more about Soberchella, visit Soberchella.com.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr