I Drank Booze at Concerts for 15 Years—Here’s What Happened When I Attended a Summer’s Worth of Shows Fully Sober

Photo: Courtesy of Hilary Sheinbaum; W+G Creative
The night of my 29th birthday, I went with friends to see New Found Glory in concert at Irving Plaza in New York City. After having already consumed a cocktail each (maybe two) at dinner, my friends and I took a shot of bourbon at the venue's bar before proceeding to drunkenly dance to the band's pop-punk hits.

I wasn't really sure why I was drinking, given that I had recently sought to reexamine my relationship with alcohol. Earlier that year, 2017, I had completed my first "dry January" and abstained from alcohol for the month largely to prove a friend wrong who bet that I couldn't do it. But to be fair, he had all the reason to suspect that he'd be right. At the time, I was a red carpet reporter by night (think: events, parties, and after-parties with open bars) and a food and beverage reporter by day, which included covering wine, beer, spirits, and mixed drinks. Not to mention, I was a twentysomething single, going out on dates that almost always involved alcohol and attending booze-fueled networking events, birthday parties, and social gatherings on the regular.

To say that a dry January felt like a difficult undertaking at the time would be an understatement. It seemed impossible and absolutely no fun. I also didn't really think that 30 days sans alcohol would change me in any significant way, especially if I planned to drink on February 1. Spoiler alert: I was wrong and would come to learn that my near-daily drinking was affecting me more than I thought, and my skin, sleep, and energy levels all stood to benefit from just a 30-day break (more on that below).

Nevertheless, at the New Found Glory concert that spring, I found myself ringing in my fresh year of life with a buzz. Still wincing from the burn of the bourbon shot slipping down my throat, I welcomed more of my friends to the venue. And not long after, I found myself convincing my friend Jaimi to crowd-surf with me.

Perhaps my inclination to drink specifically at this show and on my birthday was rooted in nostalgia. New Found Glory is from my hometown in Florida, and theirs was the first show I saw back in high school with just friends and no adult supervision. The experience ignited my love for live shows, which, soon after, became synonymous with a reason to drink.

Throughout the next 15 years, concerts including Warped Tour, Something Corporate, Taking Back Sunday, Lady Gaga, Paul McCartney, and even a Backstreet Boys reunion became mainstays in my social plans. And far more often than not, I found myself imbibing at these events, adding yet another boozy social outing to my already alcohol-heavy agenda.

Even after I had experienced the benefits of going dry, the combination of live music and alcohol felt so natural that I didn't think twice about grabbing a drink (or, rather, several) at the New Found Glory concert. But it was the aftermath of that night and my unfolding sober-curious journey that would change my perspective for good, leading me to attend four concerts completely sober this past summer.

The pregame: How attending concerts and drinking became intertwined for me

Drinking at shows was as simple as this: A friend would ask if I wanted a drink, and I’d say, “sure,” without thinking too much about it. Or, after a particularly challenging week, I’d be ready to cut loose with my friends at a show, and alcohol was just the thing to release our inhibitions. Sometimes we’d drink before shows. Sometimes we’d go out after, too.

If I drank before, during, or after a concert, my next-morning routine was predictable: I’d wake up dehydrated (read: hungover), having slept terribly (read: four hours, max), with a ton of anxiety (aka “hangxiety”) and the impulse to text whomever I’d been with at the concert, “Did you have fun?” or “Haha. I’m dead from yesterday.” I did this for two reasons: to confirm that the night was, in fact, fun for all and that I didn’t accidentally embarrass myself or anyone else; and to acknowledge that I wasn’t the only one overdoing it (ahem, feeling like roadkill the next day). As it turns out, none of us felt our best after a concert night.

Drinking at shows was as simple as this: A friend would ask if I wanted a drink, and I’d say, “sure.” Or, after a particularly challenging week, I’d be ready to cut loose, and alcohol was just the thing to release my inhibitions.

During the New Found Glory concert, after I took the burning bourbon shot and crowd-surfed twice—in my not-so-clear state of mind—I sent a video of me being lifted up and passed hand-to-hand above the crowd to my parents. To summarize the conversation that followed (and continued the next day): My mother was not thrilled. But after the concert, we hit another bar with more friends and more drinks, and I woke up feeling (you guessed it) unwell.

In the months that followed my 29th birthday, I found myself drinking fewer and fewer drinks on a regular basis, still reeling from the particularly bad hangover that plagued me after that concert. And when January rolled around again, I decided to do a dry January once more, eager to reap the benefits I'd just briefly tasted the previous year. Random sober months followed, and in looking back, I realize I haven’t ordered a drink at a concert since.

The party: How I decided to spend the past summer attending concerts sober

After several dry Januarys, and drinking fewer than 10 alcoholic beverages total in 2020, I published my book The Dry Challenge: How to Lose the Booze for Dry January, Sober October, and Any Other Alcohol-Free Month that December. Upon realizing what a single month of no booze did for me, I just couldn't shut up about it. And as it came up in conversation, a lot of my friends and even strangers had questions for me—so I put everything I knew and everything I learned into a book. The result is a non-judgmental guide to abstaining from alcohol for 29 to 31 days and the benefits of doing so, like better sleep, financial savings, clearer skin, being present in the moment, and, naturally, no hangovers.

This past summer, after years of pandemic-canceled events, I went to four concerts with friends: Tiesto, The Used, Andrew McMahon with Dashboard Confessional, and Counting Crows. And having, by then, largely abstained from alcohol for several months, I was set on attending these concerts sober, too. I was excited to see live music and ecstatic to be able to experience one of my favorite pastimes again, but I was also nervous about how I would feel going to shows for the first time without alcohol. I decided to give the first one a (figurative) shot and go from there.

Of course, there are a plethora of well-known benefits of not drinking, whether you go alcohol-free for a month, a week, or just a day. But even at the Tiesto concert, where drinking would’ve long been an integral part of the experience for me, I was pleased by a few particular upsides: I didn’t have to run to the restroom to relieve myself after every set, or miss songs, or lose my spot in general admission, or overspend due to imbibing.

I still danced, I still sang, I still dramatically lip-synched with my friends and took fun photos of the show (less blurry ones, I might add).

Instead, I still danced, I still sang, I still dramatically lip-synched with my friends (some were drinking, others were not) and took fun photos of the show (less blurry ones, I might add). Rather than alcohol, I bought an energy drink before the show, finishing it before arriving at security, and I sipped water throughout.

Without alcohol, I was fully present, with sharper awareness of the people within my vicinity—which came in handy. Sometime past 1 a.m., I unexpectedly caught a woman in my arms and saved her from hitting her head on the concrete floor as she was falling backward. I’m not sure I would have reacted as fast had I been under the influence.

The afterparty: How my dry concert experience panned out

Needless to say, after all four shows, I didn’t wake up with a pounding headache and the urge to vomit. I slept seven to eight hours without interruption, remembered everything from the night before, and didn’t nervously text my friends the next morning to make sure things were copacetic. (Reader: We had so much fun, my sobriety notwithstanding.)

It may sound obvious, but throughout this stint of attending concerts sober, there also weren’t any tipsy texts to my parents equipped with videos that would keep them up at night, worrying about my safety. (Sorry, and you’re welcome, Mom!)

Admittedly, I didn’t crowd-surf at any of these recent sober shows, but for what it’s worth, the first time I crowd-surfed was in high school (at age 16—yeesh). Yes, I was young(er) and fearless, but the point is, I wasn’t drinking, and I was clearly having the best time. Whether I’m floating above a crowd or singing along to song lyrics, regardless of age: I much prefer attending concerts in a sober state of mind.

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