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Sober in Showbiz

January 14th, 2017 Guest Posts

This guest post comes from the New Zealand author J.A. Wright (she was raised in the Pacific Northwest and moved to New Zealand in 1990). She is the founder and director of the World Buskers Festival (1994 to 2014) and the New Zealand Jazz and Blues Festival (1997 to now). With more than 30 years in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, she spent years crafting her recently published novel, How to Grow an Addict

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I’ve been clean and sober since February 1985, and I’ve worked in the entertainment industry since 1992. My many jobs have included festival director, concert promoter, and show producer. I’m also familiar with just about every type of production job related to staging a show, including finding ways to keep artists from drinking on stage.

The entertainment business is an exciting industry to work in. It’s also an industry with a history of enabling artists to drink and/or use drugs before, during and after a performance – or at the very least turning a blind eye to it. I’m sure I’m not the only promoter who’s watched in terror as an artist drank his or her way through a show, sometimes slurring a song or stumbling through a performance only to have the same artist hang around backstage afterward drinking what was left of the hospitality rider.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not opposed to people drinking and drugging. I gladly accept the practice that requires me, as the promoter, to supply and pay for food and booze. However, I like to keep the amount I supply within reason as no one appreciates an intoxicated performer. It’s just a bad look for them and me.

Throughout the past twenty-four years, I’ve spent more money on artist’s alcohol, and gone to greater lengths to get the type and brand they specified than I ever did for myself. I’ve purchased cases of champagne for a touring party of eight, hunted down special bourbon and whiskey as outlined in an artist’s rider under the heading of ‘No Substitutes- No Exceptions.’ I’ve borrowed handcrafted wine glasses for an A-list jazz musician, and I’ve even snuck a twelve pack of micro-brewed beer into the green room of an artist touring with the Eagles because she was keen to drink New Zealand beer, even though it defied the tour booze ban one of Eagles had insisted on.

Thankfully things have been changing for the better in the past ten years. With more artists getting clean and sober and touring with sober production crews, the alcohol-induced awkward episodes are few and far between. In fact, I’ve only had to provide what I consider to be an exceptional amount of booze twice in the past two years.

This welcome change has not only saved me money; it’s provided many opportunities for me to work with sober artists and their crew who weren’t shy about sharing their recovery journey. And once they learned I was on a similar path; the promoter artist interaction became something more than just getting a show out.

Being sober in this industry hasn’t always been a good thing, but it’s beginning to pay off in every way. I know of several international tour managers who tour with sober artists because they are sober, and I’ve met sober coaches who make their living touring with artists who want help sticking to a recovery plan. I also know what type of experience to expect by reading an artist’s hospitality/catering rider.

If the request for booze is excessive, I know I’ll need to find a way of monitoring the artist’s consumption (usually via their manager). And when there is no request for alcohol in a rider … I’m always thrilled.

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J.A. can be contact via her website or on Facebook.

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