Photo-journalist and frequent L4LM contributor Adam Straughn set out on a quest called “NO-vember,” avoiding the typical intoxicants that have and will always continue to pervade the crowds at live music events. Straughn shares his story, complete with 10 lessons learned after seeing music in a clearer light.

It’s nearly common knowledge that drugs and music go together like peanut butter and jelly, spaghetti and meatballs, lamb and tuna fish, or any other cliché analogy. Whether it be alcohol, hallucinogens, stimulants, or your casual smoke session while hiding from security behind the dumpster between sets, there is no question that altering one’s state of mind has the ability enhance one’s experience while enjoying a concert. Humans have been getting wild and dancing to music since the dawn of time, but what happens when you go to a show without relying on your substance of choice to ensure your happiness?

This is the question that I set out to answer last month, which I appropriately dubbed “NO-vember.” That’s right, for 30 whole days I abstained from all foreign substances and focused on staying healthy and enjoying music. That meant no alcohol, no drugs of any sort, no fast food, and very limited caffeine consumption. (I also participated in No-Shave November, just for kicks.)

As a photo-journalist with a few years in music scene, I can tell you with confidence that there is essentially no escaping the temptation of drugs and alcohol, both out in the crowd and backstage. Hell, when I first started doing photography in clubs in Boston, many promoters would try to pay me with alcohol tickets. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say “try”… In my earliest years as a concert photographer, I actually worked for free booze on a few occasions, as sad as that is.

Fast forward a few years and I now work anywhere between 2 to 5 shows a week either writing reviews, photographing a concert, or both. When I’m not working at a show, I’m most likely attending one as a fan. No matter what the case, drugs and alcohol are constantly part of the picture. Venues make their money on alcohol sales, and fans partake in a smorgasbord of drugs to enhance their experience.  Once you’re backstage, nearly everything comes free, making the challenge of staying sober in the music business a tough task.

“NO-vember” definitely wasn’t easy, but it was worth the effort. Now, let me share with you the important lessons I learned in my month of clarity, for better or for worse.

1. First and foremost, you CAN make it through the night sober and still have a good time.

I don’t want to make this sound like a D.A.R.E. lecture by any means, but you most certainly can have a good time at concerts completely sober. My first day of this “NO-vember” challenge was the final day at Suwannee Hulaween, a festival catered to mind-enhancing medicine, and it was by far my favorite. With a good night’s rest, I had energy to last me until well into the night. STS9 put on an amazing show to close out the main stage and I had more fun during their set than any other all weekend, without the aid of any substances. If you in fact cannot enjoy yourself at a concert without your vice of choice, than you may have bigger problems at hand.

2. You realize which music is good, and which music actually sucks.

Lets face it, sometimes you end up at a concert because of the hype surrounding the act, or because of the fact that your friends are going and they wanted you to come. With enough booze, almost any music is enjoyable, or at least tolerable, but when you show up sober it’s not as easy to pretend you’re having a good time. If the music is actually good, you can enjoy it sober. If it sucks, and you’re sober, you’re shit out of luck.

3. You see the whole show….and remember it.

When you don’t plan on drinking, you can bank on the fact that you won’t miss any major part of the show. Whether it’s to go to the bathroom for the fourth time to make room for more booze or to sneak a puff off of a joint outside, walking away from the stage comes with the risk of missing your favorite song or something completely unexpected. Not only will you see the show in its entirety, but when all is said and done, you will be able to remember it all, which isn’t always the case when you’re “turning up.”

4. You don’t spend your whole week’s paycheck in one night.

Whether it’s to enhance the music, or mask the fact that it actually sucks, you will be happy in the morning when you still have some spending money left in your pocket. Ticket prices are expensive enough these days and spending on those extra mood enhancing substances only adds to the total price of a good time. In “NO-vember,” I estimate that I saved $1000 or more. You know what I bought with that money? More concert tickets!! Funny how that works, isn’t it?

5. You won’t humiliate yourself on the dance the floor.

Have you ever seen a video of yourself after an eventful night in complete and utter disbelief? “Did I really do that?” you might ask yourself. Fortunately, you are not alone. Countless people embarrass themselves on a given night, and that’s precisely what concerts are great for. We gather around music to shed the stresses of the real world, and dancing like an idiot is a great way to do so. Admittedly, having a few stiff drinks will give you the confidence to let loose, but what I’ve found is that sometimes the environment alone is intoxicating enough. There is a fine line between letting loose and losing your head.

6. Visuals can still look pretty trippy.

Okay, okay…they might not look AS trippy, but a good visual display will be entertaining nonetheless if the VJ’s and LD’s are doing their job. If you’ve ever opened up the doors that hallucinogens hold the key to, you won’t need drugs to appreciate a good light show. Sometimes you might notice things you wouldn’t have while in a higher state of mind, but for the most part, there is no questioning the power of hallucinogenic enhancement.

7. You don’t lose your belongings.

I don’t know about you, but I lose stuff all the time. If I had a dollar for every time I lost my wallet, phone, or keys I might be a rich man. I’m never sure how, but it happens a lot at concerts and more than likely it’s because I’m buzzed and careless. I’m happy to say that I just went a full month without drinking at shows, and therefore, a full month without losing any one of my possessions. I’m sure that many have felt the same agony of reaching into an empty pocket and were instantly filled with regret.

8. You don’t wake up hungover.

A few times during this past month of sobriety, I’d wake up from an awesome show and my first groggy thoughts were “Oh man, I’m so hungover.” A few seconds would pass and I’d slowly come to realize, “wait, no I’m not!” Waking up the day after a killer show and being a productive human being is usually a rare occurrence, but when you are staying sober at shows, every morning is practically the same, minus the occasional ringing in your ears.

9. You start to feel and look healthier.

This kind of goes without saying—when you’re not filling your body with toxins, you will start looking a lot less toxic. Those bags under your eyes will begin to disappear and that sluggish feeling will be lifted. You can only make up the excuse that you look like shit because you went to a concert last weekend so many times before your boss begins to think you’re a booze bag. An addiction to music doesn’t mean you have to look like a drug addict. In addition to being physically healthier, your mental health will begin to get stronger as well. Having self-control, especially in a challenging environment such as a concert or festival, reaps plenty of benefits for one’s self-confidence and self-esteem.

10. Concerts can be considered cardio.  

Typically, the calories you burn dancing (or moshing) would be replaced by all the carbohydrates in alcohol, but when you aren’t drinking, your concert experience can also double as “exercise” giving you one hell of a good excuse as to why you didn’t go to the gym this month. You also don’t make the irrational decision to order two pizzas with a side of cheesy bread and gulp it down like you haven’t eaten in weeks after the show.

Going To Concerts Sober

These are the lessons I’ve learned while going to concerts sober for one month. Have you ever attended a concert sober? What lessons have you learned?