Local Current Blog

Review and photos: HazelFest 2018 is a celebration of music, honesty, and self-acceptance

Photos by Darin Kamnetz for MPR

This past Saturday was the best day of the year…the best day for me as a person in recovery and a music lover. HazelFest! I used to seek comfort from the bottle (I think that’s a song lyric), and never did I find it. Now there are places I can go to feel that comfort: they take me to a place where I can just be, kind of like this music festival.

Since 2013, Hazelden has put on a music festival that prohibits any drugs or alcohol. It’s the one time I can let my guard down at a live music event. I get to focus on the artists, enjoy the scenery, and celebrate being in the present moment instead of worrying about beer being spilled on me, getting stepped on by a drunk person, or worrying about people passing out.

This sixth year was one of the best despite the precipitation in the air. The music is what I get most excited about, but there are also speakers, vendors, food trucks, and family activities making it a fun day for the entire family.

Reflecting on the gift of recovery, there is a program I follow that protects my sobriety. There is maintenance required, and certain elements that I cannot ignore. Music has always been one of my loves and, as I wrote about how I had to put music on hold in my early sobriety, a year later I think about how music sustains me on my path of recovery. This weekend as I listened to different sounds in the drizzling rain, each of the artists demonstrated these elements.

It was Davina and the Vagabonds’ fourth time playing at the festival, and they brought sunshine to the field with their music and banter — not to mention that Davina donned a bright yellow dress and headwrap. With each jazzy number, it became evident that Davina Sowers represented light. The New Orleans beats and Sowers’s buoyant voice created an uptempo set that had couples swing-dancing and kids running around the wet grass.

Part of what makes this day special is being with others who have experienced the darkness of addiction. Davina shared with us a song entitled “Deep End.” She prefaced it by saying she wrote this song on the floor of a shower when she was on tour and couldn’t get out of a sad spell. “Let’s go drop off/ let’s run and hide/ Hold your breath/ forget the rest/ please let me go.”

We addicts know this feeling, so well. Part of my recovery is to recognize that things aren’t as serious as I make them. Finding the light in situations, people, whatever it may be is a regular practice for me. So when Davina and the Vagabonds upped the beat with a song entitled “Sunshine” (“Nothing’s ever gonna bring me down/ my smile is finally here to stay”), it made even the cloudy day seem bright.

Another daily piece of my recovery is finding calm. There is a lot of anxiety and fear running around my head and when I need to find calm, it’s usually in the form of music. The Cactus Blossoms’ performance created a sense of calm that it was surreal. They thanked us for “listening in the drizzle,” and then played an hourlong set of slow, melodious, almost hypnotizing songs. Their sibling harmonies filing the field made me forget that it was even drizzling. Even when they rocked Waylon Jennings’s “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line,” it still felt calm. They’re are now on my playlist of music that takes from a frenzy to a resting place.

Comfort: I seek and I need it in my recovery. Not necessarily big fluffy pajamas and feng shui in my house, but a place I can go to rest, a safe place. There are some artists who provide comfort to me; the moment I hear their voice, I know things are going to be okay. One of those artists is Chastity Brown. The first song in her set was “Drive Slow,” and she spoke about how songs keep teaching us things. She played several songs from her most recent album, Silhouette of Sirens. She told the audience that “mental strength and stability has always waxed and waned for me.” Brown ended her set with cover of “Baltimore,” written by Randy Newman and made famous by Nina Simone.

As the roadies set up the stage for the headliner Brother Ali, the clouds began to part, and the sun peeked its way out just in time to set. To be perfectly honest, I was not familiar with Brother Ali’s work. The second he came on stage he blew my expectations out of the water. His lyrics, his delivery, his presence was undeniably moving. This was the first time a swarm of people stood near the stage as he rapped “Own Light (What Hearts Are For)”: “You ain’t got to get me lit, I got my own light,” sending the most positive message to us all. “I admire what you’re doing,” he said. “I’m very honored to be here and I’m here to serve you.”

If I am not honest with myself or about myself, that becomes a slippery slope. I love the way that Brother Ali documents his journey towards personal acceptance through his rhymes. He’s honest about himself and his journey through this world.

Other artists who performed included MaLLy and Communist Daughter. Each of these musicians have the power to evoke what I need to stay sober: light, calm, comfort, and honesty. This festival epitomizes what music brings to my recovery game.