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SoberFest shows ‘another way to live’

Alcohol- and substance-free music and comedy festival set for Saturday at Langford’s Starlight Stadium
SoberFest founder Mike Manhas at Starlight Stadium, this year’s venue for his alcohol- and substance-free music and comedy festival on Saturday. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST


Featuring: Mostly Motown, The Rainshadow Al Band, Nautical Disaster, local hip-hop and rap, as well as comics Patricia Ellen, Mikey Dubs, and Ryan Williams

Where: Starlight Stadium, 1089 Langford Parkway

When: Saturday, 12p.m.-7 p.m.

Tickets: $55

SoberFest is finding its footing with a larger venue and some big community support.

The alcohol- and substance-free music and comedy festival set for Saturday at Langford’s Starlight Stadium aims to double its attendance and money raised for addiction treatment beds this year.

“Last year, we were an idea. This year, we’re an actual entity,” said founder Mike Manhas.

Manhas said it was amazing to see how the community has warmed up to the idea and is throwing support behind the event, which is run by volunteers with 100 per cent of proceeds going to support addiction treatment.

As of Monday, 90 per cent of tickets have been sold, Manhas said, adding that many stores and organizations have been generous to SoberFest.

He recalls an instance when his partner was out volunteering for SoberFest. A shop got wind of what she was doing and immediately donated an $800 jacket for the event’s silent auction.

“There’s a growing movement out there,” he said. “People want safe places to go hang out.”

This year, SoberFest and its parent organization Rewired Recovery Foundation is relying on a combination of ticket sales, sponsorships, and revenue generated from its 74 vendor spaces to help run the show and to fund 16 addiction first-and second-stage treatment spaces for up to a year.

Langford council voted Monday to put $6,000 towards supporting the event. Event sponsors range from trades organizations to treatment centres to a tech company, Checkfront, which Manhas said has given the largest single contribution to the foundation so far.

Rewired Recovery Foundation has already raised $500,000 toward first-stage treatment beds, $111,000 for second-stage treatment beds, and still hopes to raise another $90,000 to fund spaces for a full year instead of six months.

Manhas remembers how that process was critical for him when he was still addicted and selling dope to fund his habit.

“Had there been a six- to nine-month waitlist I would be either dead or in jail right now,” he said. “Treatment saved my life.”

With the help of his family, he was able to get a bed in three days instead of waiting months for a government-funded bed.

“All of them are amazing organizations, but it’s very rare you’re going to get [care] with less than $12,000-$15,000 a month,” Manhas said, adding that first-stage treatment programs usually last 50 days and that second-stage programs such as sober recovery houses could take much longer.

SoberFest is his way of giving back and a way to invite others to join in as well.

For Victoria comic and writer Dan Duvall, the event is more than just another emcee gig.

“Being able to come together in a huge park like Starlight Stadium and celebrating recovery, I’m looking at [that] as a positive thing,” said Duvall, who has been in recovery for five-and-a-half years.

Duvall said that getting clean was great for both his personal life and his career as a comic. “I get to have so much more fun with my friends. I remember everything. I’m healthier,” he said.

He said he’s not surprised that the festival is almost sold out, noting that the capital region is home to a wonderful recovery community and that sponsors are flocking toward SoberFest’s cause.

“I thought recovery and getting sober was going into a church basement for AA and listening to people talk about how they wish they could drink still,” he said, adding that previously he thought of recovery as “some kind of sad thing.”

It’s important to have events like these to let people know that they can have fun and party without substances, he said.

“It’s not one or the other,” he said. “There’s another way to live.”

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