It’s just a few weeks until the beginning of festival season. Notoriously boozy, they can be a trigger for even the most ardent music lover. However, here at Club Soda, we like a challenge. We believe that missing out drinking doesn’t have to mean missing out on the fun. So, we set about finding the best, most exciting fail-safe ways of staying sober at this summer’s biggest festivals.
First up this season is Isle of Wight’s music extravaganza. As well as 7 stages of music from all genres, the festival offers a variety of comedy, dance, theatre and poetry for you to sink your teeth into. As Isle of Wight festival is the two-time winner of the Family Festival of the Year Award, this one is a safe bet for a pretty chilled out, non-boozy affair. Club Soda can recommend the chilled vibes of Kashmir Cafe, which celebrates the best local music as well as well-renowned artists. The stage is run by Quay Arts, the island’s charitable arts centre. All profits go to their volunteers. Their island-roasted coffee is a big hit, as is their veggie food stand.
If you fancy something a bit more high octane, you can dance to 80’s music in the Electro Love room. As well as a selection of alcohol-free drinks, their bar ditches the boozy stereotype and instead offers giant Rubiks cubes, UV lights and Bubble Parties. You can also pick up retro sweets and more neon merchandise at the tuck shop. When you’re powering down, relax and re-energise in Bathing Under The Sky’s wood-fired outdoor spa.
Sober friendly rating: 8/10
This is the big daddy of all festivals. It’s one of the most famous in the world, and for good reason. It has 11 jam-packed stages, and offers acts from musicians to comedians to tight-rope walkers. However, despite its bold and brash reputation, it’s actually pretty big on mindfulness and self-care. Greenfields is a safe space of meditation and peace, where you can head to chill out and meet other like-minded people. Check out the chilled acoustic vibes of the Strummerville stage. It is located in the alluring wooded space above Kings Meadow. Or duck into the Wood for secret campfires and inspiring sylvan escapes.
And if you’re feeling anxious, don’t worry, they have your back. The 12 Step Dome in the Healing Fields offers rolling meetings and drop-in recovery sessions. Whether it’s alcohol, drugs or just feeling a bit anxious, the Healing Field is open and fully active from Wednesday at midday for anyone to drop in. They offer mystical and creative gardens, and a variety of free workshops from Yoga and Tai Chi, Dance and Laughter, to Meditation and Massage. All workshops are free and on-going from around 9am to 6pm each day. Healers are volunteers working for donations. Meet an exciting blend of people from many different spiritual paths. Treat yourself to an amazing opportunity to explore and learn about the world of healing.
Club Soda is also a fan of the Workers Beer Company, which has 9 bars across the festival all run by volunteers from trade unions, the labour movement, community groups and charities, to which their wages are donated. Stock Manager Andy says that they offer a range of local soft drinks, but that unfortunately they weren’t going to be selling any alcohol-free beer. However, their pub the Bread and Roses still gets a special mention here as being among the 10 best bars at Glastonbury.
Check out this article by Hannah Smith for top tips on doing Glastonbury sober, from someone who’s been there and got the t-shirt.
Sober friendly rating: 6/10
Latitude is the leading multi-arts festivals – it offers a spectacular array of choice across its arts stages from live music, comedy, theatre, poetry but it also seeks to offer holistic treatments and magical adventures around its beautiful grounds that appeal to all ages. And what you get is edgy, funny, glamorous and ridiculous. It’s on the “easier” side of doing festivals sober, purely because the activities it offers are so diverse. Clare McCormack of Latitude PR says that the breadth and variety of the festival makes it “the perfect choice of festival for someone looking to have an amazing, sober, experience”.
If you need a break away from the action, Clare recommends heading down to the SOLAS healing area. She describes it as “a retreat in a woodland escape, and a sanctuary space nestled among the trees”. You can read more about the kinds of therapies they offer here. Or, if you’re eager to see something new, head down to watch some cabaret, comedy, contemporary dance and poetry. And they have pink sheep!
Sober friendly rating: 8/10
Known as notoriously boozy with a young crowd, Reading and Leeds are ones for non-drinkers level: expert. It’s always the stellar lineups that draw in the crowds. This year the likes of Kasabian, Eminem and Glastonbury favourite Muse will all be headlining the main stage. It’s all about the music, so the incentive to stay sober is being able to appreciate and remember the brilliant acts on offer. However, there isn’t much more than that in terms of artsy activities or wellbeing, so make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. Smaller stages like The Pit and Festival Republic can provide a safe haven, and allow you to become acquainted with brand new and up-and-coming bands you never knew existed.
Sober friendly rating: 5/10
Food is at the forefront at Bestival, so it’s not hard to leave the drink behind for some extraordinary culinary experiences. The Hang Fire Smokehouse is bringing their award-winning BBQ food, you can get your freshly ground coffee from The Coffee Camper, sustainable sushi from Happy Maki, and channel La France at Le Rac Shack with an Alpine Raclette. There are limitless culinary treats just waiting to be discovered. As you’re giving those intoxicated impulse buys a miss, you can afford to splash out on something delicious.
Bestival is a bit smaller than Latitude, but one to watch for a diverse range of festival experiences. For a bit of fun on the side, don’t miss the world’s biggest confetti canon. A highlight is the Ambient Forest, where you can immerse yourself in soothing grooves and tour the higher planes of meditative sound. Absorb those hipster vibes.
Sober friendly rating: 7/10
Unsurprisingly, festivals outside the UK are often much more sober-friendly. Many festivals are making big efforts to address social and environmental concerns. After all, a good festival understands that such an event also comes with a responsibility to be good stewardesses of the same resources that go into them – both human and environmental. Camp Traction is an independent group that has been set up in the USA to provide camping spaces for clean, sober music fans who are out for a good time. They aren’t affiliated with any particular group, but just seek to offer support and strength to those who prefer to do the festival experience in a non-intoxicated state. Festivals in Europe are also known to carry out on-site drug testing and outreach work.
When you’re deciding whether or not to brave a festival, know your limits. There is a saying that anything you put ahead of your recovery, you’ll lose anyway. Looking after yourself first is always the right thing, no matter how alien it feels. Bear that in mind when you’re choosing where you’re grooving this summer!
Yes! You can do any festival sober, but how about a completely sober drinks festival? Club Soda is organising UK’s first-ever mindful drinking festival in August. Come to Bermondsey Square and taste all the best non-alcoholic beers and wines, soft drinks, teas, health drinks and more. We will be sharing more details soon, but you can already take a sneak peek at the Mindful Drinking Festival website.