Music venues need to provide non-alcoholic drink options

Published 07/11/2019

By Damhnait Doyle

A shorter, abridged version of this SOCAN blog post, written by SOCAN Board of Directors member Damhnait Doyle, was uploaded to The Toronto Star website on July 10, 2019, and printed in the newspaper on July 11, 2019. Following is the original, full-length version.

I really began drinking when I started in the music industry.

I was a blisteringly shy and introverted girl from Newfoundland, not long out of Catholic high school, finding my feet in downtown Toronto. I was young, scared, and surrounded by people I had admired and idolized my whole life. I felt like a fraud, an imposter.

Straightaway, I had a hit with my first single; suddenly, my video was on MuchMusic several times a day. Anxiety was coursing through my veins at lightning speed. This happens when your greatest fear is people looking at you, and you have to go on stage for a living. I was so nervous, I threw up in a bucket, stage side, before my first headlining gig (no booze was involved). Shortly afterward, someone bought me a shot of tequila before I went onstage, and boom! I had my liquid courage. I could go out there, and the fear turned into adrenalin. It felt like the answer.

Musicians don’t drink like normal people. You drink before gigs, during gigs, after gigs, on your day off, on a travel day, at the airport bar, the hotel bar, in the bus, the back of the van, when the show sucks, when the show is off the hook, when your song is on the radio, when no one’s playing your single, when you can’t get arrested, when you get arrested. In music circles, alcohol is both the journey and the destination.

When you’re doing it, you don’t realize that alcohol is putting a blanket over your intuition. Your body could be screaming out, “What the hell are you doing? Stop drinking!” and you’d be all, “Wow, my blanket is really loving this Rioja.” It creates a lack of communication between your brain and your physical body and spirit. When you suffer from depression and anxiety, as so many creative people do, the alcohol that you think is taking the edge off of anxiety, is actually building a fire around your body, stacking it with kindling, paper, and logs, and setting it ablaze. Add on the logs of a 4:00 a.m. lobby call, a nine-hour drive to the gig, and nothing but Tim Hortons for three weeks, and you have an issue.

I woke up almost a year ago and realized alcohol wasn’t serving me anymore. I was done. I hadn’t even considered it as an option before that. On paper, I didn’t have a problem. People asked , “Why would you stop drinking, I drink way more than you.” It’s as if society says the only legitimate reason to quit drinking is if you get thrown in jail, or you get a DUI. Now, sobriety is catching on. People are having a collective awakening, that they don’t have to drink just because they always did, and because everybody still does.

I’m writing this because I didn’t see many stories of people in my sphere talking about it, and when I did, I rejoiced. Listen, there are some cool-ass sober musicians. I know this because I’ve Googled that exact phrase 100 times since last August. That really helps – knowing you’re not alone is an incredible gift, so I’m adding my voice, and passing it on.

Next to having my family, quitting drinking was, hands down, the single best thing I’ve ever done. This includes getting up to sing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” with Willie Nelson, every night for two weeks, with my band Shaye, on tour. Not drinking is the bomb.

I won’t lie, it was hard to stop.

I had to re-wire all the neural/social pathways in my brain. The first gig not drinking, the first conference (CCMAs), the first writing trip, the first time in the studio, etc. It takes a lot of work and determination to counteract the mindless habit of drinking. I can’t even begin to fathom the struggle that musicians who are in hard-core recovery from hardcore drug and alcohol use have to go through every day. They have to go to work surrounded by the very thing that threatens their lives.

I don’t know of many other careers where you’re not only allowed to drink all the (free, Free, FREE!) booze you want, but you’re expected to do so, to some degree. Still, I was shocked, when I stopped drinking, by the lack of non-alcoholic beverage options (and, no, water and colas don’t count) at bars and venues in Canada. I believe everywhere a musician goes to work (and yes, even though it’s nighttime, and it’s fun, and it’s your favourite band, it’s still work for the musicians and crew), there should be a proper non-alcoholic option. Sometimes, you just want to have something in your hand, something that lets you blend in, without having to explain why you’re not drinking. Not to mention, non-alcoholic (NA) beers are delicious, taste just like regular beer, have only 30 calories, and won’t give you a hangover or a gut.

For bars and concert venues, the profit margin for NA beer could be just as high as their alcoholic counterparts, or higher. They just need to stock one row, one measly row. I’m not saying they should charge as much as they do for real beer, but I’m gonna be so happy for the option, I’m not gonna complain.

So we’ve got the mental health/addiction component, but we’ve also got the #metoo component. #Metoo demonstrated that silently sitting with something awful causes rot – and if you don’t catch it in time, you disintegrate. Thankfully, our industry is having the necessary conversations: How do we fix, how do we prevent, how does this never happen again? We have to look at the facts, which tell the story, with a running theme throughout: Alcohol. Almost 50 percent of all sexual assaults involve excessive amounts of alcohol. You can’t make up someone’s mind about how much to drink, or how to behave; but if you don’t at least offer up non-alcoholic options, sexual assault statistics will stay the same.

I want to thank Allan Reid at CARAS and the team at SOCAN for making sure that non-alcoholic beverage options were available at this year’s JUNO awards, and at the SOCAN Awards Gala. It may seem like a small thing, but it creates a ripple effect. I’d like to see us band together as an industry and make sure that every festival, every club, every bar, everywhere that musicians go to work, has a non-alcoholic option. Until then, I’ll keep on sneaking my NA beer into bars, and having way more fun than I ever did.

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About Damhnait Doyle

Damhnait Doyle is a singer, songwriter, performer, and creator who currently serves on SOCAN's Board of Directors. In a music career that spans more than two decades, she’s released eight albums, as both a solo artist and a member of award-winning groups Shaye and The Heartbroken. She’s toured Canada extensively, opening for legends like Willie Nelson and Steve Earle, and lent her voice to numerous recordings, including some by Kevin Parent and Bruce Cockburn. Damhnait has travelled to Afghanistan to perform for the Canadian Forces, and to Kenya, contributing to the music-focused documentary Song for Africa, aimed at raising awareness about the AIDS pandemic in Africa. A Multiple ECMA, SOCAN, and Canadian Radio Music Award winner, and a multiple JUNO and CCMA Award nominee, Damhnait has written for numerous artists, and for film and television. For several years, she wrote a weekly column for Newfoundland’s Evening Telegram, and she wrote a published book, Miscellaneous Female, recounting her life as a travelling musician and writer. In April of 2019, she released her solo album, Liquor Store Flowers. Originally from Newfoundland, she now lives in Toronto.

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