Jay Meehan: Send Me a Friend helps music pros maintain sobriety
The air along the rarefied thermals of performance art can be achingly thin. And not just for those with the creative chops of music icon Anders Osborne, but also for roadies and techs and all the rest who take to the road as part of the touring machine. For many, there are voids their muse just can’t fill.
This is especially true for those attempting to satisfy an alcohol or drug dependency while at the same time showcasing their talents at a different bar or club every night. When your “jones” is bigger than the bar full of temptation you must negotiate in order to reach the stage, maintaining sobriety on the road is a hard row to hoe.
For Osborne, who came of age in Sweden but has spent the past three decades absorbing the eclectic musical insights of New Orleans, his level of artistic brilliance wasn’t that much help when it came to staying clean and sober while working that lonesome highway. His long-cultivated demons never seemed to miss a show.
It all came to a head some years back with the realization that the very real possibility of losing his home, family, and career loomed large if he didn’t turn his lifestyle around. He needed a support system. He needed someone at every show who understood the mountain he wished to ascend. He needed a friend that would be there for him every night.
As it turned out, it wouldn’t have to be the same friend, just one or more who would understand the trials associated with his recovery and could act as a cushion between him and fans whose main motivation in life was to buy the band a shot. Someone who understood that he was there to work.
Hence, the genesis of “Send Me a Friend,” the movement and music industry support system that pairs volunteers with recovering musicians attempting to remain clean. In itself, Send Me a Friend is not a recovery program. It assumes you have already cleaned up your act. Its mission is more about maintaining an environment wherein recovering artists can focus on their work.
Osborne broadened the scope of the concept once he felt the power of a couple of friends showing up at one of his New Years Eve shows and just sitting around the stage. Nothing else. They didn’t talk to him much, just watched the show and, serving as a buffer, had his back between sets.
Since it worked for him, he had the idea that if there existed a national network of “sober friends” on call to show up at gigs and offer support to newly-sober musicians and industry professionals, additional lives could turn around. When you are teetering on the edge of an abyss, it’s comforting to be “on belay.”
While in rehab, Anders had been told continually that if he was serious about recovery, he needed to get into another line of work. He was warned over and over that if he were to maintain his current working environment of bars and such, that long-term sobriety would be a long shot. It’s a gauntlet from which few have emerged.
Well, he figured, that’s a workable plan if you, say, had finished high school and went on to college or a trade. But although Anders Osborne had achieved the top shelf in his profession of musician, singer, songwriter, and recording artist, beginning anew in another line of work wasn’t an option that worked.
So, with necessity being the mother of invention and all, he created “Send Me a Friend” pretty much from whole cloth. Partnering with longtime buddy Bill Taylor, executive director of the Trombone Shorty Foundation, it wasn’t long before it left the gate.
As they say, “Send Me a Friend’s mission is simple – support musicians on the road to recovery from addiction by helping them get back to work sober.” If you’re like me and live music is a lifeline in itself, there’s a couple of ways to give back. The foundation is always looking for volunteers to anchor one end of the belay rope, for one.
Or you could attend this awesome benefit show and learn more. “An Evening with Anders Osborne & Luther Dickinson – Send Me a Friend Foundation Benefit” down in the friendly confines of O. P. Rockwell’s, 268 Historic Main Street, here in Park City, Thursday, Aug. 2. Tickets are available at http://www.eventbrite.com. Support live music and a great cause.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.
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