When you think about the people on a music tour, you probably envision partying artists and groupies, and frantic managers. In recent years, however, the Vans Warped Tour has added another person you might be surprised to learn about: Michael Farr is a sober coach who travels with the touring music and extreme sports festival.
Active in the music industry his whole life as a producer, rock photographer and musician, Farr, 55, didn’t expect to become the guy helping others to stay sober on tour back when he was in the clutches of his own addiction.
Farr got sober June 11, 2005, the day the police kicked in his door. Since, he has been active in in recovery and currently is touring for the fourth time as the sober coach on the Warped Tour.
Renew:How did you become involved with The Vans Warped Tour?
Farr:Kevin Lyman, the mastermind of the Warped Tour, already donated a percentage of the ticket sales to MusiCares, an organization that supports people from the music industry during their recovery. On tour, meetings were happening organically and the beauty of that is that they were bands and crew guys out there who really wanted to stay sober, and were making it happen on their own. Kevin decided to bring someone in to support that.
Renew:What advice do you have for musicians who are getting started on their recovery journey?
Farr:Keep the conversation of recovery alive. Whether that means bringing someone on the road with you, or finding a meeting, it is important. The addict who is alone is in bad company, especially when new to recovery.
Renew:Do you think the industry encourages recovery?
Farr:There is a real disconnect between the artist having a problem, and the artist being a business. When does the business stop, in order to keep someone alive? No one wants to talk about it. If we pull this person off tour to go to recovery, 25 people are out of work.
On the other hand, I think we are waking up to it a little bit. Too many talented people are dead.
Renew:How could the industry be more understanding about the needs of someone in recovery?
Farr: Explaining the “-ism” to someone who doesn’t have it can be like trying to describe a rainbow to a rabbit. They don’t know what we’re talking about. I think education is the key. I have literally been on tours where the crowd is begging the singer to stop drinking. Literally chanting “stop drinking.”
Renew:Do you think that the industry is becoming more aware of the problem?
Farr:All of this is real difficult because you have an industry that is built on artists who are real prone to crashing and burning. That’s part of the plight of the artist and of the addict. I hope that tours incorporating recovery is something that will catch on. It’s a touchy thing because there is a lot of addiction out there, especially in the music industry, and a lot of people don’t want to be faced with it. But I think it’s just time to open up. Everyone is starting to see that this is a reality, and we can no longer turn a blind eye to it. And there’s a solution to it. Addiction doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.