DENVER — For many, sporting events and concerts go hand in hand with drinking and drug use. A growing number of Coloradans, though, want to keep the party but skip the intoxication, and they’re now asking lawmakers to advance the cause.
They call themselves Sober AF Entertainment, or SAFE for short. Founder Duke Rumely said leaning into the “edge” (Sober AF) was important to show they could have a good time without using substances.
“When people show up, they are just kind of blown away, like, 'Look, there really is a community out there having the time of their life, but they’re doing it sober,'” Rumely said.
Rumely was inspired to create SAFE as his kids entered their teenage years. Having been in recovery for decades himself, he understood the pressure that social settings like concerts and sporting events can create. He wanted to create an atmosphere that was fun, fresh and peer pressure free.
Today, you’ll see them in the crowds of Denver Nuggets games, Colorado Rockies games and music festivals, at times with hundreds in their ranks. The group is a mix of people in recovery, supportive family and friends, and others who simply want to “take a night off” from drinking, as Rumely puts it.
Tickets are bought in bulk for a discount, making them affordable. Their tailgate parties often include food and a live DJ.
“Being sober, I didn’t want to be in places where alcohol was so prevalent,” said Taylor Corley, who serves as DJ at SAFE events and is in recovery himself. “I really got into the events because I finally found a safe haven — ‘safe,’ no pun intended — to go with like-minded people to just have a good time.”
SAFE has seen support from venues in the way of ticket discounts and rooms for rent. Now, it is taking its message to lawmakers, looking for statewide recognition in Colorado.
The group is pushing a bill in the state legislature this session that would require venues with 7,000 seats or more to designate 4% of its seating as “substance-free.”
“It’s imperative to have a space where people can go and not feel pressured to drink or even be around drinking,” Corley said. “When I was in early recovery, I thought I was never going to have fun again. I thought I was never going to be able to go to a concert again, never going to be able to go to a sporting event. And it limited me. So I think it’s going to be a big eye opener if the bill gets passed, just how many people are out there wanting to be sober or at least be around sober people.”
The bill has been introduced in the Senate Finance committee and has two sponsors, but doesn’t yet have a hearing set. Members of SAFE hope that it gets a chance, and believe it would make a real difference in the lives of those in recovery. Either way, they vow to keep pushing for sobriety visibility.
“There is so much stigma regarding somebody not drinking,” Rumely said. “If there was a substance-free area at all venues, that would be terrific. And I think it would help the next generation be able to have fun, learn how to have fun sober, and that’s what we’re looking to do is kind of change the stigma on what it’s like to have fun sober.”