By Brian Tucker
Discussing Recovery RockFest, musician and concert promoter Nyla Cione mentioned something Mother Teresa once said. It underscored the philosophy behind this Saturday’s concert on the campus of UNCW that celebrates recovery from substance addiction. Teresa said, if you want peace, you don’t have a fight on war. Promote peace.
“Don’t promote anti-drugs, how bad it is out there. They already know, they don’t need to be told that. It’s not a campaign of judging, (of saying) you’re wrong because you do drugs,” Cione said. “We are not promoting any plan of recovery or leveling judgment at anyone with addiction issues. We are a concert celebrating recovery with the idea that recovery is around.”
The concert is headlined by Melissa Ferrick and local bands Folkstar, Stray Local, and Mike Blair and the Stonewalls. Living in Wilmington less than three years, Cione previously put together a similar show in Miami.
“It’s to be positive, and not about putting anybody down. I’ve been there. I’m lucky to be alive,” Cione said. “I want to be able to take the gifts I was given and try to give back and do something positive.”
Cione, performing since the age of seven (and whose mother toured with Benny Goodman) had her own struggles with addiction, hitting bottom and seeking help in her late twenties. She emphasized that those who struggle with addiction don’t know when to stop, that drugs and alcohol trigger something different in certain people.
One must also consider that part of the problem is that drugs and alcohol have become so intertwined with making and performing music. If anyone’s uncertain, pick up a recent musician memoir, whether by Eric Clapton or Anthony Keidis.
“People still think that to have the cool factor you got to have the beer bottle on the stage with you, or pull out the bottle of Jack Daniel’s. People can choose to do what they want, but what we would like to do is create concerts that aren’t geared towards focusing on just getting drunk and the music is secondary. If it was just about the music they’d stay and not care about getting high or stoned.”
Recovery RockFest is a substance free concert. And consider this, if a person has history with drug or alcohol problems, but still want to see live music, it can be difficult to be in that environment.
“We know there’s people struggling with addiction or aren’t doing that anymore, but don’t have the opportunity to go to a rock concert or a dance rave without getting into relapse, or annihilating themselves, or worse.”
UNCW’s Collegiate Recovery Program teamed up with Cione’s concert, wanting to support it by hosting the show on campus.
“Their program is the same, its all about support,” Cione said. “It’s also for people to meet other people leading substance-free lifestyles that they normally wouldn’t meet. And also for people that have been struggling who have been considering a lifestyle of recovery.”
The event also exhibits that there is life after recovery, that things won’t be uninteresting without using substances.
“It gives them the opportunity to see what we do in the community. A lot of times people think its just a concert. I have parents calling that want to bring their kid, that haven’t been exposed to drugs and alcohol yet, to see that as an example and experience of what other kids their age do by not using substances. It is awareness but also about unity in the community and getting rid of the stigma of people that have issues with substance abuse.”
You put on a similar show in Miami?
Cione: One there and I wanted to get it started here. The chief goal is to raise awareness about recovery but for people to be able to see, people that might be struggling and think they’re life is going to be boring or whatever without using substances, that it gives them the opportunity to see what we do in that community. A lot of times, people think it’s just a concert.
There’s a lot of people, when I was growing up it was sex, drugs and rock and roll. Well, that’s not hip anymore, people are dying. It’s not a joke, the drugs today are so nasty, we don’t hear a lot of the stories, but they’re out there. Tremendous stories of kids who take a hit off some drug and they’re dead. And these parents are freaking out. They might not even been technically an addict but experimenting, trying it out, and dying.
Folkstar had people admitting to them that they would come out more that if they didn’t have to be places that they didn’t have to be at 10 o’clock to see the band and be totally loaded with booze. It’s such a private thing that people don’t talk about, but when you’re alone in the morning and can’t get out of bed because you annihilated yourself the night before. Even people that don’t have issues start to hit bottom, it starts to affects their lives. They end up not finishing college, really affecting people’s lives and families on a deeper level than you think.
This was born also out of personal experience?
Cione: In my 20s I was more into the bars and drinking. If they had the drugs back then the way they have them today I wouldn’t be alive. I have a hard time believing I would have made it out alive or would still be sick or in the disease of addiction. The drugs today are insane, nothing like they were back then.
As a teenager, I ran with the cool crowd, wanted to be in that crowd because I grew up in a musical family. It was a cool thing to smoke weed, try pills (she was 14). At 27 I quit doing all that and it was more of drinking between 21 and 27 years old. I was a weekend drinker. I functioned. I worked in the legal field.
Performing at the age of seven, I lived a lifestyle different than other kids, felt isolated. Doing shows at 27 I hit bottom, asked for help. I experienced a black out, it freaked me out.
There’s the stereotype of having to be drunk to enjoy music, to be interesting.
Cione: It’s such a huge problem within the music community as a whole separate from the performing. I can’t tell you how many bands split up and have issues because either everyone in the band or someone in the band has an issue. It tears people apart, tears their talent apart. It create issues where they can’t perform anymore, they can’t share the gift they were given because of the addiction.
The abuse of drugs relate to stress, pressure of constant touring.
Cione: When my mom toured with Benny Goodman she was straight laced, not one to pick up a drug. I saw the drug thing more than anything when we’d have jam sessions at the house. Some of the musicians would come and smoke pot or drink but I was never exposed to any out of control behavior.
Musicians I hung around, and my parents, were very serious about the music. The music was first and maybe they socially smoked marijuana and drank on the side. No one ever got drunk where they couldn’t play or drunk period, it was just a social thing. I didn’t personally grow up, or the musicians I knew through them or performed with, where it was a focal point or a problem.
Where I saw it was when I got older, and I went to concerts myself, getting into junior high school. I grew up around cool people and still wanted to be cool, part of it was just wanting to be cool, not nerdy or boring. I didn’t want to be someone that was a prude, all that stuff that goes on when you’re a kid.
I’ve never been a follower, but by the same token I wanted to be cool. It’s the only thing I can equate it to. Probably, had I not seen anyone else doing it I wouldn’t have found it on my own. People who have addiction we don’t know when to stop. It triggers a whole different thing in us.