Second annual sobriety concert to offer free admission, festival feel

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Nyla Cione addresses the audience at last year's Recovery Rock Fest. This time around, the musician and promoter is planning the celebration of clean living as a free event at an outdoor venue. Courtesy photo.
Nyla Cione addresses the audience at last year’s Recovery Rock Fest. This time around, the musician and promoter is planning the celebration of clean living as a free event at an outdoor venue. Courtesy photo.

A concert celebrating sobriety is making its return to Wilmington and this time around, its goal is to wipe out ticket costs altogether.

Recovery Rock Fest, the brainchild of local musician and promoter Nyla Cione, made its debut in August 2015 at UNC-Wilmington’s Kenan Auditorium.

While a successful first attempt – more than 200 turned out to see Melissa Ferrick and a host of local bands – Cione, armed with lessons learned, decided to take a non-profit approach this time around. She’s in the midst of a GoFundMe campaign, and is seeking corporate sponsors to raise the money needed to offer this year’s fest at no cost to concert-goers. The 2016 event is set for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24 at Hugh MacRae Park.

Cione, who sought treatment for her own addiction to alcohol more than two decades ago, knows even with a strong support system, it can be difficult for those following sobriety to avoid temptation in social situations.

Since concerts often involve drinking and drug use, those in recovery often have to miss out on the live music experience or else risk the lure of their former lives.

From that sentiment, Recovery Rock Fest was borne, first on a small scale when Cione lived in Florida, then in its Wilmington iteration last year. The point, she said, is simply to celebrate substance-free living and offer support for those considering making a move to sobriety.

Since she had a close connection to the cause, Cione pursued the first festival with a passion. But it came at a cost–nearly $4,000 of her own money to make up funding gaps.

“At the time, we were not set up as non-profit, even though the funds were treated as such,” she noted.

And hefty ticket prices needed to secure the venue and artists kept some away from the auditorium, she believes.

To reach more people moving forward, Cione said Recovery Rock Fest needed to be reevaluated.

“…It needed to be free, it needed to be outside in a park and we needed to have food available and the ability for kids and teens to attend with activities that would include them in the experience,” she said.

This year’s fest will feel more like an actual festival, Cione said, with vendors and a kids’ zone offering crafts, games and face painting set up at Hugh MacRae. While the event doesn’t promote or endorse any particular recovery plan, an informational tent will be set up with various resources.

There’s good reason Cione wants to expand her audience. According to a 2016 study from healthcare data provider Castlight Health, Wilmington tops the nation for opioid abuse out of a list of the worst 25 cities in the country, a list that also ranks nearby Jacksonville twelfth.

“Millions suffer from ages 12 on up and though there are many of us who are fortunate to have gotten into recovery, there are many who still suffer,” Cione said.

She’d love to see two personal heroes – Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Walsh, formerly of The Eagles – eventually take the stage and is on a long-range mission to bring the rock icons and recovering addicts to Wilmington. She plans to make a video at the upcoming show full of participants’ pleas to the musicians.

“…It’s our dream to have them visit the fest and possibly share their message of recovery and inspire our local community, bringing an impact on even deeper level, since they are both well-known in the music industry and have been challenged just like we were…,” she said. “To get them to the fest would seem like a long stretch, but we are big on dreams of helping our community with inspiration, awareness and hope.”

In the meantime, Cione is setting up a solid line-up that includes Florida-based alternative fusion band Arise Awake, two members of psychedelic group The Deep and artists from Recovering Artists Worldwide, a hip hop-driven record label that exclusively signs clean and sober musicians. Several more acts, she said, are in the works.

As of Friday, Recovery Rock Fest had, in a little over a week, secured $400 of its $5,000 goal.

Click here to view the GoFundMe page and, for more information, visit the fest’s website.

Hilary Snow is a reporter at Port City Daily. Reach her at hilary.s@portcitydaily.com.