Music Is the Drug: A Deep Dive Into Substance-Free Raving With “The Sober Raver”

From non-alcoholic cocktail bars to substance-free music festivals, there has never been an era for sober raving quite like this one. 

To most people, ecstasy, LSD and vodka Red Bulls are practically synonymous with the "EDM" acronym. But over the last few years, a cohort of sober concert-goers have slowly brought their lifestyle to the mainstream, like the organizers of a "detox" music festival in Colorado and Electric Forest's Camp Traction Sober Group Camp, which caters to those who want to get high off the music alone. 

Chelsie Cahoon has partied hard—and sober—since her late teens. Now she owns a clothing brand called Music Is The Drug and hopes to continue bringing awareness and acceptance to all corners of dance music culture, one t-shirt at a time.

"When women or men wear my merchandise I want them to feel empowered. I want them to feel as if they are a bold statement just by being who they are," Cahoon, who goes by "The Sober Raver," tells "Together we can show the world that drugs are never a necessity, only a want, and that music is the true star of every show. Rave on."

Check out our full Q&A with Cahoon below, covering her dedication to sober living, the origins of her nickname and her favorite support groups and apps for people who want to be substance-free but haven't quite figured it out yet. What's your story? Why did you decide to live this lifestyle as a sober raver?

Chelsie Cahoon: From a very young age I always knew that I never wanted to partake in using substances. The thought of putting something in my body that could potentially be harmful to it and cause me to act differently was not something that ever sounded enticing to me.

I remember getting offered my first drink at 16 and saying, “No thanks,” and I knew that that was going to be how I lived my life forever. People thought I was joking when I’d tell them I’m sober and I still get that to this day. Professional DD who loves to “party” hard… Most people throughout high school and college respected my decision but I always had those few insignificant people that were going to judge and belittle my choices. I laugh about it now.

Music has always been a huge part of my life. I started going to shows nonstop in my late teens and early twenties and enjoyed getting high off of the music alone. When I went to my first music festival it changed my whole world.

During Firefly 2017 I was walking alone and some guy came up to me and asked, “Yo what are you high on?” I said, “I’m not high. I’m actually a sober raver.” That stuck with me. I had never said that term before and I sat down at a picnic table and immediately changed my name on Instagram to @thesoberraver. It just made sense. I was a raver who chose to be sober for life and I wanted to show the world that it’s so very possible to live this lifestyle. A new mission was set in place for me and I was beyond stoked for what was to come of it. Sobriety isn't exactly a popular custom at EDM festivals. Can you walk us through the benefits?

Chelsie Cahoon: There are so many benefits to a sober lifestyle. First, you’re usually more aware when you’re sober. Many substances can cause you to be disoriented or disassociated and being sober provides you with a conscious mind. Personally, I wouldn’t feel safe using substances. I am already a “daydreamer” type and I believe if I ever used anything in a high dosage I would be even more lackadaisical.

The health benefits are also great. Alcohol can cause weight gain and aging. Most of it can cause damage to your insides and brain. I struggle with acid reflux disease and drinking alcohol would make it so much worse. I get told I look so young for my age all of the time. I chalk it up to sober living!

Another thing is when going to shows and festivals you don’t have to worry about security. It’s great. Drug test for work? Sure! You can drive yourself home? Yep! Feel more energized? Absolutely. There are literally so many benefits that I could talk all day about it. It's a pipe dream to think your fellow ravers will simply stop using drugs out of the blue. It's a process. So what are some steps people can take to try to bridge the gap?

Chelsie Cahoon: When people come to me about wanting to stop using drugs, I usually tell them a few different things. I first tell them how absolutely amazing I think it is and how honored I am that they approached me about it. I also mention though that because I have never used anything, my story is different.

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I am not an addict and will never claim to be, nor will I claim to be in recovery. Sober doesn’t have to mean that you became sober. I just am. I tell those who want to quit that I always looked at drugs and alcohol as “poison." Think about putting something in your body that is not supposed to be there. The body rejects it.

I also tell them to reach out to someone when they feel as though they might slip up, as well as to have an accountability partner. I always try to direct people to sober groups on social media. One group in particular that people can join on Facebook is Rave Sober, which was created by my friend Sarah Noleto. It is a great resource for people who want to become sober and are sober in the rave community. There are also amazing apps that are helpful such as Your Sober Buddy, Pocket Rehab, Reframe, and a sober dating app called Clean And Sober Love. Each one is helpful and I highly recommend them. 

Some people shouldn’t go straight back into festivals once they’ve gotten clean and that’s okay. Sometimes it will probably take some time. There are sober groups and tents at many festivals for those who want to feel a sense of belonging, which is wonderful. What is most important before and after getting clean is having a good support system that is going to help and encourage you the entire way through. Support is key and you deserve to be around caring and supportive people.

If you do use substances, check out DanceSafe, a health-conscious nonprofit that offers drug-testing kits, counseling and harm reduction information. Unfortunately, EDM and drug use are inextricably linked in pop culture. How can the dance music community shake this stigma? Is sobriety the only way?

Chelsie Cahoon: Drugs have been involved with pop culture for ages. You see it on TV. You see it on social media. There are t-shirts for women that say “Wine o’clock” and shirts for guys that say “Check out my six pack” with six beer cans on it. Although I may think those types of merchandise are less than appealing, I do not belittle others for their choices in life.

I never want to be that sober girl who judges and tries to tell others how to live their lives. I just want to be a positive influence and inspire others. There will probably always be a stigma around drugs being in the music scene but that’s why us sober ravers, artists and DJs have to continue showing the world that it’s just not true and music can be enjoyed sober.

Sobriety isn’t the only way. People are allowed to indulge in whatever way they want. But I think with more people becoming sober and talking about it in the scene, it is helping create a positive ripple and it’s really cool to see. Tell us about Music Is The Drug. What's the mission behind the brand?

Chelsie Cahoon: Music Is The Drug is my pride and joy. In 2017, I was more depressed than I had ever been in my entire life because I felt as if I had no purpose on this planet. I was just so lost and in a very dark place. My faith, family and music got me through.

I knew I always wanted to create a brand of my own but didn’t know what it would be. I finally decided that I wanted to create a brand to highlight the pure bliss that music is. My Instagram bio had forever read “Music is my drug,” and one day I had the idea to change “my” to “the” and create my brand. It was perfect. Many think that I got my company’s name from Bassnectar but I actually had no idea that he had a song with that title when I created it. The two are not related in any way. 

After creating it, I realized that the term was actually coined in the 90’s by straight-edge ravers and I thought that was awesome! I decided to create a clothing company with merchandise and accessories that simply said the brand’s name. I wanted it to speak for itself and be a statement when people would wear it out. The mission of the brand is to show the world that whether you use substances or not, music is the ultimate drug that unites us all.

Many of my friends partake in substances and I love them all the same. We are connected through music, and it's enough completely on its own. I literally get so high off of it, especially Blink-182, Angels & Airwaves, ILLENIUM and Seven Lions. I wanted to create a brand for people to relate to. I simply want to be a light in a community that can sometimes be a dark place. Know that there is never judgment from me—only love and care. You are all so worthy. What's the message you hope your rave fits send when people wear them?

Chelsie Cahoon: When women or men wear my merchandise, I want them to feel empowered. I want them to feel as if they are a bold statement just by being who they are. I do not want them to feel ashamed for wearing it but I want them to feel confident. Music is the drug and I believe that when people wear this message, it’s going to send a positive vibe wherever they may go. 

There will always be someone who says “Drugs are the drug.” Those people are clearly hurting from within if they cannot be supportive of a mission that does not judge others for partaking in drugs.

You cannot let negative people get you down. That’s something that I had to learn a long time ago. You just have to stay true to you and never apologize for being the awesome person that you are. Keep rocking it, babes. Be yourself. Be bold. Be you. Together we can show the world that drugs are never a necessity—only a want—and that music is the true star of every show. Rave on.

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