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No shuffling to the bar: cheers to a sober night out

The Sober Sessions are part of a movement to give Irish people an alternative to the pub and club scene.

“IT’S NOT ANY sort of heavy comment about the pub scene. We just want to provide an alternative.”

Áine Rynne is founder of the Sober Sessions, a collective running alcohol-free live music events.

The idea, says Rynne, is “to marry this amazing café scene we have with incredible live music”.

I would like to think that this is the start of a movement. Ireland is ready for a bit of a change. It’s all about offering people an alternative scene to the pub and club venues, particularly around live music.

The sessions are not intended to exclude anyone – there just isn’t alcohol available at the venues. “What you end up with is a very intense listening audience,” notes Rynne, “which is good for both the artists and the audience.”

The pilot event, held at Fumbally Exchange’s Dublin HQ on Dame Lane, featured singer-songwriters Inni-K and Stephen James. James said afterwards that it was a “brilliant but very intense” experience.

I think it works both way. Live music lovers will get the chance to listen, and give it undivided attention. There is none of the usual shuffling to the bar.

May gig FEX Sober Sessions founder Aine Rynne at the launch event in Fumbally Exchange. Source: Sober Sessions

A number of alcohol-free events and organisations that have sprung up around Ireland in the past decade. The goal is less of a judgement call on the drinking culture in the country per se; rather, more of a response to a demand for more and better alternatives for a night out.

Rynne’s own inspiration came from “one amazing moment” at the 2013 Electric Picnic. At that point in her life, she had given up alcohol following a short bout of depression. “The last thing I could do with as I recovered was hangovers.”

So there she was in a field in Stradbally, not drinking, standing watching Bjork perform on the main stage, and she thought, “This is just magic”. Her second thought was, “There might be something in this.”

She wasn’t wrong. The brilliant punkster/rockabilly/storyteller/musician Little John Nee and the Caledonia Highly-Strung Orchestra chose a Sober Sessions event in Bewleys Café for the Dublin launch of their album, Songs from the Lough Swilly Delta. This was in early December when party season was kicking off and the 12 Pubs of Christmas was dominating the streets. The gig sold out.

FullSizeRender Little John Nee and the Caledonia Highly-Strung Orchestra at Bewleys Café. Source: Susan Daly/TheJournal.ie

Alcohol-free ventures such as David Mooney’s Funky Seomra – which has run for the best part of a decade – have forelit the potential for such events. Rynne describes attending a recent alcohol-free nightclub run by Mooney in Filmbase, where attendees were “completely immersed in the music, dancing your head off”.

The Sober Slice, organised by David Maher, has run an eclectic bunch of meet-ups from hiking trips to meditation workshops, talks and more. His Meetup.com manifesto notes:

The group doesn’t exclude people who like a drink BTW.The idea behind the group’s formation is that you can enjoy life in Dublin with like-minded people doing fun things that don’t necessarily revolve around drink or a pub.

Rynne’s idea has also received support from Social Entrepreneurs Ireland and she was given mentorship and support from members of the Fumbally Exchange as part of the High Potential Start-up programme.

But whatever about attending an alcohol-free event, is Ireland ready for a generation of teetotallers? “It’s very challenging, I won’t lie,” says Rynne. “It can be isolatingand frustrating but I think you just need to keep a good sense of humour and don’t take yourself or the fact that you don’t drink alcohol too seriously.”

When she first stopped drinking, she had a lot of the usual questions: “When are you drinking again? Is that it – are you off it forever?”

In October she had her 40th birthday party, went out for dinner and danced her socks off until 2am.

“I think we have a bit to go in terms of people’s attitudes but I think there has been a backlash too against Ireland’s relationship with drink. People are tired of the health services being stretched due to drink-related issues; it is beginning to seep into the consciousness.”

Is there an alcohol-free event or venue in your area that you have enjoyed? We would love to hear about it in the comments.

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