Just minutes before the Addiction and Recovery Awareness Musicfest in Westminster was to begin Saturday, Debbie Sabock of Manchester and friend Laurie Robinson of Westminster were seated front and center. But they weren't there just for the lineup of rock, rap and acoustic music.
Both were there to support the strides that family members had taken in recovering from heroin.
They were joined by music fans, treatment advocates and professionals, supportive friends and family members, and those in recovery at the inaugural event at the Carroll County Agricultural Center.
Doors opened at 3:30 p.m. at the family-friendly event, giving attendees a chance to look over offerings from food, clothing and book vendors before performances by regional artists and musicians, many of them in recovery, including Baltimore rapper REM ONE, Westminster-based rapper Ridge Long and DJ D.L.
Four speakers who also struggled with addiction, including headliner Brandon Novak, a professional skateboarder noted for his time on MTV's "Viva La Bam" and "Jackass," were also scheduled to talk about their struggles with addiction.
Tim Halberstam, 28, of Millers — a fan of Novak's — was hoping to hear some advice from the skateboarder in order to help a family member.
"Maybe I'll learn something" to help him, Halberstam said.
Speaker and advocate Josh Duckworth, 25, a former Garrett County resident who now lives in West Palm Beach, Fla., opened the show with encouraging words.
"We're living proof that we do recover. I remember there was a time when I thought I was done," Duckworth said. But people he met along the way — especially those in recovery — encouraged him that "maybe I can do that." He's been sober for two years, he said.
Later, the band Ex-Opiods performed, followed by REM ONE, who rapped about his battle with addiction.
"If you're not a part of the solution / you're part of the problem," he rapped at one point.
Jesse Tomlin, 29, of Westminster, a co-founder of the music festival who entered recovery five years ago, said he was happy with the turnout. Organizers expected a total of more than 300 people before the event was scheduled to end around 10 p.m., and more than 150 people had shown up within an hour of the festival's opening.
"It's been amazing. We have so many people supporting, and there's never been anything else like it in the area," said Tomlin, who helped book the entertainment in hopes of appealing to a wide range of musical tastes.
The festival comes at a time when the state and the Baltimore metro area are facing a steadily increasing rate of overdose deaths. According to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, 2,089 people died from drug and overdoses in 2016, an all-time high for the state and a 66 percent increase over figures for 2015.
"An event like this helps spread awareness, and it shows that recovery is definitely not boring. We do go out and have fun," Tomlin said, adding that being able to socialize with others who are in recovery helps him stay clean.
The event also directly supports people seeking help.
Tickets, which cost $10 each, benefit Rising Above Addiction, a Carroll County-based nonprofit co-founded by Tammy Lofink in September 2015, just a year after her 18-year-old son Rob died of an overdose after he'd emerged from rehab.
The organization pays for people to enter treatment centers immediately. Since its inception, the organization has helped more than 60 people and has opened transitional housing for those starting recovery.
Lofink said she's proud to be a part of events that further awareness and support, enabling those with addictions to see that there is life beyond drugs and alcohol.
"This shows the community, there's such a great addiction recovery community in our area, and I think it's great for them to get together and celebrate and have fun. And I'm hoping it breaks the stigma," said Lofink, adding that her son was a good kid from the suburbs.
"It happens to anybody. It's not just the homeless in the city."
Laura Jane Willoughby contributed to this article.
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