They came in pairs, individually, with friends and in family groups, a string of people each paying $20 at the gate for the Addiction and Recovery Awareness MusicFest, held at the Carroll County Agriculture Center in Westminster.
The music began at 11 a.m. and ran through 10 p.m., onlookers swaying with the music and occasionally singing along.
“I came for the recovery, the music and the artists,” said Justin Cravener of York, Pennsylvania. “It is amazing what these guys do and the message they carry.”
Now in its third year, the festival began in 2017, spearheaded by musician Brian McCall, a rapper who moved to Westminster just after getting clean — 12 years ago this past May.
“Three years ago, I was putting out my first produced album. It was about recovery and I was traveling out of state to perform, but I wanted to do something for our community. I knew Tammy [Lofink, founder of the nonprofit Rising Above Addiction], so I talked to her about doing a music festival. I wanted to have not just one genre, but something with all kind of music so everyone could come and be a part of it and enjoy it.”
McCall, whose stage name is B-RAiN, said about 500 people came that first year.
“Then, last year, we got more artists from further away and we had over 1,000 people throughout the day,” he said. “Because my music has grown and I travel to more cities and states, I’ve met a bunch of artists who are also in long-term recovery who create really good music. We have [musicians] here today from Texas, from Florida, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, Chicago, from all over, coming to our little town of Westminster. Today we have 10 bands and a speaker, Travis Shields, a local guy in long-term recovery.”
Many of those attending came to support their favorite bands. That included Susan Eareckson of Catonsville and her friend Heather Barrett of Jessup. Standing in the noonday heat, they staked out a spot to watch their favorite band go on at 4:15 p.m.
“I wanted a good seat,” Barrett said with enthusiasm.
She spoke of her own battle with addiction, including 14 clean years, the loss of her husband to an overdose, a relapse and now another year clean.
“When I started doing heroin in the ’90s in Baltimore it was very uncommon for middle-class white people to be hooked on heroin,” she said. “But now it is everybody.”
According to McCall, that is why this sort of event is important.
“It is all about unity, bringing teens, young adults, older adults and children all coming together to enjoy music, celebrate recovery and be in a safe, sober environment,” he said.
Lofink, the nonprofit founder, spoke with the Times days before the concert.
“We like to promote this as a safe event, not only for the recovery community but for families,” Lofink said. “It’s a great way to come out and enjoy the day, enjoy the music without having to worry about anybody getting out of control.”
Lofink said the event raised about $13,000 last year.
McCall spoke of the vendor tents surrounding the ring.
“Recovery Unplugged is here,” he said. “They’re a treatment center with licensed, clinical medical staff and social workers — everything you would expect in a regular treatment center — but they use the healing power of music to create unity within the community while [giving] treatment. We also have several other recovery and treatment centers set up with information, the Carroll County Health Department, nonprofits who help with addiction, and Kona Ice, the food trucks, and a moonbounce for the kids. Bringing all facets of the community together like this creates unity, not just for today but going forward. It’s not just about the drugs and the alcohol. It is about how we can support each other throughout the process.”
McCall’s wife Helen agreed. She works behind the scenes, doing marketing for the event, running the merchandise table and tying up loose ends.
“I too have 12 years in recovery,” she said. “We actually met in treatment 12 years ago. Now we’ve been married for 10 years. We love to give back, to be of service and to help people. Sharing that message of hope is what has people coming back and gives them that freedom from addiction. This shows them we can go out and have good clean fun.”
In between appearances as the event’s emcee, Morgana Davis rested in the shade on the hill with her mom Jenaver Davis and friend Lindsay Harrison.
“This is important to me because I am in recovery too,” Davis said.
Her mom spoke of the worry that comes with addiction.
“As a parent, you always ask yourself what you did wrong. You never know what could have triggered her to go down that path. But now, I’ve got my kid again. The trust is coming back, and it is nice to see her here giving for something that she believes in passionately.”
Davis and Harrison smiled as she spoke. Rising Above Addiction found them both at the Carroll County Detention Center and got them into recovery homes. They said it made them want to be there for others.