Concert to Face Addiction

Featuring music from the historic UNITE to Face Addiction rally

The clock just struck midnight. It’s officially Oct. 4, 2016, and I’m up late watching the Concert to Face Addiction on my DVR.

The nostalgia is thick. Late nights and music have that effect on me. But tonight the sentimentality is even stronger. Perhaps because I was there when they filmed the concert exactly a year ago on the National Mall in Washington, DC. And perhaps because that evening represented an epic collision of my many interests.

Music has been in my soul since I was a boy, thanks mostly to my mom, who reared me on the sounds of the ‘70s. I played in bands for years. Wrote my own songs. Even recorded a few albums. Yes, music has been ever-present. And on that evening—Oct. 4, 2015—the music also happened to be in service of my more recent passion: helping others see and establish better lives, free from the negative effects of alcohol and other drugs, just as I had.

That the event also had a strong public policy focus connected me even more. I studied journalism and political science in college, and covered policy as a young reporter. In fact, I interned right there in DC during one of the most influential summers of my life and was now, years later, a professional policy advocate, working specifically on addiction- and recovery-related issues for the Hazelden Betty Ford Institute for Recovery Advocacy.

Music, recovery AND Washington, DC? I couldn’t help but think, at the time: “How on earth did life lead me to this event?”

Adding to the surreal confluence was the fact that I had lost my 59-year-old mother to the national opioid epidemic just seven months earlier when she died of a prescription painkiller poisoning. The same mom who liked taking me to the cherry blossoms on the National Mall when the two of us lived alone in the nation’s capital for 18 months of my boyhood. The same mom whose love of music had become mine. 

She would have appreciated that the concert included a songwriting great—my favorite artist of the moment, Jason Isbell.

If only there had been a golf benefit and triathlon the day before, and free plane tickets for my wife and young twins, the UNITE to Face Addiction rally would have captured all of my loves, though my sober heart may very well have exploded.

Adding to the personal significance was the reality that I felt a part of the historic weekend, and was not simply a passionate fan. I was there with others from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, and we had been supporting the event for months. I had friends among the lead organizers. Other friends spoke on the stage that day, including my colleague William Moyers. My organization also hosted a rousing pre-concert pep rally that morning and sponsored a successful effort to lobby members of Congress the next day. It was the perfect event for me, and I was grateful to be and feel a part of something significant.

I suspect most of the thousands in attendance felt similarly. Many had been involved in the planning and execution of the event. It was one of those rare opportunities to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

Concert to Face Addiction

PBS affiliates across the country are airing The Concert to Face Addiction, a one-hour special, taped Oct. 4, 2015, from the UNITE to Face Addiction rally. Check here for other scheduled airdates nationwide. Great opportunity for viewing parties!

If you were unable to attend the event last October, and even if you did, I encourage you to catch the one-hour musical recap—The Concert to Face Addiction—which is now airing on public television around the country. Check the listings, and if your city is not represented, consider requesting an air date.

I had to record the concert because it aired in the Twin Cities while I was in Dallas for the Big Texas Recovery Rally. The overlap was appropriate because in Dallas, the reverberations from Unite to Face Addiction could still be felt. Thousands there gathered to celebrate recovery with music, art and fellowship; to press forward on policy initiatives; and to demonstrate for the public, once again, that recovery is real and attractive.

After watching—a year later—Isbell, Sheryl Crow, The Eagles’ Joe Walsh, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, The Fray, Goo Goo Dolls’ Johnny Rzeznik, and the show-stealing Jonathan Butler and Tommy Sims shine a light on recovery as the antidote to addiction—and after again seeing taped rally messages from Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and President Obama—I'm left with just one thought ...   

We ought to keep throwing these parties. 

Jeremiah Gardner, Mgr of Public Affairs and AdvocacyJeremiah Gardner, manager of public affairs and advocacy at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, is a person in long-term recovery with a master's degree in addiction studies and a background in journalism, public affairs, business and music.

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