DENVER — For many, sporting events and concerts go hand in hand with drinking and drug use. A growing number of Coloradans, though, want to keep the party but skip the intoxication, and they’re now asking lawmakers to advance the cause.
They call themselves Sober AF Entertainment, or SAFE for short. Founder Duke Rumely said leaning into the “edge” (Sober AF) was important to show they could have a good time without using substances.
“When people show up, they are just kind of blown away, like, ‘Look, there really is a community out there having the time of their life, but they’re doing it sober,’” Rumely said.
Rumely was inspired to create SAFE as his kids entered their teenage years. Having been in recovery for decades himself, he understood the pressure that social settings like concerts and sporting events can create. He wanted to create an atmosphere that was fun, fresh and peer pressure free.
Today, you’ll see them in the crowds of Denver Nuggets games, Colorado Rockies games and music festivals, at times with hundreds in their ranks. The group is a mix of people in recovery, supportive family and friends, and others who simply want to “take a night off” from drinking, as Rumely puts it.
Tickets are bought in bulk for a discount, making them affordable. Their tailgate parties often include food and a live DJ.
“Being sober, I didn’t want to be in places where alcohol was so prevalent,” said Taylor Corley, who serves as DJ at SAFE events and is in recovery himself. “I really got into the events because I finally found a safe haven — ‘safe,’ no pun intended — to go with like-minded people to just have a good time.”
SAFE has seen support from venues in the way of ticket discounts and rooms for rent. Now, it is taking its message to lawmakers, looking for statewide recognition in Colorado.
The group is pushing a bill in the state legislature this session that would require venues with 7,000 seats or more to designate 4% of its seating as “substance-free.”
“It’s imperative to have a space where people can go and not feel pressured to drink or even be around drinking,” Corley said. “When I was in early recovery, I thought I was never going to have fun again. I thought I was never going to be able to go to a concert again, never going to be able to go to a sporting event. And it limited me. So I think it’s going to be a big eye opener if the bill gets passed, just how many people are out there wanting to be sober or at least be around sober people.”
The bill has been introduced in the Senate Finance committee and has two sponsors, but doesn’t yet have a hearing set. Members of SAFE hope that it gets a chance, and believe it would make a real difference in the lives of those in recovery. Either way, they vow to keep pushing for sobriety visibility.
“There is so much stigma regarding somebody not drinking,” Rumely said. “If there was a substance-free area at all venues, that would be terrific. And I think it would help the next generation be able to have fun, learn how to have fun sober, and that’s what we’re looking to do is kind of change the stigma on what it’s like to have fun sober.” -Duke Rumely, Founder
Colorado could become the first state to have mandated sober sections. This would apply to the state’s largest music and sports venues.
Colorado nonprofit Sober A.F. Entertainment sets up sober sections and tailgates at music festivals, concerts, and sports games.
“It is a great need and a great want is what we figured out,” said founder Duke Rumely.
Such a great need that Sober A.F. is now working with state lawmakers on a bill requiring substance free seating at large venues. SB23-171 would mandate all venues with over 7,000 seats provide at least 4% of seating as a substance-free zone. That would affect 13 venues statewide.
The bill would require marked sections, where use of alcohol, marijuana, vapes, and tobacco would be banned. Venues that don’t comply could risk losing their liquor license.
“It was music to my ears! Because it’s something that I’ve thought about for a while,” said Vince Huseman. Huseman is six years sober and directs the music program for sober activity community The Phoenix.
“At the beginning of my recovery, it was a barrier for me. I was afraid to surround myself with drugs and alcohol so I would stay away from music venues, from sporting events, where I knew I’d be surrounded by that,” Huseman said.
Huseman says sober sections are key in helping recovering addicts get back to their favorite activities.
“I think this bill could really help to support people to get back out to the music and the sporting events that they really enjoy so much,” Huseman said.
But the sections aren’t just for those battling addiction.
“Maybe they’re in recovery like myself, or maybe they’re just reevaluating their relationship with alcohol, or simply trying to show their kids drinking doesn’t have to be a part of having fun,” Huseman said.
It’s an effort to be inclusive, and keep people safe amid a fentanyl crisis and high overdose rates.
“This is the least expensive, least intrusive way to really support this community which needs our support,” said Rumely.
Rumely says the bill would require no government funding. It goes in front of the senate finance committee in the next few weeks, if passed would take effect in 2027.
Rumely says some venues have had concerns about enforcing the bill, but no one has publicly come out against it.
Senate Bill 171 would have required large event venues to designate 4% of seats as “substance-free seating,” where the use of alcohol, marijuana, tobacco and vapes is prohibited.
An effort to ban alcohol and drug use in certain event seating sections met an unceremonious end on Tuesday, when it was rejected by a Senate committee.
Senate Bill 171 would have required large event venues to designate 4% of seats as “substance-free seating,” where the use of alcohol, marijuana, tobacco and vapes is prohibited. The bill would have taken effect in April 2027 and applied to entertainment facilities with capacities of 7,000 seats or more.
Bill sponsor Sen. Kevin Priola, D-Henderson, said substance-free seats would help de-stigmatize choosing to remain sober at concerts and sporting events, where drinking alcohol, and sometimes using drugs, is almost expected.
“The culture of sobriety is on the rise,” Priola said. “Social engagements often seem inaccessible due to the lack of community support and the inherent proximity to those who choose to consume.”
Priola said numerous groups would benefit from substance-free seating, ranging from pregnant women and families with children to people recovering from addiction.
Darin Valdez was addicted to substances for more than seven years before he got sober in 2014. In the early months of his recovery, Valdez said he experienced extreme social anxiety and was “terrified” to go to events with his friends and family because he’d be so close to people using drugs and alcohol.
“I chose to stay away from anything that could put my sobriety in danger, but it also kept me from living a joyful life,” Valdez said while testifying in support of SB 171. “Spending quality time with family and friends at sporting events and concerts is something everyone should be able to enjoy safely.”
Now nine years sober, Valdez said he can go to these events, but being seated near intoxicated people is still “one of the most uncomfortable situations” he can face. As executive director of Colorado Artists in Recovery, Valdez said he also works with countless recovering addicts who struggle with similar issues.
Nearly two dozen other people testified in support of SB 171 before lawmakers killed the bill. They included many who work with or have struggled with addiction, as well as some who said they just want to take their children to baseball games without being surrounded by sloppily drunk strangers.
Only one person testified against the bill on Tuesday: Mollie Steinmann of the Colorado Municipal League. Steinmann said enforcing the bill would be too burdensome on local licensing agencies.
Under the bill, event venues that fail to establish the required substance-free seating would be subject to licensed-based discipline, such as being denied an alcohol beverage license or license renewal.