As It Happens

Canadian singer who quit drinking calls for booze-free options at music venues

Damhnait Doyle cut out alcohol a year ago and says the industry should do more to support musicians who don't drink.

Damhnait Doyle says the industry should do more to support musicians who don't drink

Damhnait Doyle performs at the dress rehearsal at the East Coast Music Awards Sunday, March 1, 2009, in Corner Brook, N.L. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)
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Damhnait Doyle says bars and other venues should do more to support musicians who don't drink.

Since the Labrador-born, Toronto-based singer quit drinking alcohol about a year ago, she says she has to bring her own non-alcoholic beer to most gigs. 

Doyle, who wrote about her experience in the Toronto Star, spoke to As It Happens guest host Robyn Bresnahan about why she thinks her industry should do a better job servicing sober entertainers.

Here is part of their conversation. 

Before you quit, how much did drinking feel like a part of your job? 

I would say it felt like a huge part of my job. As musicians, I mean, it would be a shocking situation to be backstage and somebody wasn't drinking. 

That is why, you know, to this day and this year of not drinking I will absolutely sneak in my six pack of non-alcoholic beer to whatever gig I'm singing or playing because everybody drinks.

When was the first time that you used booze before a show and what effect did it have? 

I remember the first time I didn't have alcohol before. It was my first headlining show in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. I was so nervous I literally threw up in a bucket side-stage. 

And then the next show … somebody bought me a shot of tequila right before I went on stage and it felt like — tada! — I'm not nervous anymore.

Doyle quit drinking a year ago, after years of alcohol being a part of her life as a musician. (Emma-Lee)

You wrote in your piece in the Toronto Star that musicians don't drink like normal people. What did you mean by that? 

Any excuse to drink. I mean,  really, when you're on the road you're basically onstage doing what you love for one hour and then there are 23 other hours in the day to do whatever it is that you want.

Oftentimes you're staying in … a sub-par motel-hotel. It's not like you can play with your children or you can, you know, go for a nice walk.

Sometimes you kind of get caught in this rut where the thing to do is drink.

A lot of people, when they stop drinking, they talk about having a rock-bottom moment. Did you have one of those? 

I did not. And I think that's why I felt it was important for me to talk about it, because I don't … identify as an alcoholic. 

I have two kids who are five and six who take up a lot of my energy and time and I just wanted to feel better. I mean, honestly, I wanted to physically feel better and that is why I quit drinking.

I've always suffered from depression and anxiety, which a lot of creative people do. And I just thought that that was going to be something that was going to be a part of my life forever, which it will be, but not to the extent it was when I was drinking.

So how did those same people, who you used to share tequila shots with and have beers at shows and industry events, how did they react to the non-drinking Damhnait? 

For me, the first month was challenging.

And now I'm the person who gets drink tickets and beer tickets and my friends get them from me. So, I mean, I'm certainly not out there going, "Oh, you should quit drinking." I'm not saying that at all. What I am saying is if you're on the fence about it ... it's a beautiful, beautiful place to be.

I'm still super fun. I still stay up till 3 o'clock after shows, hanging out, having a great time. 

But all of my friends and all of my peers have been so incredibly supportive. It's been really astounding and it's just kind of normal. They know that I'm still drinking, but I'm drinking non-alcoholic beers.

Within 45 minutes of me sharing this article to my Facebook, my friend Tara and her husband, they're … part-owners of [Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto], they've signed on. They're already looking at where to get non-alcoholic beer. 

So it's pretty incredible the change that can happen so quickly once people know that something's an issue. I don't think, you know, bar owners and club owners and venue owners are doing this on purpose, not serving non-alcoholic options. But once you know, it's kind of your responsibility to do something about it. 

So I'm really excited to not have to sneak in my non-alcoholic beer to the Horseshoe.

And for those people who say, "Well, what's wrong with just tap water?" What do you say to that?

I would want them to go to a bar and have tap water as well. I mean, why should some people have options and other people not.

If you go to a bar, you can have an option of any spirit that you want, any wine, any beer. 

We're just asking for one option as opposed to zero.

Written by Sarah Jackson and Sheena Goodyear. Produced by Sarah Joyce-Battersby. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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