Kyle Kuehn is on a mission to prove that alcohol isn’t a necessity for fun.
Kuehn, who announced his plans to start Lights Out sober bar last summer, has hosted monthly events since the fall to raise awareness, build an audience and collect funds for operations for the sober bar, which will be operated out of the Lancaster city cafe The Rabbit & the Dragonfly.
A sober bar, also called a dry bar, is an establishment free from alcohol with the mission of giving people who don’t drink — for whatever reason — a place to socialize and have fun.
Kuehn has been sober for more than a year, and has partnered with the Rabbit & the Dragonfly for fundraisers benefiting Lights Out.
Kuehn will host Not Your Demographic, a six-hour evening of music at The Rabbit & the Dragonfly on Thursday. Rooster Stone, Eugene Marks, Liz Fulmer, Justin Angelo, Angela Michele and They Were Only Satellites will perform. All proceeds will go toward the start-up costs of Lights Out.
While someone could go to a concert where alcohol is offered and not drink, Kuehn says just the presence of alcohol could be a trigger for many in recovery.
“There’s a lot of people out there who want to enjoy entertainment who can’t be around substances,” Kuehn says. “They just can’t. As a community, I feel like we have to embrace those people.”
Each act will perform a 45-minute set. The musicians originally signed on as volunteers, but because of sponsorships from organizations like The Retreat of Lancaster, Lancaster Recovery Alliance, ASAP Lititz and more, Kuehn says Lights Out is now able to pay the performers.
Second Chance to Play, an organization of musicians, many in recovery, also will be at the event collecting instrument donations. The organization, founded by April Hartman, of Lancaster, aims to provide instruments to individuals and rehab centers to show those in recovery the healing power of music.
Since Kuehn first announced his mission last summer, Lights Out developed a three-person board —himself, Tom Chaffin and Jeremy Good.
Chaffin says Kuehn’s story of sobriety struck a chord, so he reached out to Kuehn on Facebook.
“It’s been really inspirational to hear of his story and how it parallels with mine — starting over and giving back and doing the right things and things like that,” says Chaffin, the drummer of We Were Only Satellites.
Good, a web page designer, connected with Kuehn to help him with the Lights Out website. He joined the board because he personally connects to the struggle of recovery, too.
“I’m also living the same story, pretty much, as him,” Good says.
Lights Out is aiming for a soft open by late summer, starting with two days a week. Kuehn says the events have been a huge help, but the technicalities of starting the sober bar are challenging to navigate, since there’s little precedence to follow.
“The biggest challenge is that this is just new area,” Kuehn says. “Bars have been going on forever. A sober bar is a new concept. There’s a lot of uncharted territory. It’s like being on a frontier. It’s exciting and adventurous, but you don’t know what animals are out there and you don’t know what to expect over the hill.”
Kuehn has plans for Lights Out to host a pre-prom event in April involving several schools, to educate teens about alcohol and substance abuse before the big night, and a 5K run celebrating tattoo art in the summer.
A Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign also will begin in April, and all funds raised will go toward the opening and operation of Lights Out, Kuehn says.
Kuehn adds that feedback has been overwhelmingly positive at the events Lights Out has hosted so far.
“We get such wonderful feedback and buzz from people,” Kuehn says. “People love what we’re trying to do, they love the message. People love that someone out there is preaching have fun without substances.”
But, he’s quick to remind people that Lights Out promotes more than just a good time.
“We’re really trying to save lives,” Kuehn says. “If we can get that 18-year-old to have fun without substances and to not take that road that so many don’t come back from, then we’ve done our job.”