Trey Anastasio headed to Washington, D.C. this week for a scheduled appearance at the National Association of Drug Court Professionals Conference. The event featured celebrity speakers like Martin Sheen and Matthew Perry but from what we hear, Trey stole the show. He was even presented with the All Rise Ambassador award by the NADCP for his public support of Drug Courts programs, and received a standing ovation from the 3,000 attendees when he delivered the event’s closing remarks.
As the Washington Post recounts:
It was Anastasio, a graduate of drug court in New York state, who really put it out there. The musician, 46, was an addict in 2006 when he was arrested and charged with seven felonies. Given the choice of jail or drug court, he chose the later. “I am here today to tell you that that was the most important decision of my life,” he said.
For 14 months, he lived near the court and kept a rigorous schedule of treatment and community service. “I’m gonna tell you how great it is,” he said with grin. “But it’s important to say that when I was in it, it was very hard and I was not a huge fan.” Today’s Anastasio is clean and goes to AA meetings almost every day. “What started off as a nightmare — it was just crazy that I ended up in this program — over time I’ve been able to see what an incredible blessing it is.”
It’s no wonder the NADCP gave Trey an award. He appears to single-handedly be putting the organization and it’s cause into the cultural psyche.
I spoke with NADCP’s Director of Communications, Christopher Deutsch, about the impact Phish frontman is having.
“Trey is exposing thousands to Drug Courts,” Deutsch said. He added that Trey’s “ability to inspire” through “charisma, talent, and exuberance” translates naturally to effective public advocacy.
This issue – the only one that Trey has publiclly embraced in this manner – boils down to how the state should treat addicts and non-violent offenders like him. And it’s a key time for this debate, as drug courts really sit at the fulcrum of changing attitudes about the drug war. Philosophically equidistant from “Legalize It” and “Lock ’em up and throw away the key,” drug courts stress rehabilitation over incarceration but with the structure that comes from knowing prison is only one relapse away. If Trey’s experience is any indication, these courts are a path back to life and vitality.
Trey first made an appearance at an NACDP event in 2009, when he told his deeply personal tale to a small gathering. Few in the room probably really knew who he was, but a clip made the rounds on YouTube and has since been viewed over 30,000 times.
This year, Anastasio found himself more front and center. On Tuesday he spoke at a rally on Capiotal Hill in front of hundreds of drug court professionals and a few U.S. Senators. Thankfully, no one shouted “Fluffhead”, but one phan did capture it on video.
In suit and tie, he thanked the attendees and said “I am a huge supporter of Drug Court and huge supporter of everything you do.” He went on to thank his Drug Court case manager Melanie by name, whom he now calls one of his best friends. And then – in his only prepared remarks – he gave a shoutout to Senator Robert Menendez (D) of his home state of New Jersey, thanking him for being one of Drug Court’s most reliable advocates on the Hill.
Trey’s itinerary also included a hearing on Drug Courts with the Senate Judiciary Committee that he attended. Later, he delivered the final keynote address during the NADCP Convention’s closing ceremony.
Simply telling his story with the blunt honestly of a proudly recovering addict, he crystallized the argument for Drug Courts in a way that no position paper or social science study ever could.
Phish fans are certainly familiar with how Trey can silence a room with a few words. Imagine how he blew the minds of 3,000 drug court professionals. The standing ovation they gave is one of countless Trey has received in his life. But you have to figure, this one probably meant a little more to “Red”.
Here’s the video of the rally. Video from his keynote and the standing ‘O’ is expected to be released in a few days.