What does mental health awareness mean to you?
For many across the globe, the topic is still taboo. For far too long, the idea that feeling anxious or blue was something you should just “get over.” It was swept under the rug, pushed into a corner, and left to fester until people reached their breaking point.
In recent years, the trend of awareness and self-care has become more prevalent in our society. We’ve seen the writing on the wall. For many of us, we’ve dealt with things like depression, loneliness, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. But there are still millions of people who feel they cannot get out of their own mind, and are ashamed to be unable to deal with such thoughts.
The Patchbay Music Festival was put together with one great cause in mind – to spread mental health awareness. By the act of bringing bands, vendors and artists together, Kyle Jones of Patchbay Columbus hoped to shine a bright light on the darkness we find in our minds.
“I think that when we keep our emotions to ourselves, we begin to isolate ourselves in ways that we may not even realize,” said Jones. “The longer we keep our thoughts and feelings to ourselves, the more damaging they become.”
Morgen Spon from Nationwide Children’s Hospital echoed Kyle’s sentiment and was excited when approached about putting together the festival.
“I didn’t know what to expect at first, but when I saw Kyle’s passion… you can definitely tell his heart in the right place.”
Spon says that for her, mental health is about keeping the conversation going.
“I really believe it’s about talking about your feelings. Not only checking on yourself, but checking on others,” she explained. “How are you feeling, how are you doing? Trying to empower one another. It’s okay to have those feelings, to embrace them, and to ask for help if you need it.”
Spon says that when they started the On Our Sleeves movement, they were hoping to dig even deeper to a precious commodity often overlooked… childhood mental illnesses.
“We didn’t know what type of reaction we would get when we started it (On Our Sleeves) back in October, we just wanted to spearhead a movement to help kids with mental health issues. A lot of people are afraid to talk about it, but we’ve met so many wonderful and grateful people who have told us how impactful things have been.”
Once Jones had the wheels in motion, things came together quickly. Seven bands, several food trucks, vendors, and the famed Roochute all signed on to populate Land-Grant Brewing Company’s beer garden in Columbus. We previewed the festival and I wanted to make sure I followed up after talking to the actual people involved in the event, in order to put more human faces on mental health awareness.
The musical side of the evening began with Columbus’ Forever Unknown. Despite their youth, the band was one the highlights for me, showing uncanny precision with their instruments and a maturity on stage that I would not expect from a group of high school-aged kids. I spoke with singer Micah Stromsoe DeLorenzo about her take on mental health in her teenage years.
“I think I’m constantly in a state of anxiety, and it definitely manifests itself in my songwriting,” she explained. “Almost every song we write is about anxiety in one way or another.
“Writing about it as a musician definitely helps me get through,” she continued. “It’s a big thing that can be used for either good or for bad. It just depends on what you do with it.”
While I may not currently be in a band, I definitely understand that sentiment. Anxiety causes the mind to race and circle around things that do not necessarily need to be overthought. We often bring ourselves down thinking about what could or might be, and we tend to isolate ourselves because of those feelings. Having a conversation about it is the best way I’ve ever seen to break through that wall. A little bit of talking goes a long way.
Youngstown’s Fifth & Aurora took the stage next, with a set alternating between heavy bangers, piano ditties, and even a Whitney Houston cover for good measure. The group took some time to chat with me after their set about what it meant to be a part of this wonderful event.
“We were excited to be able to come across the state to play this show. It’s the first time we’ve played in Columbus, so we definitely relished the opportunity,” said singer Lou Rivera.
“More importantly, being able to use our gift to help others is a wonderful feeling,” added bassist Daniel Anderson.
“It definitely helps take you to be a better place when you’re able to entertain others and lift them up with something as simple as music,” chimed in lead guitarist Jamie Greenawalt. “If there’s one thing we all have in common, it’s listening to music.”
Music. It’s the universal language.
Whether it be the rhythm, the sound or the words, there’s always something happening in music to catch your attention. For me, being able to feel the music at a live show has always helped me battle with the darkness inside of my mind. Seeing the people on stage, hearing the music and relating to the words all play a part in it as well.
“We don’t explain in detail what all of our songs mean, but we like to leave it up to the listener to take away what is needed from it,” says Greenawalt.
“Songwriting and producing music is therapeutic for me as well,” explains Rivera. “Any mental issue we’re dealing with, you have to inject it into something.”
The guys also gave me a brilliant metaphor about mental illness. For so many years, if you had, say, a broken leg, or cancer, or some other physically manifested illness, it would be treated as much more valid than if you were dealing with depression and anxiety. I’m not sure how the world ever got to the point where the issue being in your head invalidated it, but I’m glad that we in the music media are able to play a part in reversing that.
“I think that the stigma needs to be changed. Mental illness IS a real thing, and it is just as powerful as any physical injury,” finished Greenawalt.
The third band to play was Nashville’s (TN) Pacific, who were on their way home from a show in Michigan and decided to hop on board for the cause. They played a more ethereal set that gave us all a good breather between the more rocking acts that preceded them. They even started their set with the Fountains of Wayne classic Stacy’s Mom, which initially had me laughing, but later got me thinking on a much deeper and more personal level.
As a youth I was heavily bullied and constantly depressed, so much so that my parents pulled me out of school for three years to learn at home instead. Unfortunately, my mental status was never attended to, and so my loneliness and overwhelming sense of inadequacy came to a head my junior year of high school, when the album “Welcome Interstate Managers” from Fountains of Wayne was released.
Not a lot of people know this story, but when I was 17 I attempted to take my own life. Fortunately, I had an amazing friend (Thank you, Beth) who talked me off the ledge (at 2 a.m., no less), but I also had music to fall back on. That album, and especially that goofy song were integral in reminding me of the good and positive things in the world, and helped me battle through my last two years of high school.
I don’t want you to come away from this ever thinking that it was or is easy. What I want you to remember is that there is always hope at the end of the tunnel, no matter how dark things seem to be. And if music is what you need to use as your weapon, then turn it up and rock your socks off!
Speaking of sock-less rocking, The Broken Relics brought a large crowd to the stage as they brushed off the rust from a month long hiatus. For a band with a mostly upbeat and positive sound, their songs can be deceptively deep and highly personal.
“My thoughts are raw, and real. People dealing with mental health issues crave someone to be real with them,” explained singer/guitarist Bryce Warmouth. “I like to be able to say, hey man, me too. I feel you. It’s alright to be going through rough times.
“Unfortunately, I tend to keep my mental health very secluded from other people,” he continued. “But with music, I have found a way to be open about it. I think it directly affects every single lyric I write.”
Guitarist Zach Warmouth had a similar response when asked about how mental health affects his songwriting. He explained to me that, whether consciously or subconsciously, it’s in all music in one way or another.
“It doesn’t have to be a slow and somber song to have mental health surrounding it,” he said. “Positive songs help you stay upbeat, but there are also deeper songs that help you through the inevitable rough patches in your life.”
“I think a common misconception about mental health is that it’s all a negative topic,” added Bryce. “Mental health includes our good thoughts and good experiences, as well. One of the beautiful things about playing a show is that you can see and express so many different feelings, and see it going through the crowd, as well.”
Both of the Warmouth boys gave me different ways to help battle the blues. Zach says that unplugging, even if for only 20 minutes a day, makes a huge difference for him. I think that we all could use a little less screen time, even if it is just to breathe. Bryce said that being honest with himself and finding a way to talk about it has helped him immensely.
As far as how they thought the festival was going? Both of them beamed huge smiles.
“We inherited a very strange and harsh world, and when you see people come together in ways like this, it gives hope for a possibly brighter future,” finished Bryce.
Souther, one of the hottest names in Columbus, was the next to take the stage. Their groovy, soulful sound scintillated our ears and kept the heads bobbing as shade crept around the stage in the beer garden. I was able to catch singer/guitarist Carly Fratianne and drummer Jack Lynch after the set to talk specifically about anxiety and the role it plays in their musical craft.
“I know I’m a very anxious individual,” voiced Fratianne. “It’s something that transforms our art, and it’s one of the main reasons we do it.”
“Playing music has gone from listening to music as a way to combat mental health, to making music to combat illnesses, and hoping that some person is gonna listen to it and feel understood,” added Lynch.
“Actually, we started making music to defeat anxiety, but as I age it actually makes me anxious sometimes,” chuckled Fratianne.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned in my time with Music in Motion Columbus is that most musicians are just like you and I. The main difference, outside of musical ability, is that they have a stage to work with to present their craft. To that extent, I asked Fratianne what she thought about using that platform to help others.
“When I started making music, I was doing it solely for myself. Now that people are actually listening to what I say, I definitely try to use my own gifts to help the audience. It’s pretty empowering knowing that I can help others like that,” she smiled.
“Our generation is the last generation that didn’t have mental health on the ‘to do’ list as a child. I can’t tell you how relieved I am that that stuff is taking center stage now,” she continued. “Hopefully, the kids in the future aren’t going to have to deal with the things that we dealt with. We all need to the tools to be able to understand ourselves and communicate our needs to help each other.”
Zoo Trippin’ brought their patented blend of chaos, insanity, and choreographed dance moves to the stage next. Their ineffable front-man Tony Casa was his usual hyper self, but took time near the end of their set to give a passionate speech about mental health. Patchbay’s Jones said he couldn’t have written a better speech himself, touching on what to do both as a child and as an adult if you’re feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders.
It definitely brought a smile to my face to know that one of the biggest names in Columbus music had such a loud voice in the discussion. Casa was earnest in his convictions when we spoke about it later on that evening.
“As a musician, I feel it’s very important to talk about mental health issues,” he stressed. “Especially when you can speak from experience! If you have a platform like we do and you don’t use it, you’re almost being irresponsible.
“Songwriting is highly therapeutic for me,” he continued, “but I want it to be relatable. I want to raise awareness while simultaneously being able to help myself.”
As far as advice goes, Casa echoed the thoughts of most of the musicians I spoke to on that day. That advice is… do not be afraid to ask for help.
“For so long,” continued Casa, “I was stubborn and thought I could do everything on my own. It took me a long time to realize that building a good support system and being supportive yourself is a solid start to keeping your mental health in check!”
The final act for the evening was the funky quintet Thomas and the Work-Men, who unfortunately had to cut their set short due to a quick-moving rainstorm that sent most of the remaining attendees indoors. Despite the soggy finish, Kyle Jones remained positive about the impact that the festival had on the community.
“We had a solid turnout, lots of good vibes, and raised over $2,500!” he exclaimed. “My goal was to set it up for me to be able to do it again next year, and I think that that was accomplished.”
Each person I spoke with was impressed not only by the turnout, but also the amount of good emotions that were on display throughout the beer garden. Whether it was playing cornhole, playing with the Roochute, eating, drinking or rocking out, it seemed like everyone in attendance had a great time.
From a personal stand-point, I was moved by the honesty and passion that each of the bands showed during the event. The show could have gone any number of directions, but instead had seven excellent live acts and a vast array of art and entertainment to keep patrons of all ages enthralled.
I can only imagine that if Jones decides to take a stab at doing it again next year, that the event would be even bigger and that all parties involved would be able to reach even more people.
And if that means saving more lives, you know I will be there as well.