Staying Sane & Sober in an Insane World (Production Live! Panel Recap)

L-R: Matt Thompson, Hilary Gleason, Chamie McCurry, Royal and the Serpent, Scott Strode, Colette Weintraub and Janoc Vance.

Matt Thompson, SPIN Magazine

Hilary Gleason, Backline
Chamie McCurry, Danny Wimmer Presents
Royal and the Serpent, Artist
Scott Strode, The Phoenix
Janoc Vance, Music Cares
Colette Weintraub, Stand Together Music

Well before COVID-19, mental health was a growing issue in the U.S. and the pandemic only exacerbated it. The music industry isn’t immune to the crisis. Still, a select few are working toward solutions to the problem and providing an open, inclusive space for all to continue participating in the business and events that they enjoy.

Matt Thompson and six panelists attempted tackle to the issue of addiction and recovery in an industry known for its “sex, drugs and rock and roll” in a simple yet important way: by just talking about it.

Ryan Santiago (a singer-songwriter professionally known as Royal and the Serpent) believes that mental health and recovery can be destigmatized by “opening the conversation in a professional setting” and that it should be normalized in the workplace at all levels.

“It’s not the easiest thing to talk about,” she said during the Staying Sane and Sober In An Insane World panel at the Beverly Hills Hilton during the Production Live! portion of Pollstar Live!. “[We should make] sure that we’re checking in on our artists, whether that’s weekly, and just [make] sure that we’re talking about our mental wellness.”

What has helped Santiago in her career is having peers to relate to who are a phone call away and having a sense of community, which is especially important for those in recovery.

“We’re a community, so if we are attacking it and approaching it in that way, we’ll have a better chance at reaching all of us,” said Janoc Vance of MusiCares, a nonprofit that provides crisis help and preventative care with a holistic approach. “We’re human beings and we’re not linear, so we have to approach this thing, this conundrum in a holistic manner, understanding that financial crises may impact our mental health and our sobriety as well.”

Vance added that people who work in the industry should be regularly checked up on when it comes to their mental health and suggested that that kind of care should be included in workers’ contracts, an idea Santiago agreed with.

“That’s value,” Vance said. “We should be treating people as though they are valuable in all areas of the industry.”

Another nonprofit that connects individuals in the music industry — and their families — connect with mental health resources is Backline, which was co-founded by Hilary Gleason in 2019. The organization works with artists and all live entertainment workers to provide customized care and facilitate the navigation of the mental health resource space.

Though more work has to be done to address mental health in the industry, Gleason says there is progress.

“That’s not a conversation that we were having five years ago,” she said.

The focus hasn’t only been on those working live events but also on people attending them. Chamie McCurry of Danny Wimmer Presents, which produces seven music festivals in the U.S., made it a goal to be more inclusive in large events, especially for those that are in recovery. Danny Wimmer Presents has produced events that have counselors on site, mocktail bars and even meditation sessions.

“They’re able to come out with their friends, with their family to enjoy a festival — when you think of large scale festivals, you think of drinking and a lot of things happening — [in which] we are able to provide that space where no fan’s experience is compromised or is unsafe by them choosing to come out and enjoy a festival experience,” said McCurry, who is chief marketing officer for Danny Wimmer Presents.

Colette Weintraub of Stand Together Music has worked with McCurry and venues to provide safe and welcoming spaces for individuals recovering from addiction and saw as many as 5,000 people each weekend at Kentucky’s Bourbon and Beyond festival in the mocktail bar area. Some even gathered for a “sober mosh pit.”

“We’re not saying get rid of sex, drugs and rock and roll,” Weintraub said. “It’s not one or the other, we’re saying open it up and include health and wellness and I haven’t heard any objections to that from anybody in the industry or any bands or artists.”

That’s also the goal for The Phoenix, a nonprofit headed by Scott Strode that fosters a supportive community of individuals who suffered from substance abuse and choose to live sober. The organization developed an app that allows people to find Phoenix volunteers and other sober individuals when on the road or at an event.

Because music is at the center of culture and live shows can make a great impact in people’s lives, Strode called on everyone in attendance to do their part in spreading awareness and keeping the conversation of addiction and mental health going.

“In every big transformational cultural moment in our country, music has been a voice into that moment, and I think music and the industry can drive culture around this issue too,” he said. “I think that if everyone in this room figures out what your little part of this could be, but we all do our little parts together, we will create a movement that really transforms how the country really approaches addiction, not just in the music industry but in our culture overall.”