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Chattanooga-area music festivals shine light on mental health awareness

This article was originally published on timesfreepress.com.

Two music festivals in the Chattanooga area in the next two weeks are designed to both entertain and bring awareness to mental health issues and suicide prevention.

The first is the second annual Hunter's Gift: A Musical Tribute honoring Hunter White, a well-known musician and waiter/bartender who committed suicide in July 2018. The event is Sunday, Oct. 13, at Songbirds South. It features local artists Milele Roots, the Communicators, Jordan Hallquist and the Outfit, Function, Paper Mache, Tiffany Taylor, Ryan Oyer and Megan Howard.

The event will benefit Shaking Ray Levi Society and The Rhythmic Arts Project (TRAP), a nationally recognized program that uses percussion instruments to give children with developmental, emotional or physical disabilities a hands-on way to approach live skills.

White's death shook many in the food-service industry, as well as the local music scene. Many took to social media immediately following to express their shock and to begin talking about ways to encourage people who are struggling with mental health issues to reach out for help.

"Hunter's death absolutely shook the community in a way that brought mental health right to the community," said Stratton Tingle, executive director of SoundCorps, a local nonprofit that promotes the local professional music industry.

Research shows that mental illnesses are common in the United States, with tens of millions of people affected each year. Yet estimates suggest that only half of that number receive treatment.

Tingle was in Sacramento last week for a leadership workshop and said the topic of mental health was one of the discussion topics.

"The issue is pervasive in the entertainment and food industry across the country," he said, adding the a group called igotyourback.info has created a campaign where they put cards and flyers in venues, bars and restaurants letting people know where they can get help.

I Got Your Back was piloted by Sacramento restaurant Mulvaney's B&L as a way to combat the stigma surrounding mental illness. The program asks employees to drop an anonymous card into a box when they clock in for a shift. Anonymity gives the employees a safe place to express their state of mind and the floor manager a method for knowing how the crew is doing and feeling.

"Ours is an industry with a problem we don't like to talk about, but we can't keep shying away from the hard conversations. I Got Your Back is peer-to-peer support that helps us watch for signs of distress and gives us a safe place to talk about our personal struggles," said co-owner Bobbin Mulvaney on the website.

Locally, SoundCorps has created a list of local places to get help for mental health issues. That can be found at https://soundcorps.org/wellnesssoundcorps.

White's father, Fred, said last year's Hunter's Gift raised nearly $10,000 for TRAP.

If you go

* What: Big Foot Blues Festival

* When: Friday-Saturday, Oct. 18-19

* Where: Baggenstoss Farms, 514 Brawley Road, Tracy City, Tennessee

* Admission: $60-$125 for tickets, $20-$125 for camping

* Online: bigfootbluesfestival.com

* What: Hunter’s Gift: A Musical Tribute

* When: 4-10 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13

* Where: Songbirds South, 35 Station St.

* Admission: $10

* Online: songbirds.rocks

"We didn't know that there would be a second one, so this means a lot to us, and that people are talking about mental health and hopefully getting help," he said.

The second event is the Big Foot Blues Festival at Baggenstoss Farms in Tracy City, Tennessee, the following weekend. The new, two-day event features Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters, Shemekia Copeland, Eric Gales, Sue Foley, Davy Knowles, John Nemeth, Monster Mike Welch, Sammy Eubanks, John Long and Bizz & Everyday People.

A portion of proceeds will be donated to regional initiatives to address mental health issues and suicide prevention.

Andy Baggenstoss, who owns the 500-acre farm where the festival will be held, said the event is personal for him for several reasons.

"I personally have struggled with mental health myself and have seen a therapist for 30 years," he said. "I think mental health issues need more attention. Having folks to talk to whether a therapist or good friends or families to talk to is very important."

He is also a music enthusiast who was involved in the Thunder on the Rock concerts that were held on the farm over the last decade. The farm is also home to Bigfoot Adventure.

The family-friendly festival will include an eight-line zip course, a nine-hole disc golf course, a mirrored maze and a Ferris wheel.

"And kids 12 and under are free," he said.

Contact Barry Courter at [email protected] or 423-757-6354.