In the last year, two suicides sent ripples across the music industry. Jeff Austin, a founding member of the Yonder Mountain String Band, died last June. Two months later, Neal Casal, an influential guitarist best known for his role as a founding member of Circles Around the Sun, died in August.
Now, members of both of their former bands will join Leftover Salmon at the Boogie at the Broadmoor event from March 20–22. The shindig will include bowling with Leftover Salmon and Circle Around the Sun on Thursday night, a free concert and charity raffle on Friday, and an unorthodox spelling bee and all-star jam on Sunday—all in partnership with mental health nonprofit Backline.
Founded in October 2019 in response to the death’s of Austin and Casal, Backline is trying to fill the music industry’s mental health void with a free, always-accessible network of care for music industry professionals and their families. Everyone that fills out a submission form on Backline’s website can schedule a one-on-one call with a clinical case manager, who then pairs them with whatever resource best suits their individual needs (a therapist, an addictions counselor, a nutritionist, etc.). Since its launch, the remote network has responded to nearly 150 client submissions.
“In addition to being free and confidential, Backline is unique in our ability to speak with each client, assess pertinent psychosocial factors, and, ideally, connect them with a clinician within our national network,” says Hallie Lincoln, psychotherapist and senior clinical team lead at Backline. “Navigating the mental health system can be difficult enough and for those with anxiety and/or depression, that little extra hand-holding can make all the difference.”
Lincoln, who’s based in Denver, also underscores the importance of having a presence at music events and meeting the industry where its at.
In November 2019, Greg Garrison, the bassist for Leftover Salmon and a music professor at CU Denver, released a song with all profits benefiting Backline, the beginning of an ongoing relationship between the band and the nonprofit. The tune was “Songs You’ve Left Unsung,” written to honor Austin, who in addition to being a colleague, was also a childhood friend. For the Boogie at the Broadmoor event, Backline has also partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health Colorado, and Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention. Although the lineup features some 16 acts, including Jerry Douglas and Friends, Leftover was intentional in inviting members of Yonder and Circles Around the Sun to participate.
“Losing someone like Neal [Casal] was devastating to everybody in his life,” says Garrison. “But for his bandmates, it’s really hard to keep playing, even though they have to make a living. I’m glad there are opportunities like this for them to keep doing what they do as a band while honoring him.”
The deaths of Austin and Casal speak to a larger trend of an increase in suicides nationally. According to the American Psychological Association, suicide rates in the U.S. have increased 30 percent in the past 16 years. A 2018 Music Industry Research Association study found that 50 percent of musicians reported symptoms of depression (compared to 25 percent of the general population) and nearly 12 percent reported having suicidal thoughts. A 2019 study, from the digital distribution platform Record Union, found that 73 percent of independent musicians have suffered from symptoms of mental illness, including stress, anxiety and/or depression in relation to their music creation.
The nature of the music industry—with its long and inconsistent hours, party atmosphere, and extended periods away from family and friends—is often anecdotally cited as a cause. Couple that with a widespread lack of healthcare or ability to see someone while on the road, and it can be increasingly difficult for folks to get the help they need, let alone maintain any sort of ongoing wellness regime.
For those looking to support this vulnerable population without buying full festival tickets, a Friday night concert with bluegrass-inspired band Woodshed Red is open to the public and completely free. Folks are welcome to make a donation to any of the organizations on-site, as well as participate in a charity raffle. Because the connection between getting outside and mental health is well documented, the charity raffle will contain a handful of prizes from outdoor companies, including KEEN, Icelantic Skis, and Evo. Sunday night’s all-star jam and We Bee Spelling, featuring Andy Frasco, is also donation based.
As with many mental health initiatives, one of the main goals of Backline and the musicians who partner with them is to reduce stigma and open up a dialog.
“With Backline and everything now coming out into the open, if people see something going on or feel like somebody’s going down the wrong path, hopefully people won’t feel a stigma around sounding the alarm,” Garrison says. “At the least, they’ll tap somebody on the shoulder and say ‘Hey, everything OK?’”
If you go: Leftover Salmon’s Boogie at the Broadmoor will be held at the Broadmoor Resort in Colorado Springs from March 20–22. For more information on specific show times and event details, visit the website.