Wonderbus Music Festival brings awareness to mental health

The Wonderbus Music & Arts Festival comes to Columbus this weekend

The inaugural Wonderbus Music and Arts Festival is coming to Columbus August 17-18. Popular artists like Walk the Moon, The Revivalists, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, and Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness are headlining the festival -- but Wonderbus is about much more than just the music.

"Wonderbus is a two-day music and arts festival that really came to life patterned after our festival in Cleveland, called Laurel Live," says Denny Young, president of the Elevation Group that's producing the festival. A friend of Young's with Columbus ties said he should try to bring a similar festival to central Ohio. That's how Young met Rick Milenthal, CEO of local marketing group The Shipyard. "When he brought it up," Milenthal recalls, "I said, well, I'd like to get involved with the festival. We're gonna help make it happen. But I want it to benefit mental health. My wife lost her father -- my father-in-law -- very young, to suicide. And two years ago, my colleague, my partner, Dave Grzelak lost his son to suicide."

Grzelak and his wife have been very open about their son's struggles with mental health. "Shortly after he passed," he remembers, "my wife and I made the decision that we were going to be very public and open about the experience that we had. Primarily because that's often not the case when it comes to mental health in our country and culture." Grzelak says his son fought his illness every day for about three years. "He fought and he fought until he ran out of fight, you know? And just like any other illness, you can only fight so long and that's how I saw the situation with my son. And I saw Elizabeth (his wife) and I fighting as well, and I thought really, we just needed to continue to fight."

Grzelak and Milenthal took that fight to the OSU Wexner Medical Center's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, where Dr. K. Luan Phan saw an opportunity. "I think we have the opportunity with the music festival to stimulate conversation, reduce the stigma that often goes around mental illness, to raise awareness in our community," he says. Dr. Phan explained the message of "LA LA LA" that's prevalent in the Wonderbus marketing materials. It stands for "listen and ask, love and act, link and advocate.," he said. "And those are very simple words, but they mean quite a bit." Dr. Phan added, "Concerts are a great way to feel something inside, but yet do it in a community. And that way, music becomes a great platform to begin a conversation around any important topic for society. And here, it happens to be mental health."

"We decided collectively that we were going to put a bright light on the issues related to mental health and suicide prevention and the great work they're doing at Wexner," Young said. "And all of this has culminated into what's going to happen this weekend at Wonderbus."

Tickets are still available to the Wonderbus Music and Arts Festival. For more information, click here.

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