Boise music festival brings hope to musicians in a mental health crisis

Musicians Against Self Harm (MASH) music festival poster
Photo courtesy of Musicians Against Self Harm

Musicians are in a mental health crisis. As a demographic, they are increasingly vulnerable to self harm. In fact, musicians are three times more likely to experience depression than the general public.

As of 2017, 68% of musicians experience depression, and the number is presumed to have risen in the wake of the pandemic.

Boise’s annual MASH festival, short for Musicians Against Self Harm, is trying to change this. 

The festival was originally founded by Musicians Jason Lambson, Mike Adam and David Zabel in 2019 and is now organized by Zablel, Dustin Jones, Brendan Nickel and Alicia Tabuso. The festival seeks to bring awareness to mental health in the music industry and, most importantly, to remind people of the joy that exists in the world. 

“I want them to feel just joy, just that they had a good time. I think that’s number one,” Zabel said. “Obviously I want them to think about the overall aspect (mental health), but the idea of it making a difference for suicide prevention and mental health is just to reinstate that you can enjoy yourself.”

On Nov. 4, MASH hosted their third annual music festival, this year in partnership with their beneficiary, The Hive.

The Hive is a ongoing local nonprofit dedicated to reducing suicide in the music community. Mental health coordinators and volunteers have all worked together to pair musicians in need of mental health services with counselors. Boise State University also partners with The Hive in providing social work interns to gain experience and support their mental health mission. 

The founders were inspired to spearhead MASH in the wake of their own loss when in 2018, the organizers lost a very close friend to suicide. 

Musicians Against Self Harm (MASH) music festival poster
[Poster for Musicians Against Self Harm music festival.]
Photo courtesy of Musicians Against Self Harm

“I think [mental health is] something that’s probably plagued people for a long time,” Zabel said. “Why [do] these people who have all this talent, these great artists

have some of the most mental kind of anguish and darkness to them? For some of them, that might be where some of this stuff comes from, they might have different kinds of depths that they can go to that maybe not all of us can.”

The festival included performances from Sunsmith, The Forgotten, Spoken Wheel, Reason Within, Devil’s County, Dying Famous Old Meds, The GOV,  BARN and Roses are Dead.

MASH festival is meant to show people that there is space left for joy.

“I think it’s just to reinstate that you can enjoy yourself,” Zabel said. “ I want them to walk away feeling like they have this joy, but it’s okay if they don’t and that they can talk about it. That’s the key, let’s make a spot where people are having fun enough to lower their defenses a little bit and start the conversation. And, you know, it makes it fun, removes that stigma of being afraid to talk about, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ There’s a lot of angst that comes with that from both sides. And so you know, how do we remove that?”

The event made space for lots of hugs and people being what appeared fearfully joyful. At its core, MASH festival is holding space for joy, it’s an environment meant to bring attention to mental health and promote happiness. 

“To be an artist, whatever it is you do, they tend to have an ability to feel deeper than most. That’s where creativity comes from. Maybe when you open up those depths of feelings, it’s not always on the happy side,” Zabel said. “You have these moments of extreme highs and being able to create something that’s just amazing that you would never think of had you not gone in depth into certain things.”

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