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Nashville Nonprofit Shifts From Financial Help To Mental Health


Now that weeks off the road have become more than a year for people in the live music industry, they need more than just financial help. Blake Farmer of member station WPLN reports from Nashville, where industry nonprofits have had to pivot to focus on mental health.

BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: Thirteen months ago, Joshua Schultz was boarding a plane to Miami for a Mary J. Blige show. He got a call. The show's off. His girlfriend also works in the industry.

JOSHUA SCHULTZ: I kind of looked at her. And I said, I think this is the beginning.

FARMER: Schultz, who does lighting for tours, was already in recovery from a painkiller addiction. But he was on his way up again just before everything shut down.

SCHULTZ: My phone hasn't rang for a job in a year. I don't see the end. I know that it's coming. I just don't know when.

FARMER: His addiction is pretty well under control. Schultz says it's his anxiety that's found new ways to show itself in the infinite downtime. But even on the days when he's feeling especially reclusive, he says it's hard to pick up the phone and call his fellow road warriors.

SCHULTZ: I think that's what a lot of us have been dealing with because there are people out there that - they need you to pick up the phone.

FARMER: The pandemic virtually wiped out creative jobs that rely on crowds. Nashville lost about a third of its arts and music jobs in a matter of months.

TATUM ALLSEP: It was just from the pinnacle to the outhouse within a night. I'm not sure there's another industry that can comprehend that.

FARMER: Tatum Allsep founded the Music Health Alliance in 2013, primarily to help gig-based musicians find affordable health insurance. The nonprofit's client list quadrupled last year. But it wasn't until fall that the need requests took a turn. Instead of help paying the bills, clients needed help paying for rehab and counseling. So Allsep's organization started paying for direct care.

ALLSEP: In a creative industry, in general, mental health is always a factor. This brought it to a whole new level.

FARMER: The group MusiCares, run by the Recording Academy, saw that even moderate drinkers or drug users increased their usage to cope with the uncertainty. So they spun up new virtual support groups. But it's been so much more than amped up addiction, says Al Andrews of Porter's Call.

AL ANDREWS: There is a generalized anxiety that's gotten worse and worse.

FARMER: The Nashville-based counseling service for recording artists has been running beyond its capacity. And there's a frequent question - what am I going to do? Andrews says he doesn't have a lot of answers, so he asks, what does this make possible? Some have been able to spend more time with family. Others have finally figured out that getting a good night's sleep or exercising resolves a lot. But most, Andrews says, are realizing that they are part of a community not just an industry.

ANDREWS: People really do need each other. I think it has brought up this human need that we need each other really badly.

FARMER: There's hope that this new level of openness about mental health outlasts the pandemic. And now that live music is returning, there's optimism that this will mend much of what's wrong.


DREW HOLCOMB AND ELLIE HOLCOMB: (Singing) I am brave, and I am not afraid.

FARMER: In late February, Andrews attended the first show in nearly a year, performed by his friends Drew and Ellie Holcomb. It was at the historic Ryman Auditorium. The hard pews were practically empty because of COVID rules. So even as they finished their pandemic anthem "End Of The World," the applause didn't quite make the famed wooden rafters ring.


FARMER: But, Andrews says, it was electric all the same. For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Blake Farmer
Blake Farmer is WPLN's assistant news director, but he wears many hats - reporter, editor and host. He covers the Tennessee state capitol while also keeping an eye on Fort Campbell and business trends, frequently contributing to national programs. Born in Tennessee and educated in Texas, Blake has called Nashville home for most of his life.

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