Skip to content

More Than $100,000 in Art, Music, & Wellness Services Were Exchanged at O+ Kingston 2013, but the Lasting Effects are Priceless

Mural by LMNOPi for Kingston O+ 2013 on an exterior wall of Keegan Ales, Kingston, NY

During the three day, fourth-annual, O+ Festival, 40 bands & 40 artists received 99 dental appointments & 350 hours of health & wellness exams in exchange for sharing their performances & artworks with over 2000 festival attendees. Steeped in dozens of wellness offerings of all kinds, uptown Kingston thrived & businesses had their busiest weekend of the year. < h6 >By the end of the weekend well over $100,000 worth of Art, Music and Health were exchanged to strengthen and enrich the Uptown Kingston community and the entire Hudson Valley.
O+ writer Paul Austin brings us up to speed on O+’s flagship event, now entering its fifth year..

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

If Joe Concra could go back in time to 2010 and give himself one piece of advice as the first O+ festival started, what would it be?

" I know that it is a rising sun." - Benjamin Franklin
“…now I know that it is a rising sun.” – Benjamin Franklin

“Enjoy the ride. Hang on; this is going to be amazing. You never know, day to day, what’s going to come at O+ and what O+ is going to do,” says the co-founder and executive director of the O+ Festival in Kingston.

It has been an amazing ride: 1470 wellness clinic visits, 210 bands, 195 artists, 250 health care providers, 15 days of festival time and two cities later, O+ is poised to keep on expanding. 2013 was the first year O+ branched out into another city – San Francisco witnessed their first O+ festival in November, a month after Kingston held its fourth – and this only the beginning.

As all this happened, O+ distinguished itself among festivals. It is not about just wellness, music, or art; it’s about all three. Together, those three parts make a whole greater than their sum:  O+ is about building and revitalizing community.

In expanding to its second home city, the O+ festival provided a whole new group of people a chance to take the ride of which Joe speaks. Misty Rushing, Clinic Director for the festival in San Francisco, heard about and was hired on to do the job a mere two months prior to the festival taking place. “There was an element of magic, it seemed, how things just kind of came together at the right time,” says Misty. “There were a lot of balls in the air and moving parts that made it very stressful but equally exciting.”

Kingston O+ Festival
Preparations for the O+ kick-off parade

Come together it did. Amy Gardner, one of Misty’s two co-producers in helming the festival out west, came to the Kingston festival the month before San Francisco kicked off. She said she knew things were good in San Francisco when she, “saw the same vibe and energy and great buzz that [she] saw in Kingston.”

Deb Gatiss, the third of the festival co-producers in SF, agrees. “I look at the festival as a huge success, despite the exhaustion, despite all of the things I wish we could have done,” adding, “I absolutely would recommend to anyone else to do it, and I’ll help in any way that I can.”

The trio is far from Pollyanna-ish about the experience, however. They know the difficulties they faced this year and are keen to correct and make it better next year – so that means yes, there will be another O+ Festival in the bay area next year.  “It seems that the town [of Kingston] is really behind the idea/festival and willing to help. Our city of SF has elements of that, but also some big barriers, primarily legal and monetary in nature. The difference between having town support and having big city red flags is something to be addressed,” says Deb. So, Deb keeps two lists: “O+SF things that worked” and “O+SF things to work on.” Chief among the changes for next year are more fundraising and getting started earlier.

The Felice Brothers perform at the Old Dutch Church, O+ Kingston, 2013
The Felice Brothers perform at the Old Dutch Church, O+ Kingston, 2013

The same is true for Kingston. Brandy Walters, a member of the Kingston O+ team that visited O+ San Francisco, said, “I think it went great for the first time out! There is room for improvement, but after four years we in Kingston have room for growth as well.  It’s never a finished product and that’s part of the beauty. This festival will continue to grow and evolve to meet the current climate’s needs.”

Joe hints that the submission process for bands and artists will start much earlier and, among other things, says he needs to grow his staff and give them more responsibilities so he can move on to finding more big sponsors, like Lagunitas, Keegan Ales, and Topricin. Joe had special praise for Lagunitas: “They made all the T-shirts for San Francisco and did not put their name on them. They get it.”

O+ revelers passing the O+ Pop-Up Clinic
O+ revelers passing the O+ Pop-Up Clinic

In addition to beefing up staff, schedule and fundraising, O+ seeks to spread to more cities in 2014. What town will be next will be influenced by how O+ feels they can make a difference in the community. “It’s about neighborhoods, it’s about community,” says Joe. “Artists and musicians have decentralized from the [large] cities because of how expensive it is.” Regarding San Francisco, for example, Misty and others pointed out that being a bigger place that is used to many festivals, the town’s venues are often booked and it is hard to convince owners to offer their places to the festival if something more lucrative for them exists. In a town like Kingston, people are more apt to help out from their sense of community and desire to make a difference.

There are also plans to install a permanent clinic in cities that participate, and make the festivals celebrate the clinic. The health care providers and others in Kingston are behind it.

The desire to make a difference and build a community is at the heart of O+. “Building a community around O+ speaks to the simple idea of…compassion and being part of a community,” says Joe. Because we’ve become accustomed for so long on huge companies to provide everything we need, “on a health care and community level we’ve forgotten this. We forget to look at our neighbors to see what they can offer.”

Kimberly Kay street mural Kingston NY
Artist Kimberly Kay beautifies one of Kingston’s walls with a beautiful hand-painted mural.

In addition to the fourth annual festival in Kingston on the record books, 2013 also added a fifth in a city on the other side of the country. The experiences of both teams will inform future endeavors for O+ as a whole. The biggest thing to learn about San Francisco, says Joe, is that the idea took root there and they grew it the way they wanted to grow it for their community. That lesson, in addition to numerous logistical insights, will be added to a growing playbook for new cities to learn from. It has been a long but fulfilling ride for all involved. O+ has taken Joe, Misty, Amy, Deb, Brandy and many others to places they never expected – but for all, it feels right. It will be exciting to see what’s going to come at O+ and what O+ is going to do in 2014.