O+: Art, Music & Wellness Festival Offers Free Healthcare

Flyers of the O+ logo were hung all around Kingston, the artwork could also be found on the festival merch being sold during in the parking lot across the street from the Old Dutch Church on all three days of the event.

Community is the only way to describe what it felt like to spend the weekend at the O+ (pronounced O Positive) Festival in Kingston, New York. On Oct. 7 both local Kingstonites and travelers all the way from Manhattan came together to combine the art of medicine with the medicine of art, their coined slogan, for the three day long festival.

Founded in 2010, O+ is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that works to give underinsured artists and musicians the opportunity to receive health care services in exchange for performances and art. Held in a pop-up clinic in Bethany Hall of The Old Dutch Church located on 272 Wall St., participating artists received care from volunteer health professionals. 

Jesse Scherer LMT, the Clinic Director, recalls a flier that she saw 12 years ago drawing her to the first ever O+ Festival, “I saw a little sign that ultimately said, if you’re interested in exchanging the art of medicine for the medicine of art and you would like to work in a collective situation with other practitioners, get in touch.”

“As a massage therapist I work alone a lot, so it feels really nice collaborating with people, and what’s better than musicians, artists and wellness? And looping the gap between nurses and doctors and alternative practitioners is really nice because we are all sort of equal here,” added Scherer. 

Photo Credit: Zoe Woolrich
Photo Credit: Zoe Woolrich

The services offered included reiki, massages, acupuncture, energy work, voice exams, dermatology, dental care, overall primary care and more. Each artist was allowed to choose three modalities of care and had the three festival days, within clinic hours to receive the selected services.

Dermatologist Michael Bobrow, who comes to the Hudson Valley once a month, found out about O+ at a booth the organization had at Rough Draft, a local coffee shop in Kingston. 

“Some patients who come in don’t have any health care so it’s nice to provide that service for people who just don’t have the ability to see a doctor,” said Dr. Bobrow. “It’s also nice for some people who do have physicians but may not have time to get in to see them or they may have a high copay. They just come in and we can give them some reassurance and make them feel a little more comfortable.”

For the Institute of Family Health in the Mid-Hudson Valley, part of the residency program requires all doctors to volunteer some of their time at the clinic. This year the Institute offered services for osteopathic manipulation and overall primary care, which included: taking blood pressure, vitals, answering questions and working on thnecks and shoulders of people who may suffer from injuries or are overall feeling pain or tightness.  

Kristina Ursitti, an attending physician, has been volunteering her time at O+ for about a decade. “I think it’s great for the community. It’s a great way to show our appreciation for the arts and what that means to us and give back in a way that’s meaningful to them,” said Dr. Ursitti.

Festival-goers were welcomed by live music, local vendors and artists working on murals to decorate the community. Film screenings, reiki healing circles and musical performances were held in the city’s Old Dutch Church, while the parking lot across the street from the church hosted more live artists, food and merch booths. A tour of the in-progress murals was also offered, inviting attendees to explore the town even more. One artist, Shawnee Miller, worked on a mural next to the venue throughout the weekend, painting on the side of Fairly New Thrift Shop at 58 Pearl St.

Miller, who is of Native American descent, wanted her mural to represent a modern take of her heritage, both the traditions and intergenerational trauma that has shaped her life. The piece, which depicts a trio of figures, is meant to represent the three sister crops of Indigenous American Culture — corn, bean and squash. 

“There’s a character interacting with a shadow figure,” she said. “It’s the acknowledgement of the parts of ourselves that have addiction or depression, because that’s actually like a big part of being Native, at least for my relatives.”

In between working on the mural, Miller utilized the healthcare services offered to her during the weekend, which she hasn’t gotten the chance to do in a while. Through the experience, she felt closer to the festival’s concept of unity as a whole. 

“I’m just a human body and I’m in this room with all these other human bodies,” she said. “I think it’s strange to be a public artist this weekend, standing for something and learning how to describe yourself in this removed and concise way, but because we’re all here, getting our blood pressure taken, we’re being human together.” 

After an opening performance from The Dresden Doll’s Amanda Palmer, Hudson Valley-based septet played a series of original songs on the Somewhere stage. Photo Credit: Alli Dempsey

This sentiment was echoed by Hudson Valley-based funk group What?, who performed at the Somewhere stage — across from Old Dutch Church — on opening night. This was their first time playing at O+ as a group, although they have heard about it frequently throughout their time in New Paltz. The musicians were given the opportunity to come early, before the festival started, to get dental work done.

“I went to a dentist office in town and got a full cleaning,” said lead vocalist, trumpet and trombone player Ryan Perrone. “It’s such a lovely thing because I did not pay for any of it. It was like a checkup; you told them about any concerns they have and I’m sure they could have diagnosed anything as well.” 

“In the case of artists and musicians, we’re trying to have a career that’s not going to give us health insurance,” added guitarist Dan Steen. “We can get our own plan, but I feel like a lot of the time, musicians don’t have the care that they need to play. The fact that they’re offering all of these things to musicians and artists is really beneficial for not only our community, but just like the [overall] community.”

The band, used to the hometown crowds at Snug Harbor and Bacchus Restaurant, Brewery and Billiards, felt welcomed into a town and audience they weren’t that familiar with prior. “I think it’s amazing that so many people want to specifically spend their time to go out to see live music,” said bassist Jeremiah Mahoney. “It’s a two way street; we play music all the time in our living room, but there’s so much missing without someone else who’s not an immediate participant.”

For more information about the O+ festival’s mission and to see more content from their past events, go to their website at  https://opositivefestival.org/.