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Columbus groups partner to bring mission-based music festival

Gov. Mike DeWine and President Michael Drake reveal the 2019 Wonderbus Music & Arts Festival lineup on Apr. 2. Credit: Credit: Edward Sutelan | Editor-in-Chief

In the parking lot of Chemical Abstract Services just north of Ohio State’s Fawcett Center, leaders of the Columbus community unveiled a new music festival coming to the city in August.

WonderBus, a festival led by event production company Elevation, will welcome several Ohio-based bands and other renowned artists to the lawn in front of CAS to raise money for mental health research on Saturday, Aug. 17, and Sunday, Aug. 18.

In attendance on Tuesday were Gov. Mike DeWine and Ohio State University President Michael Drake, as well as representatives of the Ohio House of Representatives and Columbus City Council, members of the Columbus music scene and university faculty.

Through a partnership with the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, The Shipyard and CAS, Elevation will host this festival with all proceeds going to mental health research funding at the medical center, focusing on teen depression and suicide.

“This combines two things that are really passions of mine: one is promoting Ohio,” DeWine said. “But it also combines with a purpose. As I travel around this state and I look at the challenges that we face, nothing is more heartbreaking than to see the [young] lives that are being lost to suicide.”

The full musical lineup unveiled by DeWine and Drake consists of Walk The Moon, The Revivalists, Bishop Briggs, X Ambassadors, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Jenny Lewis, Chelsea Cutler, Parachute, morgxn, Magic Giant, Future Generations, Effee, Clubhouse, The Floorwalkers, VOILA and many more.

Forrest Weihe, keyboardist for local band Clubhouse, said that it is wild and “kind of surreal” to be performing at the music festival, but that there is an extra element of excitement because it is in support of mental health.

His bandmate, guitarist Ari Blumer, said “Mental health, in general, has affected most people I know, particularly I think with our generation and the younger generations it’s become, if not a bigger issue, at least a more talked-about issue. Talking about it is the first step in fixing some of the issues. It feels really good to be a part of something like that and it feels bigger than yourself, which is a great feeling.”

Michael Dennis, the vice president of CAS, said that when the chemical information nonprofit received a request to host the festival on its lawn, it immediately said yes because “this is not just another music festival.”

“This is a music festival with a purpose,” Dennis said. “This aligns perfectly with CAS’ mission to improve people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry. We do that in part by creating the world’s best scientific information solutions to empower discovery and innovation.”

Denny Young, one of the founders of Elevation, said he and fellow former IMG executive Steve Lindecke partnered in 2016 to start a mission-based music festival in Cleveland. They began to gain traction in the northern Ohio community, with partners like Michelle Wesley stepping in to help fund the group’s efforts.

Then, Young said he was approached by Cliff Chenfeld, co-founder of the record label and music publishing company Razor & Tie, who was “a big fan of what we were doing.” Chenfeld, an Ohio State alumnus, wanted to bring a similar festival to Columbus and, with the help of Rick Milenthal, CEO of digital marketing agency The Shipyard and fellow Ohio State alumnus, helped fund the event.

“They wanted to be the two to bring it to Columbus,” Young said.

Milenthal collaborated with the Wexner Medical Center to put together the program. He said he has extensive experience being involved with mental health services, but said it “became real” for his wife and himself when Milenthal’s business partner lost his 16-year-old son to depression.

“It wasn’t just a statistic,” Milenthal said. “This is now family. This was our chosen family, The Shipyard, and they have joined thousands of others in this state that have had such a loss. So we decided it was time to step it up. Do something about this. So when we had a chance to help bring world-class music to this community but also work with Ohio State to better lives and families, we were all in.”

Drake said mental health issues have been prominent at Ohio State, with several students losing their lives to suicide every year. He said that the university has been working to develop and improve mental health services at the university for the past several years, including having commissioned a mental health task force to develop a set of recommendations for how to improve counseling services.

Receiving community support for mental health is important, Drake said, and as a fan of music and a board member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he is excited to bring music to Columbus, especially since it will be “music for a purpose.”

“Anything that we can do to help young people be healthier and to help deal with the issues of mental health and really to help anything that we can to prevent suicide I think is a very, very important thing for us to do,” Drake said. “These have been very high priorities for us at the university for many years.”

The festival will run from Aug. 17 to 18. Tickets are currently on sale at wonderbusfest.com. Single-day passes begin at $45 and full weekend packages begin at $65.

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