Unhappy Holidays a Welcome Pause Amid End-of-Year Hubbub

By Jen Gilhoi

Dissonance’s third annual Unhappy Holidays event on Dec. 20 seemed to perfectly coincide with the very necessary need to hit the holiday-stress pause button. It came at a time when people were facing lengthy to-do lists and last-minute deadlines before the holiday break. It came at time when anticipation, anxiety and maybe even depressive thoughts were on the rise. It came when a pause was needed.

Dissonance’s alternative holiday gathering once again brought people together without alcohol, other substances or any of the season’s typical expectations. The evening kicked off with “Christmas Wish,” a song created and performed by Katy Vernon, Dissonance board member and ukulele songbird, a singer of sad songs on a happy instrument. The song is about missing loved ones during the holidays and was inspired by Katy’s work with Dissonance and reflections on the first Christmas her 12 year-old self spent without her mom, who had passed. The lilt of the ukulele hinted at happy, with grief and loss woven between, capturing the Dissonance vibe to a T.

Dissonance co-founder Sarah Souder Johnson welcomed everyone and walked through a breathing exercise to bring us into the present. Carl Atiya-Swanson, outgoing Dissonance board member, then took the stage as emcee to start the conversation with panelists about their art, the dissonance they experience in their lives and how they stay well (#howdoyoustaywell).

Comedian Brandi Brown—co-host of the podcast, “Bill Corbett’s Funhouse;” frequent blogger; and much more—covered topics from blackness, therapy and the St. Paul-Minneapolis rivalry to being Minnesotan on the East Coast. With her no-nonsense wit, Brandi shared one of her strategies for managing time, stress and her attention-deficit disorder: “Say no; saying no saves a lot of lives.” She also highly recommended therapy, and not just because it’s “a free workshop for jokes.”

Award-winning writer, community leader and activist Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay grew up in St. Paul as a refugee from Laos. Her story is certainly no joke. But she has a wit of her own, and there is a childlike lightness in her beautifully illustrated book, When Everything Was Everything. The audience listened intently as Saymoukda and her publisher read from the book on stage and shared vivid imagery of everything from bowl haircuts to hand-me-down jeans, worn while working in cucumber fields. The book represents a poetic slice of her life, hinting at the residual optimism she may have inherited from her mother.

Throughout the evening, artists shared their views and experiences with self-care and wellbeing, discussing not-so-easy-to-accept truths about their health and the actionable practices that help them. Musician Chris Tait, founder of Passenger Recovery, a Detroit-based nonprofit that helps touring musicians and travelers find support away from home, shared a story of a Saskatoon gig that shed clear light on the need for support, safe spaces and community while on the road.

Wellbeing for Chris, keyboardist for indie rock vets Electric Six, starts with self-awareness about the nature of his life as an artist and the reality of his life in recovery from addiction. For example, while it’s easy to inwardly focus in a creative songwriting zone, Chris says he’s acutely aware of the need to balance that with plenty of time spent outside of his own headspace, focused on others. Chris shared two songs—Oh Severed Head and Jonathan Turtle—that provided humorous food-for-thought, punctuated by surprising kazoo and whistling solos.

Lydia Liza shared her journey from a 16-year-old prodigy thrust early into an adult career to the 24-year-old woman today that is excelling musically and personally, after giving up alcohol and working on co-dependency issues. With her song I Just Want To Know You More, she sang about being in a relationship or space because you think it’s safe, rather than because it’s fulfilling or benefiting anyone. Heck yeah, she’s in recovery now and living her daily “citizen-life” while being creative. Of the challenges balancing health and work in the music business, she said: if you love your creative being enough, you will find the balance.

Will she find that balance on Twitter? Maybe not. Lydia touched on her 2016 remake of the holiday standard, Baby It’s Cold Outside, with Josiah Lemanski—a recording that went viral, gaining national attention for its message about the importance of consent in relationships. Proceeds from the song all go to The Sexual Violence Center of Minnesota; the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence; and the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, meaning the “trolls” on Twitter who blast the song as political-correctness-run-amok only support her cause by continuing to bring attention to it with their personal attacks. With that in mind,, Lydia said she has had some fun taking on the Twitter trolls but acknowledged that it all wears on her a bit. Brandi used her phone to pull up @lydializamusic on Twitter and handed the phone to Lydia so she could share some of the comments and her responses. Lydia said she enjoys the opportunity to be sassy, put the trolls in their place, and bring more attention to her cause but added that, for her own health and wellbeing, it’s best to put limits on her engagement.

We ended on a high note of acceptance. Group consensus built around the idea that it’s not a lot of fun to take our own advice or to look objectively and honestly at ourselves, but it’s necessary. Restore, compassion, honesty , authenticity—words and themes shared by our artists to close out the evening—wrapped up Unhappy Holidays in a bright red bow for all to take into the final days of the year. Happy Holidays!

Dissonance provides resources and actionable tools to stay healthy over the holidays and always. Shout-out to our amazing partners for the evening! They included our resource providers—MPR’s Art of Counseling (@ArtOfCounseling), Call to Mind (@CallToMindNow), The Emily Program Foundation (@EmilyProgram), the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation (@hazldnbettyford), Lyn-Lake Psychotherapy and Wellness, and Recovree (@recovree)—and our alcohol-free beverage partners, Hobby Farmer Switchel (on Instagram at @hobbyfarmercanning_co) and Hairless Dog (on Instagram at @hairless_dog_brewing).

Jen Gilhoi is a Dissonance board member.


Dissonance Collaborates with "Passenger Recovery" in Detroit

The two nonprofits look to help build a national network of artist-support organizations

One of our dreams at Dissonance is to establish a national network of like-minded organizations committed to helping artists maintain wellness, share their experiences with mental health and addiction recovery, and advocate for others. 

We are doing that work in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and, to some degree, in greater Minnesota. Now, we are looking to collaborate with other individuals and organizations pursuing similar missions.

One such organization is Passenger Recovery, a nonprofit founded by Christopher Tait, keyboardist for indie rock vets Electric Six. We met with Chris when his band's tour brought him to St. Paul for a recent show (opened by our friend Mark Mallman) at the venerable Turf Club. 

Sober Green Room Now Available in Twin Cities, Detroit

We whisked Chris away from the venue for a sober green room experience at the home of Jordan Hansen, a Dissonance supporter and blogger. We were actually testing out Chris's own idea. Passenger Recovery has a dedicated green-room space in downtown Detroit, available to any sober touring artist. After talking to Chris, we have decided to begin offering the same to artists traveling through Minneapolis-St. Paul, using a variety of spaces available through our local network. Chris had been on the road for a couple of weeks when we met, and he noted -- as others have to him -- how wonderful it was to get away from the van and the venue for a refreshing wellness break. 

New Tool to Find Support Meetings on the Road

For us, the time with Chris also provided an opportunity to discuss Passenger Recovery's new support-meeting finder called Compass. It's an innovative, GPS-enabled tool to help traveling artists locate Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Refuge Recovery (Buddhist-inspired) support meetings. The Compass database includes thousands of individual meetings, is growing every day, and likely will be expanded to include other types of mutual aid meetings as well. We’re grateful that Chris and his partner -- Electric Six bassist Matthew Tompkins -- did us the favor of making Minneapolis-St. Paul the second metro area to get populated, after Detroit. Check out the beta version of the tool and find a meeting near you, wherever you are.

On our Resources-Tools web page, we now have a link to Compass. The page also includes links for artists to request sober green rooms through us for Minneapolis-St. Paul and through Passenger Recovery for Detroit.

As we think about our dream of establishing a national network of organizations like ours, the immediate aim is to work with Passenger Recovery to create a northern corridor of artist support from Detroit to Minneapolis. We are now seeking like-minded organizations in Milwaukee and Chicago to fill in the major gaps. 

We are also beginning to establish relationships with other more far-flung organizations like the SIMS Foundation in Austin, Texas, and the BTD Foundation in New Orleans. If you are involved in such an organization, or know others who are, please contact us.  Let's build this national network/collective/community together.

Dissonance to host #LifeTake2 Stage at Hazelfest 2018

Dissonance will have an amplified presence at Hazelfest 2018, the one-of-a-kind sober music festival that in six years has grown to become one of the biggest highlights on Minnesota’s summer concert calendar. We hope you'll join us for this feel-good celebration of life, to be held Saturday, Aug. 4, from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on the campus of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Center City, Minn. 

For the first time, Dissonance will host Hazelfest's #LifeTake2 stage, expanded this year to accommodate a continuous run of performers and speakers right up until festival headliner Brother Ali performs on the main stage.

One big highlight on our #LifeTake2 Stage will be a 90-minute music and storytelling panel curated by our own board alum and current Hazelden Betty Ford Artist in Residence Johnny Solomon and his spouse Molly, both of the Twin Cities indie rock band Communist Daughter. The panel will feature popular Memphis-based singer-songwriter Mike Doughty; Jennifer and Jessica Clavin of the Los Angeles rock band Bleached; and San Diego renaissance man Al Howard, a songwriter, author and founder of the music collective and record label Redwoods Music. 

We will also hear from and talk to fantastic music artists like Dusty Heart, Tim Patrick and His Blue Eyes Band, and Kim and Quillan Roe of the Roe Family Singers; the inspiring multi-disciplinary arts duo Journeyman Ink from Dallas; comedian Evan Williams from New York City; recovery speaker Roger Bruner; and Sandy Swenson, author of Tending Dandelions, a book for moms whose families have been affected by addiction, in conversation with NY Times bestselling author William C. Moyers of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. We will also have Dissonance resources and t-shirts on hand at the #LifeTake2 Stage, including a limited number of shirts from our recent collaboration with 2015 Hazelfest headliner Caroline Smith (aka Your Smith).

While most Dissonance board members will spend the day facilitating the action on the #LifeTake2 Stage, one -- Katy Vernon -- will be among the artists showcased on the Hazelfest main stage, along with Dissonance friends Mary Bue, MaLLy, The Jorgensen Band, and Davina and the Vagabonds. In addition, our longtime friend and collaborator David Campbell is emceeing the main stage for the fifth straight year. And don't forget the great Chastity Brown and The Cactus Blossoms, performing ahead of headliner Brother Ali.

On top of all that, our friend and blog contributor Jordan Hansen will lead the music for two dance parties in the kids' area. And another friend, Woody McBride (aka DJ ESP), is producing the whole event.

What a day it will be. Outdoor music, speakers, food, exhibits, smiles, hugs and activities for the entire family. We love this festival. It captures what we're all about -- the intersection of art, wellness and community. 

Tickets are just $15 in advance (the best valued ticket of the summer) and available now at They will be $25 at the door, and children 12 and under can attend for free. For more information, please visit the HazelFest website.

Hope to see you there!



   Saturday, Aug 4