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.

Embracing the "Ugly Beauty" of Our Dissonant Lives

By Kevin O’Connor

I don’t really identify as an artist. But I am a creative person, albeit a highly reluctant and shy one. I write, paint and plow my way furtively through musical expression. And I create two-wheeled contraptions that are better labeled as art than conveyance. It gives me joy to ride them and even more satisfaction to build them for friends and family.

As a public radio programmer and host, I have devoted my life to supporting the creative endeavors of other artists, mostly musicians. I consider my own talents highly subordinate to theirs and am grateful to be in their company. I suppose there is an art to presenting the art of others, though I don’t expect the MacArthur Foundation grants to be rolling in anytime soon.

But dissonance? Oh my! I can certainly speak to that. In jazz and improvisational music, dissonance is never shunned. In fact, the most revered jazz artists always embraced atonality and what Thelonious Monk described in a famous piece as “Ugly Beauty.”

From the time I could hear notes, I was drawn not to melody or catchy phrasing but to tones of a decidedly more jarring nature. This was a logical response to a noisy, chaotic and traumatic childhood, or so I theorized.

My earliest heroes were people like John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Albert Ayler, and Charlie Parker. Less astonishingly, these and many other geniuses paid dearly for their visitations with addiction, mental illness, or both.

It’s pretty etched in jazz mythology that everybody took heroin so they could play like Charlie Parker. A more apt exploration might be to imagine what he would have sounded like without the junk. He’d have been faster, for sure, which really boggles the mind.

It is these dangerous myths, my connection to art and artists, and my own desire to be well that drew me to the Dissonance community. I had heard about the nonprofit from a colleague and attended its Unhappy Holidays event last year in Minneapolis. The idea of creating safe spaces where creative people with (or without) mental health and addictive issues can share a bit of solidarity and comfort resonated with me instantly.

Freely sharing support—however that manifests itself—among artists who identify as depressed, anxious and/or chemically dependent is nothing short of inspirational.  Dissonance is at once focused and inclusive. And, frankly, it serves such a clear need that it’s surprising such communities are so rare.

As for me, I certainly was experiencing dissonance years ago.

Some kids fantasize about being rock or movie stars, practicing in front of a mirror with a hairbrush microphone and broom guitar. Well, at age 10, I was practicing what I anticipated to be my first remarks at an AA meeting. Out loud. Tears and dramatic inflection were well rehearsed by the time I was 12. I wish I were joking, but that’s how hard-wired we were in my family toward a sort of soused pre-destiny. I confess to a slight saturation of after-school specials as well. Who knew Mary from “Little House” could play drunk so well? Or was that Laura?

All too often, it is the creative person who runs toward the fire. For many of us, that impulse is always there, despite varied – and often damaging – results. Finding a balance between following the risky calls to the fire and seeking safety and serenity is a goal I have not yet fully achieved, and precisely why I’m grateful for a community like Dissonance.

Kevin O’Connor is the music director and afternoon host at KBEM-FM, the overnight host at Classical Minnesota Public Radio, and a person in long-term recovery.


Editor’s Note: You are invited to the Warming House, an alcohol-free listening room in South Minneapolis, for a Happy Hour on Thursday, Oct. 26, at 5pm. It’s a chance to learn about the mission and programming of Dissonance, the network of resources and how to get involved, from events to blogs like this one to board service. There will be refreshments, light snacks and music from Theyself. It’s an open invitation to come, connect and unwind a bit.

Not Today

By Katy Vernon

Editor’s Note: This is the second dispatch from Katy during her 2017 tour of the United Kingdom. This one is from Brighton, England, where, in addition to performing, she was busy writing songs like Look to the Sea. Make sure to also read her first post - The H.A.LT. Tour.


BRIGHTON, ENGLAND -- I'm now two weeks into my seven-week UK tour. It's my first time traveling back to play music in the country where I was born and raised, the first time I have toured alone anywhere, and perhaps most importantly, my first extended time alone, period.

I am also undertaking all of this excitement, anxiety and adventure without the crutch of alcohol.

Almost a year ago, I sat and listened to a woman discuss how she took a business trip to France. She was alone in a hotel room thousands of miles away from her family. Wine was served with every meal, and there was a fully stocked mini bar in her room. She didn't drink. She was proud of herself, and as I watched others congratulate her on her recovery, I couldn't imagine “that” ever being me.

Of course, at the time, I didn't fully believe I had an addiction. But—in what should have been a sign—I also couldn't imagine having the freedom to drink without witnesses or judgment, and not doing it.

Here I am, though. Two weeks into a tour of Great Britain, where there are pubs on every corner and it’s legal to drink on the streets, and where single-serve wine is sold in convenience stores. Every day I walk by literally dozens of places where I could sit and have one quiet, secret glass.

Not today.

I am keeping promises to myself on this trip – promises that have come to mean a lot to me.

I used to feel naked out in public, meeting new people. Only alcohol put me at ease. But I’m finding a more natural ease now. Every time I walk into a new venue, I have the choice to either take someone up on the offer of a drink or to introduce “sober me.” As soon as I let the words “I don't drink” come out of my mouth, I feel like I am holding myself accountable. Promise kept. I also feel thankful for how understanding people always seem to be. And how much easier it is to be me, when that’s all I have to be.

Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise, but instead of feeling left out at these venues and on this tour, I feel much more fully engaged than ever. I pay more attention than I ever used to. I soak in so much more.

It’s been 20 years since I lived in the UK. And, back then, I never traveled much. So, it has been mildly terrifying to navigate my way around. But all of the steps I have taken this past year have strangely prepared me for it. I have learned how to be more open to life. I have grown more comfortable with planning what I can and accepting whatever outcomes result. With train tickets to book, and shows to play, I can't completely live in the moment. But during my “in between” times, I can comfortably wander the streets, sit and write, and take time to watch people and listen. All by myself.

It's a luxury that I know I might not have again. While I’m able to cover expenses with shows—and could make another tour work in that way—I doubt I’ll ever have this amount of time again to travel. My family in Minnesota has been amazingly understanding and generous, and in fact encouraged me to take the opportunity to do this tour in the first place. Perhaps they knew I was ready. Or what I needed. Either way, I am grateful.

Instead of being lonely, I am learning how to be alone.

Katy Vernon is a Minneapolis/St. Paul-based singer-songwriter. She grew up in London, England, and has been writing and singing as long as she can remember.