Summer is prime season for open-air music in Minnesota, so it only makes sense that later this month Gluekstock, an outdoor concert featuring performances by patients and staff at Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, will be held for the fourth year in a row.
But don’t pack your picnic basket and blanket. The guest list for Gluekstock is exclusive — the event is held on hospital grounds and only staff and patients who have earned privileges can attend.
Carol Olson, Minnesota Security Hospital executive director of forensic services, said that the entire Gluekstock event, including the months of practice and preparation leading up to the big day, is its own form of therapy.
“This event grew out of a recognition that music is one of the modalities that helps open people up in their recovery,” she said. The hospital has historically offered music programs for patients, but interest in making music has increased at the facility in recent years, bolstered in part by the popularity of The Therapeutics, a band composed of staff members and patients that performs on campus and occasionally at events in the town of St. Peter.
The Therapeutics was born, Olson said, when “a group of staff came forward with an interest in starting a band that would do some performances and slowly draw in patients to participate.”
Matt Johnson, Security Hospital skills development specialist and Therapeutics band member, explained that the group developed organically.
“It actually grew through word of mouth,” he said. “It started when somebody from the Rec Department said, ‘It is National Guitar Day. Matt, can you come do a little explanation of the guitar and play on the unit?’ People were so interested that I began offering some lessons, and it kind of took off from there.”
A growing music program
The increased interest in musical performance has been a good thing for the hospital community, Olson said.
“It has really gone the direction that we had hoped it would. There has been lot of interest. We invested in some new instruments, and individual staff members are now teaching patients how to use those instruments so they can eventually participate in performances. It builds community, provides a creative outlet.”
At the first Gluekstock, performances were limited mainly to staff, Olson said, but in years two and three the number of patient performers steadily increased.
Mark Elsen has been a patient at Security Hospital since 2011. He’s a member of The Therapeutics, as well as a solo performer, playing guitar and performing his own compositions as well as covers of some of his favorite songs by bands like the Stone Temple Pilots and The Vines. He’s been involved in Gluekstock since the beginning, and he likes to encourage his fellow patients to get involved, too.
“This year the set list was developed with 100 percent patient involvement,” Elsen said. “The show will last about two hours with 25 songs by 16 performers including staff and patients.”
The planning process for Gluekstock is a learning experience for patients, said Kim Turner, Security Hospital forensic examiner and a member of the Therapeutics. “They give everybody who wants to an opportunity to work on the set list and create the show. It is a good opportunity for everyone to have a role.”
At Gluekstock, talent comes in many forms, from solo performers like Elsen, who sings and plays the guitar; to Naomi Gaines, a patient and vocalist who said that she sang in choirs and a cappella groups in her native Chicago. The Therapeutics still play a generous set, including a mix of genres, from rock ‘n’ roll to country to blues.
“We work with patients of all skill levels,” Johnson said. “I don’t think we’ve ever said no to anybody who wanted to be involved. We have singers in this group like Mark, who could probably go out into the community and play in a band, and then we have people who’ve never performed in public before.”
This year, Elsen said he will likely be performing one of his own songs at Gluekstock. “It’s called ‘Change,’ and it has to do with personal change and positivity and inspiration,” he said. “Sharing my story with people through my singing as been a real positive thing for me.”
‘Ground zero’ for artists
To an outsider, a psychiatric hospital might not seem like fertile ground for creativity, but Gaines and Elsen both said that they have found their time at the hospital to be rich with opportunity for artistic expression.
“In my opinion, this hospital is ground zero if you are an artist,” Gaines said. “If you say you want to inspire people with your music, this is the place to do it. A lot of people here are fighting a hard battle just to get out of bed in the morning. If your music works here it, can work anywhere. This is where it is needed the most.”
Elsen agrees. “Art is an inspiration for people who are going through hard times,” he said. “When you are here, you have time to find the music inside yourself.”
Maybe it’s the fact that while being treated at Security Hospital, patients are separated from the outside world, giving them time to focus on their creativity.
“I’ve written my most powerful music while incarcerated,” Gaines said. “Being here gives me the opportunity to tell my story. I have this voice inside me that’s crying to get out. I create music for myself, to lift my spirits. If it works to bring me out of my depression or sadness, that means it is going to work for somebody who is also in that dark place.”
And when a person is at their lowest point, music can be a comfort, she added.
“Many famous artists struggled silently with mental illness. When everything is stripped away, music is what sustains me. It is in my heart and my mind and dwells in my soul. That is the one gift that I have that comforts me. I want to share that comfort with others.”
Community building event
Even people who don’t actually perform at Gluekstock take pride in the event, said Jason Anderson, Security Hospital special teacher and Therapeutics band member.
“This has been a campus-wide initiative,” Anderson said. “It is really exciting to see it happen every year. It is a big benefit to patients, and a range of staff members enjoy doing their part to make it happen. Every department on campus helps out. We couldn’t do this event without the help of Buildings, Grounds — Carpentry built a stage, and the electricians put in power strips. It is fantastic.”
Throughout the year, The Therapeutics also perform at other events on campus, including community cafes or canteens. It’s good practice for future Gluekstock performers, and good entertainment for hospital patients and staff.
“We try to create a coffee-shop setting with tables and drinks where there might be a musical group off playing in the corner,” Johnson said. Those smaller events are much appreciated, Elsen said, but Gluekstock is still the main course, one of the most highly anticipated events of the hospital’s year.
“It’s a wonderful day,” he said. “The organizers do a great job, and the experience of putting on an event like this is therapeutic for patients. Everybody gets to go outside, get together, have a hot dog, a popsicle, a little popcorn and just enjoy themselves listening to the music. There is a lot of talent here: It’s great to see it all at once.”