Utah Business

The Park City Song Summit is a sober Coachella.

The Park City Song Summit is one of the latest Park City events to look forward to, but this music festival's focus is different than most.

Mental health takes center stage at the inaugural Park City Song Summit

The Park City Song Summit is one of the latest Park City events to look forward to, but this music festival's focus is different than most.

The Park City Song Summit, one of the latest Park City events to look forward to, is recreating the modern music festival—and it’s the opposite of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. 

This weekend, some of the nation’s most prolific songwriters, podcasters, venue owners, and Americana music fans will gather to hear their favorite artists play at venues up and down Park City’s Main Street and attend exclusive conversations with industry leaders. 

Incorporating programming aspects from events like the Sundance Film Festival, TEDx, and early renditions of South by Southwest, the Park City Song Summit is breaking through a handful of “firsts” and “onlys.” It will be the only multi-day music event in Park City and the first event in Utah to incorporate intimate conversations with musicians and industry leaders alongside live performances. 

It’s also the opposite of other music festivals around the country that are notorious for musician and attendee drug use (see: Lollapalooza). By incorporating sober green rooms, addiction recovery support meetings, and on-call mental health professionals, summit director Ben Anderson is placing a significant emphasis on issues that have been previously ignored by the music community like sobriety, mental health, and suicide prevention.

“There’s nothing else like this in the country, although I’d be surprised if we don’t see more of this [event] style popping up,” he says. “There are a lot of people who don’t want to stand out in a dusty field and have the band be the background music to their party. They want to be engaged with the artists and the artistry they bring to the world.”

Song Summit attendees will have the opportunity to listen in on Lab conversations with the likes of Fred Armisen, Andrew Bird, Anaïs Mitchell, Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, and Mavis Staples; or catch live sets from Father John Misty, Langhorne Slim, Josh Ritter, and more. The atmosphere is meant to be collaborative, and the Song Summit website teases street busking and “flash jams” in surprise locations. 

Unlike large music gatherings such as Coachella or Lollapalooza, Anderson’s goal with the Park City Song Summit isn’t to sell thousands of tickets. Instead, he aims to connect individuals in the music industry—and their fans—together in new, healthier, and more humanizing ways.

“We are different, and we are proudly different. This is something that the music industry needs,” Anderson says. “We’re inverting the pyramid of the traditional music festival, and we’re very excited to be a disrupter in that regard.”

The resulting program has a “by artists, for artists” feel, Anderson says, and this was a Park City event created with music lovers in mind. 

“It’s like having your favorite artists in your living room,” he says. “It’s a chance to really hear the connection between the stories behind their songs and their processes, and how their experiences led to the three-minute songs we get to hear and make a part of our own lives.”

Though scheduled Labs span all topics, certain conversations won’t shy away from “taboo” discussions about difficulties in the industry, including mental health and substance abuse. Anderson has also ensured that guests of the Song Summit will have all the resources they need to cope with industry pressures while under the event’s spotlight. 

“There’s an obligation on behalf of promoters and producers across this country to do more for the mental health of our artists and not just sell tickets to their event and move them onto the next town. I feel very strongly about that,” he says. “I think we need to do more because we can do more.”

“We’re inverting the pyramid of the traditional music festival, and we're very excited to be a disrupter in that regard.”

According to a University of Westminster and MusicTank study, 68.5 percent of music industry respondents (most of them musicians) said they have experienced depression—about three times the average person—and 71.1 percent said they had experienced severe anxiety or panic attacks. 

“When you overlay that with touring musicians, it becomes even higher,” Anderson says. “For so long, it’s just been accepted in the music industry that ‘sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll’ was just part of the lifestyle and the creative process. Well, all that’s hogwash.” 

Treating the dark cloud of mental illness and addiction was pivotal in Anderson’s own life, he says. And if he can help a single artist or attendee do the same, he feels he’s done his job.

“We want our artists to feel they can do that because everyone in this world is in some way impacted by music,” he says. “It’s a universal language and a universal salve. Through music, there is healing. Through music, there is love, and love is the ultimate healer.” 

The Song Summit will be another world-class addition to Park City’s event roster and the first to center around the music industry. When it comes to fostering a more vibrant culture in the state of Utah, Anderson is of the mind that a rising tide raises all ships. 

“Park City was known for a long time as a mining town, then an Olympics and winter sports town, then a Sundance town. But music continues to be very prevalent here and in Salt Lake,” he says. “We feel strongly about bringing a lot of great music here so that artists aren’t just seeing it as a routing stop, but rather a destination, because of how beautiful it is and how wonderful our attendees are.”

Mekenna is the editor of Utah Business magazine and a graduate of the print journalism program at Utah State University. She has written about business, music and culture for publications like Business Insider, Time Out, SLUG Magazine, Visit Salt Lake and the Standard-Examiner. She loves hiking, thrifting, reading and going on camping trips with her partner in their 1986 Land Cruiser.