As the leaves are approaching their peak and the October air turns brisk, Kingston becomes alive with excitement for its annual O+ Festival. This not for profit festival was started in 2010 as a way to celebrate art and music, while also providing healthcare and wellness services for under-insured members of the creative community. It is a community-supported, grass-roots festival and takes place across three days in a range of different venues primarily located in the uptown region of the city of Kingston.
I felt especially lucky that this festival fell on the first weekend of Vassar’s October break. As a native of Kingston it is something that I look forward to each year and many of my friends travel back from school to enjoy the festivities. Unfortunately, the annual kick-off parade was dampened by the rain, but luckily most other events were held within indoor venues. I first met up with friends at Keegan Ale’s, which has been recognized as the Best Brewery in The Hudson Valley and in the larger New York State. As we listened to the local band, Kyle and the Pity Party, I appreciated what a varied audience was at the festival. Because the wristbands for the festival are sold with a sliding scale, it is fully accessible. At this venue, among many others including Backstage Studio Productions (BSP), the Stockade Tavern, and the Anchor, patrons could enjoy a drink and listen to some incredible acts.
On the outside of Keegan’s, several beautiful murals had been painted for the current O+ positive festival and some remained from previous years. The artists of these murals, which can be found on large walls throughout town, contain themes relevant to Kingston’s history and character. A few murals this year portrayed Sojourner Truth, who had a deep history in Kingston, while others acted as commentary about environmental issues and other pressing issues. These murals brighten up the city, but also ask viewers to think critically about the subject matter. The artists of these murals come from both near, expanding Kingston’s creative community.
There were shuttles available to bring patrons between venues in different parts of town, though it was also possible to walk. I saw several other music performances throughout the weekend including Widowspeak, Screaming Females, And the Kids, and the Connor Kennedy Band. These performances took place in BSP, where the backroom theater had been recently renovated to create a vaudeville vibe, the 721 media center, and at the Tin Roof sessions.
The 721 media center also had beautiful murals painted on it’s outside walls, but also contained several installation pieces. A group called Cave Dogs used paper cut-outs and light to cast stunning narrative silhouettes on the walls of the old, industrial space. The Tin Roof sessions were daytime performances in an alleyway that is otherwise not utilized. The bands who played these sessions had already played evening performances in indoor venues, but were given a second opportunity to play.
Food and drinks were an essential part of the festival weekend. On Saturday morning, I joined many other locals for the farmer’s market. The cafes and coffee shops were a buzz and the farm stands offered a variety of meat, cheeses, vegetables, and local crafts. Lagunita’s was O+’s largest sponsor so their beers were available by donation at almost every venue. Though weekend evenings are usually pretty busy for uptown restaurants, this weekend brings a unique amount of business to the local restaurants and shops. In cooperation with the festival, most businesses offered discounts for O+ patrons, with particularly good discounts for those who donated $50 to receive the O+ donor card.
Beyond the food and music, the exchange of health and wellness was provided for participants and volunteers at a number of offices throughout the city. There was also a great deal of opportunities for patrons to enjoy this aspect of O+. During the day and evening, there were a number of lectures, yoga workshops, massage therapies, and meditation sessions. Not only was this supportive to patrons, but it also provided publicity for health and wellness services in Kingston.
The O+ is a fantastic festival that brings the Kingston community together, while also drawing in outside to support local business and experience the creative energies of the Hudson Valley. Perhaps most importantly, the festival provides the health and wellness care that the creative community deserves. Though the festival has spread to other parts of the country, I hope that it will retain the community and grass-roots values that are so essential to the function of O+.