If the significance of Blue October's current tour escaped fans' collective consciousness before its sudden cancellation last October, it should make the resumed itinerary that much more poignant as the group returns to the road this spring.
Officially titled "Pick Up the Phone," the tour and its title sponsor is focused on reducing the stigma associated with mental health issues, specifically depression and suicide.
The irony of the tour is that just days before it was to launch last October, Blue October's lead singer and spokesperson for Pick Up the Phone, Justin Furstenfeld, suffered an extreme anxiety attack, which led to his hospitalization and the last-minute cancellation of the entire itinerary.
Furstenfeld, who suffers from bi-polar disorder, is amazingly candid and forthcoming about the issues he deals with, which make him a perfect spokesperson for the cause.
His official statement, following the sudden cancellation last October read: "Mental health diseases are unpredictable and on the eve of this tour in support of a cause that means the world to me, I am in need of time to heal from a setback in my own personal life, which is extreme enough to need hospitalization. I hope that my action to seek the strength and safety of treatment will inspire others that are suffering to do the same."
With treatment completed and Furstenfeld ready to face the road, the band resumed the rescheduled tour in early April with stops in 17 cities, including the April 29 performance at Cain's Ballroom. Perhaps the circumstance surrounding the band now make the tour that much more appropriate and will create even more of an impact with fans.
Furstenfeld has always been fairly open about the issues he struggles with, giving a glance into his battles in the band's songs, such as struggling with depression and self worth in the band's breakout hit "Hate Me" from the 2006 album, Foiled. He continues to explore his struggles and recovery on Blue October's latest disc, Approaching Normal, with songs like "Weight of the World" and "Picking Up Pieces." The latest single "Should Be Loved," was released and promoted in conjunction with the launch of the current tour and shows a lighter side to the band, while still addressing issues of self worth. Even so, pushing a new song isn't Furstenfeld's primary concern.
The tour's real focus, according to the singer, is to raise awareness of suicide and depression. "When people deal with depression," Furstenfeld said, "their confidence is stripped away -- sometimes so badly they can't even talk about it.
"About 30,000 people each year attempt suicide, and roughly 5,000 of those are teens. That means approximately 25,000 people never got a grasp on how to communicate and find help."
Based in Austin, Blue October has strong ties to Tulsa, having cut its teeth and grown as a band in our local clubs. As such, Tulsa fans already know what an engaging show the band, and particularly Furstenfeld, present on stage. Last year's DFest performance was one of Blue October's best Tulsa shows in recent memory.
Putting on a great show and entertaining the crowd is still of primary importance, but with this tour, the focus has changed a bit.
Furstenfeld is openly addressing issues and talking about them on stage without killing the impact of the show. In his own words, "We're just trying to help get people educated and raise awareness of the issues."
The band was roughly a week into the tour when I spoke to Furstenfeld, and while he said that the response to date had been amazing, he also said the tone was a little different than past tours.
"This time, it's less about partying and more about the issues," he said.
Considering the impact that depression and bi-polar disorder have had on Furstenfeld, he was eager to get involved and partner with Pick Up The Phone to help bring the issues to light on tour.
The Pick Up the Phone Tour was created through a partnership between two well known non-profit organizations: To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) and the Kristin Brooks Hope Center.
To Write Love On Her Arms might be the more well-known organization amongst the younger demographic as Jamie Tworkowski's original story (written in 2006) about a friend's struggle with drug abuse, cutting and depression, paired with the T-shirts he printed to help pay for her treatment and recovery, grabbed national attention and became a national movement and full-time commitment.
Since then, a number of bands, including Paramore, Switchfoot, Thrice, Anberlin and Bayside, to name a few, have gotten involved to help spread TWOLHA's message of hope.
The Kristin Brooks Hope Center (KBHC) might not be as prominent in many people's conscience, but it's no less important.
Formed after his wife, Kristin Brooks, committed suicide in 1998, Reese Butler founded KBHC and created the National Hopeline Network, 1-800-SUICIDE. The National Hopeline Network is comprised of 200 community crisis centers in 48 states. Callers to 1-800-SUICIDE are then routed to the closest crisis center for quick referrals and assistance. Since 1998, the hotline has received more than 3 million calls and rescued more than 4,000 individuals who had already initiated suicide plans, making it one of the most utilized sources in the US.
PostSecret.com has also partnered with the tour to help raise awareness of the issues at hand. Founded by Frank Warren, the project is a collection of nearly 500,000 personally decorated postcards anonymously addressing thoughts, issues and secrets the creators would otherwise not talk about. With exposure through MySpace, postsectret.com and images featured in All American Rejects' video for "Dirty Little Secret," the organization has raised more than $210,000 for 1-800-SUICIDE.
Each of these organizations will be represented at the concert with more information for those who are interested or want to get involved.
Although depression and suicide are serious issues, don't expect the evening to remain too heavy. Furstenfeld does openly address the issues he faces and takes an opportunity to raise awareness, but it's still a rock concert. You can expect to hear many of your favorite Blue October songs and with a stop in Tulsa, a few early cuts will likely be pulled out for long-time fans. Stars of Track and Field and Hurricane Bells will open the show, which begins at 8pm.
Before wrapping up our conversation, Furstenfeld reiterated what the Pick Up the Phone tour is all about for him.
"The main issue is we're just trying to share information with people and raise awareness -- and to help people who may not know where to turn."
Tickets are still available for Blue October and the Pick Up the Phone Tour at Cain's Ballroom Thursday night, April 29. Tickets are $32 at the door to see one of Tulsa's favorite bands and support an issue that often goes unaddressed.
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