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The Evolution of O+ 

An Alternative Health Exchange

  • Illustration by Annie Internicola

Hannah Mohan arrived at the O+ Festival in 2013 ready to play—and get her teeth cleaned. The lead vocalist and guitarist for the indie pop band And the Kids was looking forward to the weekend-long Kingston event during which musicians and artists perform in exchange for free health care.

She wasn't looking forward to being reminded that she should have her wisdom teeth extracted. "I didn't have coverage at the time," says Mohan, echoing the reality of many musicians and artists who don't necessarily have traditional health insurance. But, in the spirit of the festival, her dentist made her an offer: Bring And the Kids back to Kingston to perform and, while visiting, he would extract her wisdom teeth for free.

That simple transaction, which bridges the medical and creative communities, is the foundation of O+ (pronounced O-positive). The 2016 festival, which includes performances by singer Sondre Lerche, Kaki King, and Chaos Chaos, takes place October 7 to 9 in Kingston.

The foundation of O+ was laid at a party in 2010, when painter Joe Concra listened to dentist friend Dr. Thomas Cingel talk about the challenge of bringing one of his favorite bands to Kingston. At the time, there wasn't a devoted venue anchoring the Uptown Kingston music scene, and Wall Street had its share of empty storefronts. How could a bunch of people get a band in Kingston?

Cingel had an unusual thought: He could clean their teeth.

Concra and fellow Kingstonians Alex Marvar and Denise Orzo ran with the thought, calling musical and medical friends to organize a festival in which musicians and artists would perform in exchange for health care. The festival was founded at a time when, according to a Future of Music Coalition survey, 33 percent of musicians said they didn't have health insurance, twice the average of uninsured Americans. "It was straight up, like, 'We didn't have access to health care, and this would be a good way to get this going,'" says Concra. The first O+ Festival, organized in less than three months, was in October 2010 with 35 bands, 15 visual artists, and about 50 health care providers.

Three years later, Mohan was told by her O+ dentist to return to Kingston for a wisdom teeth extraction. Her dentist? Dr. Thomas Cingel. "That meant the world to me," says Mohan about Cingel's empathy. "I just feel like the whole [O+] community understands worth and value and love."

O+ is hoping those feelings can expand both year-round and nationwide. What began as a weekend-long festival in Kingston has become a movement to keep creative people healthy, from New York to Petaluma, California.


Dr. Mark Josefski was one of the first physicians involved in the planning of the 2010 O+ Festival. The Kingston native and attending physician at the Institute for Family Health's Kingston Family Health Center was asked if he might be interested in contributing his services to the inaugural event.

Josefski and other physicians, nurses, and specialists—including chiropractors, social workers, psychiatrists, acupuncturists, aromatherapists, and reiki healers—work during the festival at the clinic inside Kingston's Old Dutch Church. Any musician, artist, or O+ volunteer can receive free consultation and treatment simply by signing up at the church during the festival. Dental appointments must be arranged in advance.

At a typical consultation, which may last up to 45 minutes, the patient discusses with a nurse his or her physical situation and family history. The nurse will also inform the patient of the services available at the clinic. Sometimes the services, such as the simple touch of a massage therapist, are foreign to patients.

"People who are on the road will certainly have chronic issues they're dealing with," says Shannon Light, a registered nurse and contracted travel nurse, and the nurse-in-charge at the O+ clinic. "Our lead massage therapist has a special place in her heart for drummers. She can just lay her hand on someone's shoulder for 10 seconds to know if they're a drummer or not."

The musicians and artists who receive care at O+ remember it well. Anna Fox Rochinski, lead vocalist and guitarist of the psychedelic indie rock band Quilt, says she felt a connection with energy therapist and aromatherapist Anne Vermilye.

"I look forward to meeting with her again in Kingston as soon as my schedule opens back up," says Fox Rochinski.

Speaking of...

  • The Kingston-based festival of health and art goes national to change healthcare.


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