Saint John Benefit Concert Shines Light On Mental Health

Melissa Hunt is among the performers at Music Is Freedom
Melissa Hunt is among the performers at Music Is Freedom

From running a successful independent music label at the turn of the century to bringing acts like the Strawbs and Alan Frew to perform in Saint John to frequenting the city’s musical haunts, Port City resident Jeff Liberty owes his life to music.

While that statement may ring hollow for some, Liberty believes every word of it. Following a horrific event in the early 90’s that left him suffering from depression and anxiety, as well as from post-traumatic stress disorder, Liberty’s recovery has been helped by the healing power of music.

This Saturday evening, at Saint John’s Cask & Kettle Gastropub, in an effort to pay it forward, Liberty is playing host to the sixth annual Music Is Freedom event, a celebration of some of the region’s top talent. All funds raised by the event via the optional cover charge and silent auction will be donated to MindCare New Brunswick, an initiative of the Saint John Regional Hospital Foundation that is dedicated to promoting mental wellness and providing services to those living with mental illness.

“I foolishly never dealt with my issues; I just always assumed I would get over it or be able to work past it without professional help,” Liberty says. “After years of just pushing it aside, it all came to a head in 2000 when my marriage fell apart and I suffered a nervous breakdown; I lost my kids to foster care and had to declare bankruptcy.”

Liberty spent a year in the care of the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, many months of which he spent under suicide watch. During his treatment and following his discharge from the facility, Liberty took refuge in music as he was forced to essentially rebuild his life.

He began working at IKEA, regained custody of his children, and began piecing his life back together before eventually relocating to New Brunswick where he met Cynthia, his partner and wife of the last 15 years.

It is this second chance he has been given that inspires him to put events like Music Is Freedom together. Liberty has also dedicated a significant amount of time in the region’s school systems, sharing aspects of his tragic past with students in a bid to show there is no shame in dealing with mental illness. More importantly, he wants to serve as an example that with the right assistance, those confronted with mental illness can go on to live healthy lives.

“It took me a long time to be in a position where I was able to share my story. I’m not going to lie; it was a frightening prospect to really put myself out there in a public forum, but I came to realize it was something I needed to do. A lot of people don’t talk about their struggles with mental illness. We have come such a long way in the last decade, but there is unfortunately still a lot of stigma associated with it,” he says.

“It is that stigma that I am looking to eliminate. The fact is, I am just the organizer of the Music Is Freedom event; it is the greater community at large, including the artists and the venue, that help play an even more important role in helping bring people together, reassuring them there is no shame in battling mental health issues.”

Among those scheduled to perform on Saturday is New Brunswick country star Chris Cummings along with up-and-comer Melissa Hunt. Previous Music Is Freedom events have hosted the likes of Matt Andersen and Ken Tobias.

“A lot of the artists who play are content to let the music do the talking, but with this type of event, you also have those willing to share their stories of dealing with mental illness themselves or with their loved ones. It is the kind of thing that hits close to home for a lot of different people; mental illness is not something that discriminates based on age or social standing,” Liberty says.

What: Music Is Freedom, featuring performances by Chris Cummings, Melissa Hunt, Nichi Jane, Eloie Richard, Sandy Mackay & Bill Preeper with Tim Davidson
When: Saturday Oct. 29, 8 p.m.
Where: Cask & Kettle Gastropub, 112 Prince William St. Saint John
Cover charge is via optional donation with 100% of the funds raised being donated to MindCare New Brunswick. There will also be a silent auction with all funds raised also going to MindCare.