The Gatherers, the house band of The Gathering Place, a nonprofit organization and drop-in center for Athens residents coping with mental illness, has been playing together in some form or other for around three years, said Resource and Development Director Ginger Schmalenberg. The band grew out of the house’s music therapy program, which some of the more musically-advanced members found too simple.
“They wanted to step it up a notch or two and began playing cover songs in the attic,” Schmalenberg said. “It grew from there.”
The band began by playing out at The Gathering Place’s annual benefit, Community Illumination, a music, art, and food-oriented event designed to raise awareness and destigmatize mental illness. The most recent event took place Jan. 21 on Carpenter Street in Athens.
Kat Trout, lead singer and keyboard player in The Gatherers, became a member of The Gathering Place around three years ago, after living for several years with undiagnosed mental illnesses. Before being diagnosed with multiple conditions, including bipolar disorder, social anxiety, and depression, she kept her struggles with mental health to herself, choosing to withdraw from many of her social activities. Among other things, Trout feared the social stigma that comes along with discussing a need for mental health support, the stigma that comes with the “crazy label,” as she put it, that people tend to stick onto those diagnosed with mental illness.
Her story is not dissimilar from others in the band, which includes drummer Pete Wuscher, lead guitarist Dylan Barnes-Trout, acoustic guitarist Rich Otto, bass player Chris Plumley, and percussion and backup vocalist Tim Roessler. Some members at The Gathering Place struggled alone with their mental illnesses for years, in some cases decades, before seeking help. Each found The Gathering Place in different ways, but found comfort and support in its active, vibrant, and diverse community. Music and art, says Schmalenberg, is a huge part of that community, and a keystone in the organization’s outreach and mission to normalize mental health.
“We have a huge focus on art and music. It helps with community-building,” she said. “Our members aren’t all artists or musicians, but artistic expression and the social interaction that comes with it is a big part of what we do.”
“The whole idea of the band is to bring together community, to get a working band together for expression, therapy, and a potential source of income for its members,” Schmalenberg said. “It goes a long way in helping them cope with their own mental illness and helps show other people – our (own) members and people in the community … part of our mission is advocacy, being there for the community of Athens, people who might be dealing with a mental illness, or maybe some who’s loved one is – that they can get the help and support they need.”
Now, The Gatherers are putting the final touches on their first album, comprised almost entirely of original music written by different members of the band. The album is a milestone in the band’s story – with years of stage experience and a professional recording under their belts, they may be able to book more shows, extend outreach efforts, and demonstrate to more people in the community the importance and power of music and social interaction in managing mental illness and breaking the social stigma that often comes with it.