- Figure and Tree: a photo by Kathleen Murray of a duration performance art piece by Valerie Sharp in which Sharp embraced a tree in the Old Dutch Church graveyard from sunrise to sunset during the 2017 O+ festival in Kingston.
If a visitor to Kingston from a decade ago returned today, she would find a city fairly similar to the one she knew, with one great exception: the large murals that now festoon the city. These public installations are the work of artists laboring under the aegis of the O+ Festival, a three-day art, music, and wellness celebration that takes place across Kingston each Columbus Day weekend. Regardless of what you think of them—the murals have their critics—these large-scale paintings have put the city on the map as a place where culture gets done. There's no other place in the Hudson Valley like it.
O+ began with a simple—yet crazy—premise: a music and arts festival in which the performers and visual artists get free medical exams and wellness services in exchange for their art. Nine years later, O+ is still going strong, having transformed itself from a three-day festival in Kingston into a nonprofit with multiple festival locations and a mission to empower communities to take control of their well-being. O+ achieves this through its annual festivals but also through year-round grassroots engagement with underserved populations in need of health care.
During its eight-year run, O+ has featured hundreds of performers of various stripes, from musicians like Lucius and Xlyrious White to endurance artists like Linda Montano and Valerie Sharp, whose tree-hugging performance from 2017 is featured on this month's cover. (The text on the sign next to her reads: "By hugging this tree as long as I physically can, I spread my roots into this place and moment as home, and put all of my intention toward healing the Earth and becoming one with our planet.")
This year's festival (October 5-7) is headlined by comedian and actress Janeane Garofalo, who will perform stand-up on October 6 in the back room of BSP Kingston. Garofalo's appearance is presented by the Comedy Resistance, which pairs headlining comedians with voter registration and activism. Following Garofalo's set, former Lemonheads frontman Evan Dando will perform at the Old Dutch Church.
The rest of this year's festival lineup features some of O+'s most diverse and experimental programming to date. In addition to the more than 60 bands and solo artists playing—Marco Benevento, Pete International Airport, Karl Berger, Billy Martin and Friends, Willy Mason and the Pandemonium, and Key of Q, to name a few—there'll be a kickoff parade on Friday night; cycling events; classes in yoga, sound healing, meditation, and dance; a literary salon; kids' programming (Kinder Disco!); and a health conference with panel discussions. Last but not least, the murals: This year's roster includes Will Lytle AKA Thorneater, La Morena, boogieREZ, Tani Ikeda, Jess X. Snow, and Layqa Nuna Yawar, among others. After Columbus Day weekend, expect to see a city further transformed.
Full schedule and information on how to purchase an all-access wristband available at the O+ Festival website.