Mental health is not typically a topic of discussion at an arena pop concert.
However, Mike Bayer, the CEO and founder of CAST Centers in L.A., has teamed up with acclaimed singer-songwriter-entrepreneur Demi Lovato to change that. Lovato, whose recovery from addiction and mental health issues is well documented, has since moved from patient at CAST Centers, to advocate, to co-owner.
As business partners, Bayer and Lovato have launched CAST on Tour, a series of hour-long group discussions about mental health. These sessions take place prior to each concert of Lovato’s current, all-but-sold-out national arena tour and aim to normalize the concept of mental wellness for her massive fan base.
Bayer describes the pre-concert gatherings as “potentially life-changing.
“A big part of getting well is giving back,” Bayer says. “This is a part of Demi’s own DNA. It’s why she has such a strong fan base. She is open about her own issues and wants to encourage others to get well, too.”
The mission of CAST on Tour is to help reduce the stigma that still surrounds addiction, alcoholism, and mental health issues. The sessions discuss mental health in a broad sense and are free to concertgoers who apply for tickets in advance.
“It’s not about asking people to name their own conditions,” Bayer says. “Rather, it’s about making it okay to acknowledge your problems and begin working on them, because you see others doing the same and you are supported.”
Speakers at the CAST on Tour events have included Dr. Phil, DJ Khaled,
six students from Parkland High School, and former UFC champion Matt Hughes, who was hit by a train and spent two months in a coma. Lovato’s artistic team, which includes Phil McIntyre from PhilyMack, has welcomed the pre-show program.
“Our speakers are there to show that it’s cool to want to better yourself,” Bayer says. “Their testimonies serve to drive home that there is no shame in embracing personal issues and working openly on them.”
Attendees are not permitted to use cell phones during the sessions in order to make video or audio recordings. “It’s not great from a social media standpoint,” Bayer acknowledges, “but it makes a safe environment for celebrities and attendees to speak freely. That’s the kind of safety and acceptance we seek to create.
“The generation at the core of Demi’s fan base, people 17 to 25, are much more interested in taking care of themselves from a mental health standpoint than many of the older generations ever were. They are turning up in huge numbers for these conversations.
“In fact, prior to the 2016 tour, we had only 300 reservations for seats at the pre-concert conversations. But before this tour, we had more than 6,000 requests. Not only are the concerts selling out, but so are the free CAST on Tour sessions. We’re on pace to hit over 10,000 people this time around.
“I want to be clear that we’re not selling any services on tour,” Bayer adds. “CAST On Tour is part of a charitable arm of CAST Centers, so no one is being offered or sold recovery. We don’t have booths, we don’t have literature, and we’re not looking for new clients.
“Instead, it’s a chance for Demi and I to act on what we believe in – that it ought to be as natural to work on your mental health as it is to take care of your physical health. That’s the core message we’re trying to get across.”