As life begins to reach some form of normalcy after a year on pause, now more than ever are people taking the time to take stock of just where they’re at from a mental health standpoint.

While COVID-19 has left countless people feeling the physical effects of a deadly virus, its impact goes far beyond the human body, with many still dealing with related aspects, whether it be financial, professional, or even just related to leisure.

But while we grapple with lost opportunities, a “new normal”, and other ongoing effects, it’s often easy to overlook one of the most under appreciated aspects of life itself: mental health.

This is where Support Act’s Tune Ups series comes into play, with its second season launching just this week. With seven episodes appearing across as many weeks, the series features the likes of G Flip, country star Fanny Lumsden; the Teskey Brothers bassist Brendon Love; hip-hop artists Ziggy Ramo and Barkaa; and live music veteran Sahara Herald, Tour Director of Frontier Touring.

Each episode of the series explores the subject’s personal mental health journeys and, in many cases, the amplification of those conditions brought on by isolation.

In the third episode of the series, viewers are given a taste of what it’s like for folks who don’t quite share the limelight – the ones who spend their time pushing themselves to the limit to ensure that the show goes on.

If you’ve been to gigs at any point over years in Australia, it’s almost a certainty that you’ve seen the handiwork of Howard “Weird” Freeman, a longtime roadie and the founder of CrewCare.

“I’m what’s known as a ‘roadie’,” Freeman explains. “Proud to have been in this industry for 55 years. 7,000 shows and 650 acts and 20 years of Big Day Outs in six cities a year and 120 cities in total. From AC/DC to ZZ Top, it’s a great journey.”

While many folks are aware of what it’s like to experience a show from either side of the punter barrier, Freeman is one of the countless unsung heroes who make sure the show you put down good money for goes off without a hitch.

“The most amazing thing is watching the houselights go down on a major event with 50 or 60,000 people and knowing that you’ve worked your arse off to the point of exhaustion, pain, and insanity and tears,” he explains.

Learn more about Howard Freeman and CrewCare:

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“It’s about delivering to the best possible level for the artist you’re representing or the show you’re putting together, every time, on time, in any condition, under any pressure situation. You’ve never seen a show cancelled because the crew were late. it’s never happened and it never will be, so the pressures are relentless.”

However, any roadie or crew member can attest to the fact that it’s not all fun and drinking games backstage, with the relentless grind of deadlines and set times turning what can be a fun job into a journey of excess.

“You’d finish your gig and you would have an hour to play before you went to bed, before you had to get up and drive somewhere and do it all again,” Freeman explains. “So in that hour, you would go as hard as you could, as fast as you could.

“You’d start drinking triple so you wouldn’t have to walk back to the bar to buy another one. That was how it went. Within your exhaustion, both physical and mental, you would fall asleep for the potential three to five hours before you had to get up and do it again, and possibly get up and do a line of speed, to get back in the ring, to drive it down the road, to unload the shit again, to some dump with stairs [where] no one fucking cares who you were or what you were, and you’re fighting people the whole way. That’s the way you dealt with it.”

Before too long, it becomes easy to forget to take care of yourself, with Freeman explaining that dealing with the stress of the job is in fact part of the job itself. However, when things began to take their toll on his colleagues and friends, that’s when Freeman stepped into a role that would help make a difference to those who needed it.

“I always had to ignore my headspace to a point because I was looking after other people; that was my job, was to keep the team together that I built,” he explains. “It just became part of your nature to absorb the bullets you took. You never went to have them removed, so people never asked for help.

“It only became obvious when people started suiciding at a reasonable rate or self-harming or disappearing and becoming reclusive that it was decided to go and source some avenues of help for these people.”

“The amount of interaction and looking after people,” he explains of CrewCare, which he co-founded, “You can pick up your phone and talk about your problem. You’re not talking to somebody that doesn’t know about your industry.”

From his own experiences, Freeman found strength in – by his own admission – going from “snorting bags to punching them”, which he explains from the comfort of Fitlife, a Ferntree Gully boxing club owned by former lighting guy Tommy Hopkins.

“Howard wanted to buy the joint when he came in,” Hopkins recalls. “He was here several times a week, just participating in class. I think he’s loving it.

“I know when I was on the roads with bands, the pressure you’re under and the bad habits you get into, and if only I had have allocated some time in my day for my own mental wellbeing and some form of gentle exercise no matter how easy it was. I think I would’ve been, it would’ve been far [more] beneficial for me than trying to do all those years and all that grind without thinking about all that stuff at all.”

While many of those in need will find strength in talking to others, or improving their own mental health by focusing on physical strength, Freeman notes that it’s not about what you do, but the fact that you reach out for the help you need.

“Go to Support Act, go to all these places that can give you a hand, give you a lift, give you direction,” he urges. “Don’t think you’re on your own, because you never are. We are family, we are there for you.”

Watch the full Tune Ups video featuring Howard Freeman

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If you or someone you love is working in the Australia music/entertainment industry and struggling with mental health, Support Act offers a free 24hr wellbeing helpline that you can contact here.