If you’ve attended Bonnaroo, I don’t need to say anything more than ROOCHUTE! But, if you haven’t had the opportunity to experience Bonnaroo or the Roochute, let me introduce to you a man on a mission- Ron Holgado. Ron’s idea is simple- “bring happiness to anyone willing to participate!” Ron and his friend Partick first brought Roochute to Bonnaroo in 2014 and in just 3 years, it has become a staple of the festival. Most festival goers are convinced that the production team is responsible, but this is 100% a fan-driven initiative.
We, at Festival Squad, had the opportunity to chat with Ron about how Roochute started, how he brings so many smiles to festival goers, and more importantly the larger mission that he is on- raising awareness about mental health issues.
Co-Creators, Ron Holgado and Patrick Fromuth at Bonnaroo 2015
Roochute Ambassador Mustafa Miniato with Ron Holgado at Lollapalooza 2017
Festival Squad: Hey Ron. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. Many of our contributing writers and photographers have had the opportunity to participate with the Roochute and we are so thankful to sit down and talk with the mastermind behind the fun. My first question to you is, how did you come up with this idea? Where did it all begin?
Ron: The seed was planted in January 2014, while surfing the internet with friends and rediscovering the parachute. An image appeared with the phrase, “The best day in gym class” and we all started reminiscing about how amazing of a time it was to be underneath that parachute in elementary school. The idea truly began to develop later that spring, when I attended a meditation retreat called Vipassana, where I was instructed to observe “noble silence” for 10 days – no reading, no writing, no music, and even no eye contact. I was searching for clarity and direction in my life – exploring the possibility of becoming a doctor or nurse, but all I could think about was this simple idea of the happiness and joy this parachute would provide to the people of a music festival.
FS: Most of us at Festival Squad have very different daytime jobs. For example, during the day I’m a high school Biology and Chemistry teacher and I think that really influences who I am at festivals, my mindset during them, and how I interact with young adults at the festival. I know you work full-time as a patient care associate at The James Cancer Hospital in Columbus. How does your daytime job and love of festivals influence this project?
Ron: As a PCA, or nurse assistant, in a cancer hospital, a great deal of empathy and compassion is practiced on a daily basis. I am a resource to the entire hospital system, rounding with the STAT team in case of emergencies. If a CODE BLUE is called within the hospital or surrounding areas, our team is the first on the scene, assessing the situation, and at times, responsible for reviving patients and performing CPR on dying patients. It is moments like these that remind me the fragility and sanctity of life. Tomorrow is never promised, we only live for this moment and with this parachute, I remind everyone to make the most of their life and do more of what makes them happy – live a healthy life filled with kindness and paying it forward to their community.
FS: You’ve really made a HUGE impact on the community surrounding Bonnaroo. In fact, you were featured in Rolling Stone Magazine for the article you did with Bonnaroo entitled “ For Roo by Yoo”. Can you talk a little bit about what it’s like have such a positive message spread so far within the loving community of Bonnaroo and beyond?
Ron: I appreciate the kind words, Helen! This parachute symbolizes a community that comes together, to support one in another, with one goal of creating happiness. Witnessing this love bloom from the seed that was planted during my meditation is truly beyond words. I have been grateful for all of the encouragement that has been received through comments and messages on the Roochute Instagram – from the simple, “I needed this today, thank you!” to a most recent response of how Roochute helped saved me from suicide in 2015. Seeing these comments shakes me to the core and remind me and my team that we are fighting the good fight and that we are truly a part of the upward march of humanity.
FS: Bonnaroo’s catch phrase is “radiate positivity”. Your mission is to bring awareness to the large issue of mental health in our community. It’s unfortunate that in our community mental health is brushed aside and not discussed openly. Why and how did you decide to take on this mission within the festival community? Were you surprised by the support you received from both the festival and the festival goers?
Ron: The sudden death of Robin Williams sparked the fire. The death of an icon brought mental health into the headlines and I responded immediately through Roochute about the impact this man has had on our lives, during our childhood, creating moments of happiness, just like our parachute. We began to realize how misunderstood mental health is, still, in our society. Perhaps this parachute could shine a light on this dark topic and begin the talks about this issue. With all of the attention this parachute receives, why not tie to a greater cause? How can we take better care of ourselves? What can we do for our friends and family? The festival culture takes pride in the community and at these festivals, we meet amazing people from all walks of life. The beautiful thing that links us all together is the love of music AND that we ALL have mental health. We are so ready and willing to share about our favorite artist, yet we are still reluctant to mention anything about our own well-being. During the summer of 2015, we began to focus on self-care, intentional acts of kindness, and living an active lifestyle, in an effort to help others achieve the best versions of themselves.
Roochute during Death Cab for Cutie in 2016
FS: In the 3 years you’ve been toting the Roochute around- your social media presence has exploded! You’ve started using the hashtags #EndTheStigma and #WearYourLabel to encourage people with mental health issues to share their stories. What prompted you to transition your campaign from just targeting festivals to a large audience on social media platforms?
Ron: The idea of “Roochute” was always to grow and expand to reach wider and more diverse audiences. I named the first parachute “Roochute” because its roots and debut took place at Bonnaroo, but there will be more parachutes circulating the continent, especially beyond the festival scene, within the next several years. This mental health crisis and the stigma surrounding mental illness needs to be addressed on a wide scale. We believe reaching out through social media is the most effective way to create the conversation. We would love to continue raising awareness across the United State and have begun starting our international expansion by taking the parachute to a children’s home/orphanage in Ghana, to the music festival Musilac in France and Sziget in Hungary. Collaboration and conversation will be the keys to success eliminating the discrimination and stigma surrounding mental health – we want to support brands that are making a difference around the world, like Wear Your Label based in Canada.
Holgado raising awareness to the crowds of Lollapalooza 2016
FS: I need to address the fact that I’ve heard stories about you bringing Roochute to other festivals and having festival goers destroy it! What do you think helped cultivate such a positive response at Bonnaroo versus the festivals where attendees wrecked the parachute?
Ron: Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival has done a phenomenal job shaping a culture of positivity, community, and inclusivity. The high fives and smiles that permeate throughout The Farm have been brewing over the last 16 years and they strive to make each year better than the last. Bonnaroovians have a great deal of respect for one another because a familial bond is forged during those four days in Manchester that is really tough to explain. On the other hand, there are festivals that attract a more rowdy, party-centric crowd, of the music culture scene. We cannot exclusively fault the attendees at that festival because I genuinely observed that the majority of kids wanted to play with the parachute and relive those gym class memories. It only takes a few bad apples to ruin a good time and once a single tear in the parachute it started, it quickly becomes a tattered mess, a toy that has seen better days.
FS: Despite the Roochute demise story, your spirits must have been lifted when you started a GoFundMe page and raised over $4,000 to replace the parachutes. In fact, this time the message was going to be louder and more clear- positive vibes only! You partnered with a local artist to handwrite inspirational slogans across all of the parachutes- “Choose Kindness”, “Be Happy”, “Hope”, etc. Why did you decide to make the message so much more clear the second time around?
Ron: We ask ourselves, “How can we optimize impact with each parachute play?” By merging messaging, art, and activity – we leave each person who plays with Roochute with a lesson to take back to their community. Our flagship Roochute had one message: “Be Happy.” Which is rooted from lessons I learned during Vipassana. Then, our second Roochute had the message of “Choose Kindness” giving a call to action for all participants and the community to see. Our latest Roochute read, “Think Kindly, Act Boldly,” which is a nod and homage to an organization that our co-creator Patrick has helped the CHB Foundation (formerly Newtown Kindness) which commemorates the life of Charlotte Helen Bacon, a victim of the Sandy Hook tragedy. Roochute is always looking for the right words to ripple into our community and want to focus on our mission of creating happy and healthy communities for all humanity.
Photo by Brian Hensley
FS: What festivals do you anticipate bringing the Roochutes to this year and how do you decide which festivals to bring the chutes out?
Ron: We already have had a successful year with festivals appearing at Okeechobee, Bunbury, Bonnaroo, Electric Forest, Rootwire, Lollapalooza, and 90sFest. We have our home state festivals, Breakaway and Lost Lands planned, and hoping to collaborate with the new festival Lost Lake in Phoenix and Suwannee Hulaween in Florida. We are always open to exploring new festivals and events to cultivate this mental health movement! We have multiple versions of Roochute, some more compact for travel and we send our 30’ parachute with friends as they travel internationally. Our team is always looking for ambassadors willing to bring Roochute to other countries in an effort to help spread our mission of raising mental health awareness and wellness. If you are interested, feel free to send a message or email through our website!
Thank you so much for spending the time talking with us. We absolutely LOVE Roochutes and we are huge believers in spreading the word about the importance of mental health, especially in festival settings. Keep on spreading the positivity!