Since 1949, May in the United States has been designated Mental Health Awareness Month: a time for Americans to engage in important conversations around mental health. Established by nonprofit Mental Health America, the observance highlights the importance of destigmatizing mental illness, advocating for public education and policies addressing mental health, and supporting individuals, families, and communities on mental health journeys.

It’s a timely reminder. Just last year, the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy declared that our country is experiencing a loneliness epidemic. The solution? Prioritizing social connection and community on a nationwide scale, reports the surgeon general’s 2023 advisory.

During an era in which our society is feeling increasingly disconnected—due to factors like social media, the impacts of the COVID pandemic, and a lack of equitable access to social infrastructure (e.g., programs and physical spaces that encourage social connection)—free live concerts in public green spaces, like the hundreds presented each year by Levitt venues and concert sites, have the power to transform lives and heal communities. We are proud that many of the core values that guide our grantmaking—specifically joy, connectedness, and inclusivity—contribute to positive mental and physical health outcomes.

Pictured: 2023 Levitt AMP Soldotna Music Series at Soldotna Creek Park

So, if you’re looking to learn exactly how free concerts in public spaces make communities healthier—you’re in the right place. Whether you’re a Levitt grantee, a Levitt concert lover, or simply passionate about mental wellness, commemorate Mental Health Awareness Month 2024 by discovering how the Levitt Model supports individual and collective health and wellbeing.

Live music experiences facilitate social bonding and human connection, leading to better mental health outcomes.

At the Levitt Foundation, our modus operandi is building community through live music experiences. Yet you can’t build community without connectedness—which is why Levitt concerts from coast to coast are intentionally designed to bring people of all walks of life together in a setting that encourages social connection.

Pictured: 2022 Levitt AMP St. Johnsbury Music Series at Dog Mountain

Levitt concerts take place in  open lawn setting with no front or back row, so audience members can take in the music how they choose—whether that means lounging in lawn chairs alongside friends or family (examples of social bonding) or sharing one’s picnic blanket with a neighbor or community member whose path you hadn’t crossed before (instances of social bridging). Additionally, Levitt concerts are inclusive: providing people of all ages, genders, races, socioeconomic statuses, cultural backgrounds, and beyond the opportunity to relish the joy and social connection (along with the concomitant health benefits) that live music experiences foster.

And it’s not only Levitt concerts that foster human connection. By nature, all concerts have an audience—a group of people with similar interests (such as a shared love for a certain artist or genre), collectively focused on the same thing (a performance). As such, all concerts have the potential to create a sense of belonging amongst audience members. According to psychologist Lisa Badanes, Ph.D., who is the chairperson of the Metropolitan State University of Denver’s psychological sciences department, simply being in a crowd of similar-minded individuals enhances our liking of the people around us, leading to decreased feelings of loneliness and increasing feelings of belongingness.

Pictured: Levitt Shell Sioux Falls builds community through music by fostering a sense of belonging amongst audience members of all ages and backgrounds

So what happens when social connection abounds within a community? Better mental health outcomes, reports the surgeon general’s 2023 advisory: social relationships create a sense of meaning, purpose, and motivation in people’s lives; individuals who immerse themselves in community-based activities are more likely to experience feelings of belonging and trust; and social connection can act as a buffer against maladaptive stress responses and the negative health effects of stress.

It gets better, too—decades of research exploring the intersection of health and the arts consistently demonstrate that live music experiences positively impact the body’s biological processes. Studies published in academic journal Psychology of Music have shown that experiencing a concert can lead to an overall sense of well-being, and a 2018 white paper commissioned by Live Nation notes that concertgoers self-reported feeling five times better after experiencing a concert than before attending it. This is because live music has been shown to trigger the release of oxytocin (the “love” hormone that fosters bonding and human connection) and dopamine (which facilitates feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation). Concerts can also act as a de-stressor for attendees: research findings from the Royal College of Music suggest that attending a live performance reduces levels of cortisol (a steroid hormone that releases into the bloodstream at an increased rate when you experience stress), indicating lowered biological stress.

Simply listening to music has wide-ranging positive psychological impacts.

Ever been in a ‘meh’ mood but felt a sudden spark of joy upon hearing one of your favorite songs? Well, there’s a scientific explanation for that: listening to music increases blood flow to the parts of the brain, collectively called the limbic system, that generate and control emotions. In layperson’s terms, our brain “lights up” when our ears perceive music! It’s no wonder so many of us find ourselves playing music as we pursue our daily activities—whether that means singing along to Top 40 hits while driving the little ones to school, listening to upbeat instrumentals from our work desks, or enjoying jazz standards as we chef up dinner.

Indeed, a 2013 Journal of Positive Psychology study found that listening to positive music can be an effective way to improve mood and boost overall happiness over time, and in as little as two weeks. And newer research has found that improved mood isn’t necessarily contingent upon listening to positive or upbeat music; a 2016 peer-reviewed study published in academic journal PLOS ONE found that even sad-sounding music can bring the majority of listeners pleasure and comfort.

Stressed? Putting on some tunes can help with that, too. One 2020 report published in Health Psychology Review analyzed dozens of research studies conducted over the years on the interplay between music and stress, concluding that music-listening can lower our heart rate and cortisol levels, release endorphins, act as a distraction (therefore reducing physical and emotional stress levels), and reduce stress symptoms overall.

And as music helps with stress, it only makes sense that it can help us rest, too. A recent research overview published in American psychiatry newsletter The Carlat Report found that listening to music improves sleep quality and helps to initiate sleep—so much that it can reduce the overall severity of insomnia—with an effectiveness comparable to pharmaceutical sleep remedies. You may also be surprised to hear that traditionally calming music isn’t a prerequisite for a better night’s rest, either: another 2020 study conducted by Tokai University researchers in Japan demonstrated that some participants experienced the same degree of improved sleep when listening to video game and pop music as when listening to an album called The Most Relaxing Classical Music.

The benefits of listening to music are so plentiful that we can’t list them all. But let us present you with one last nugget you won’t forget—that music helps with memory by engaging the hippocampus (which supports memory, along with learning, navigation, and perception of space). Research in Psychology of Music has demonstrated that hearing highly familiar music can “unlock” vivid, emotional autobiographical memories, while events that are typically accompanied by music can enhance the brain’s processes for encoding and retrieving memories.

Listening to music is such an effective tool for supporting cognitive function that it is often leveraged in clinical settings as a form of music therapy. So much so, in fact, that nonprofits like Music and Memory—a foundation on a mission to bring the joy of music to individuals with conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia—are dedicated to training care providers on how to create personalized playlists that can help patients find renewed meaning and connection in their lives.

Concerts in public green spaces provide communities with the health benefits of both music and outdoor experiences.

The only thing more invigorating than enjoying a live music experience is doing so while relishing fresh air, lush greenery, and a vibrant sunset. Indeed, if you’ve ever felt happier after attending an outdoor concert, there’s a reason for that. Science shows that concerts in outdoor public spaces (like the ones Levitt grantees and partners present in over 50 towns and cities across America) are especially beneficial to individual and community health—providing the mental health benefits of both experiencing music and venturing outdoors, along with the physical health benefits of being outside.


Pictured: Levitt Pavilion Denver, located in Ruby Hill Park, activates its lawn in dynamic ways to support positive mental and physical health in the Denver community

Ever heard the saying, “Nature itself is the best physician”? Well, it’s true. The U.S. Forest Service reports that being outside in green spaces supports an active and healthy lifestyle—ultimately leading to increased life expectancy, improved sleep quality, and reduced cancer risk—since natural outdoor environments  are more enticing for physical activity. And, while outdoor physical activity often refers to traditional forms of exercise (for example, walking, running or cycling), acts of “joyful movement” such as swaying or dancing to music pursued in the outdoor air can also lead to higher levels of fitness.

Thus, no matter whether community members are forming a conga line to infectious salsa, step dancing to soulful country, or hula hooping to rhythmic world beats, every person moving their body to the sounds of music on a Levitt lawn makes a positive impact on a community’s overall health outcomes. And the good news is that even audience members who are not engaging in movement on Levitt lawns—whether out of personal preference or due to personal abilities—are still reaping the physiological perks of being outside. For instance, being in nature can reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease, like cortisol levels, muscle tension, and heart rates, notes the U.S. Forest Service.

Concerts in public green spaces can also boost a community’s overall mental health outcomes. In 2019, academic journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a large-scale study (covering nearly a million people) that concluded access to green spaces can provide numerous mental health benefits, particularly noting that these spaces protect against mood disorders, depression, neurotic behavior, and stress-related issues. And, of course, outdoor public spaces double as accessible gathering places—through which community members find joy, foster togetherness, and experience a sense of belonging. Ultimately, social infrastructure like outdoor public spaces contribute to individual and population health, community safety, resilience and prosperity, according to the surgeon general.

Pictured: Levitt Pavilion Sioux Falls’ 2023 “Festival of Cultures” created physical fitness opportunities for community members

Doing Our Part

While our country is currently experiencing a loneliness epidemic, we at the Levitt Foundation have witnessed how the Levitt model of activating underused public spaces and bringing people together through free outdoor concerts empowers communities and individuals to take charge of their own wellness journeys. One concert at a time, Levitt communities contribute to a new vision of America—one filled with equitable, healthy, and thriving towns and cities wherein individuals of all walks of life can experience joy and belonging through the power of free, live music.

This year, we are proud to support values-aligned initiatives at the intersection of the arts, music, and mental health, including Brooklyn’s Sound Mind Music Festival for Mental Health—a music festival on a mission to foster community, dialogue, and action on mental health through the power of music.

From free concerts to festivals, the Levitt Foundation’s efforts to mend our country’s social fabric will only broaden—and hasten—as we continue to spend down our $150 million endowment over the next 17 years. This means more communities presenting free live music experiences that build social capital, which leads to better health, public safety, and economic outcomes in communities.

Learn more about the Levitt Foundation vision here.