A free, two-day music festival aimed at raising money to support veterans will be held from 12:30-10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Modern Brew in Centennial.
The festival, called “VetStock,” will feature 16 local music acts, including Graham Good & The Painters and the Jack Hadley Band.
Modern Brew is located at 8221 S. Holly St., in the shopping center in the southwest quadrant of the intersection of Holly Street and Otero Avenue, and the phone number is 720-638-6926.
Part of the money raised at the festival — through purchasing food and drinks, directly donating, and/or getting VIP tickets — will go to the Warrior Bonfire Program, a national nonprofit that supports veterans and aims to reduce veteran suicide.
“Music is a big part of your life and, you know, it just makes you feel good,” said Bob Fontneau, the festival producer and a board member of the Warrior Bonfire Program. “And then to know that you’re listening to music and you’re doing something good for somebody else is — that’s just, that’s a bonus.”
Fontneau, a Centennial resident, will be among the local talent performing at VetStock along with his band, appropriately named “Centennial.”
He first learned about the Warrior Bonfire Program about seven years ago when Mike Foss, who is the president of the organization, contacted him.
“I hadn’t seen him in a number of years and just got a call from him out of the blue,” he said, explaining he knew Foss because they had previously coached kids’ sports together.
“He had heard that we had a band, and he asked if we would be interested in playing at the VA (Veterans Affairs) hospital, to go and represent Warrior Bonfire Program,” Fontneau said.
The Warrior Bonfire Program was started in Mississippi by a group of veterans who wanted to address the issue of veteran suicide, Fontneau said.
According to the 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, in 2020, there were 6,146 veteran suicide deaths — an average of 16.8 per day. The suicide rate for veterans in 2020 was roughly 57.3% greater than for non-veteran U.S. adults, per the report.
The Warrior Bonfire Program predominantly serves post-9/11 Purple Heart veterans and their spouses, but other veterans are eligible as well, he said. The Purple Heart is a military decoration awarded to those wounded or killed in action.
The nonprofit often gets referrals from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, from other veteran-related organizations, as well as word-of-mouth referrals, he said, adding that spouses refer quite often.
One of the ways the Warrior Bonfire Program aims to help veterans is by fostering connections to others, as Fontneau said a lot of veterans feel they don’t have someone they can talk to.
“They internalize it all,” he said. “They're not going to talk to their spouse about it, they're not going to talk to friends and family about it. They're not gonna talk to … people who haven't been there and seen it.”
Fontneau said the founders of the Warrior Bonfire Program realized that if veterans are able to come together in small groups along with a few counselors for a long weekend, “they bond fairly quickly.”
These trips are called “Bonfire Adventure Retreats,” according to the program’s website. These multi-day events include both recreational and group therapies, and are typically made up of six Purple Heart service members, either active duty or non-active duty.
The recreational activities have included, but are not limited to, hunting, fishing, skiing, surfing, horseback riding, whitewater rafting and hiking, per the website.
A lot of the retreat is spent learning how to talk with others about what the veterans saw and experienced, Fontneau said.
“By the end of it, they’ve kind of formed a unit back here, where they can talk to people and reach out for help if they need it. And the success rate is great,” he said. “These are all guys who have been identified as at-risk for suicide, and we haven’t lost one yet.”
The Warrior Bonfire Program also offers couples retreats for veterans and their partners, as well as retreats for the spouses of veterans.
“We actually do trips, some separate trips, for spouses because they’re big victims of this whole problem, too,” Fontneau said. “You can’t even imagine what it would be like to lose your spouse to suicide … or to deal with one who is suicidal and you don’t know what to do to try to prevent it.”
“So, we work with them and get them out with counselors, and try to help them learn how to help their spouses,” he added.
The Warrior Bonfire Program offers one to two retreats a month, and each retreat serves roughly six people, he said.
“The reason we’re raising money is because we want to do more,” he said. “This very one-on-one approach is, it’s very effective, but it’s limiting in the number of people … you can serve.”
Although the Warrior Bonfire Program started in Mississippi, there is a strong concentration in the south metro Denver area because the president of the organization lives near Centennial, Fontneau said.
This is the third year that the VetStock festival is happening. The first year, the Warrior Bonfire Program raised roughly $5,000. The second year, it raised about $10,000.
For this year’s VetStock, Fontneau hopes to double it again and raise $20,000.
The money raised will allow for the Warrior Bonfire Program to host more retreats and serve more veterans, Fontneau explained.
“We really would like to help as many people as we possibly can,” he said.
There are a few ways that the Warrior Bonfire Program raises funds through VetStock.
While the festival is free to attend, people can purchase VIP tickets for $25. Purchasers of this ticket will get two drinks, water, snacks and a shady place to hang out during the festival.
“That's one of the ways we're going to raise funds. Then, we have veterans and volunteers that go around throughout the festival with a boot and collect money, and we have QR codes that people can donate,” he said.
On top of that, Modern Brew will also give $1 to the Warrior Bonfire Program for each food or beverage item sold during the course of the two-day festival, he said.
“A lot of people have been very generous,” he said, noting the festival also has sponsors.
This year’s festival is stacked with local talent. Getting performers involved in the festival was not a challenge, as the local musicians are part of a tight-knit community, Fontneau said.
“It really is a little bit like a family, and especially … at Modern Brew, where they do live music,” he said. “I actually had more musicians volunteer than I have room for on the bill for VetStock.”
Fontneau said he couldn’t recommend the festival more, saying the music will be great all day long, both days.
“It’s so much fun,” he said.
Those interested in learning more about the Warrior Bonfire Program and VetStock can visit warriorbonfireprogram.org/events/vetstock. To purchase VetStock VIP tickets, visit: bit.ly/viptick.
“Our goal is just to save one life,” Fontneau said. “You can’t put a price tag on that.”
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