Our longtime friend and Board Member Joe D’Urso’s 3rd annual Rockland-Bergen Music Festival is coming up on June 25-26, so I interviewed him to learn more about the festival and what motivates him to organize and include a cause-related element at his festival.
Why is it important for you to host an event such as The Rockland-Bergen Music Festival?
It’s a mixture of a few things. I’ve lived basically my whole life in that area, on the borders of those two counties. As a kid I grew up in Rockland, and the end of my street was Bergen. As an adult I live in Bergen, and the end of my street is basically Rockland. Even musically to me, when I think of New Jersey I think of the sounds of the Jersey Shore, as well as Frank Sinatra. When I think of New York music, I think of the punk scene that came out of New York, as well as the folk scene that came out in the early 60’s. Musically, it all makes sense to me. I’ve always wanted to put together a music festival that combines my two passions: one being music, and two being able to bring in different organizations that I work with, and have concern for, and put them all together. This way the music fans discover some of those organizations, and support them. It is something that is fairly unusual; other festivals will have a couple of organizations or events, where they’ll raise money for one organization, maybe two. This year we will have 15 nonprofits onsite. My idea behind it is that between those 15 organizations that may grow to 20 25 next year, people attending that festival will hopefully find one organization that they are drawn to. Where hunger and poverty might be something of concern to you and I, it may not be for another person. Not that they don’t care, but they may be drawn to other causes like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or The Make a Wish Foundation. I just think that having peopled drawn to something relevant to them, makes them more active and caring, which is a good idea. I am fortunate that we have, what we’re calling Active’s Circle of Hope this year. I have a great organization called Active International that will be donating money to each one of the organizations that I have invited. In the first two years, there was just a donation from me, but by having a bigger company involved now, it means a more sizable donation on top of whatever each organization raises each day.
How has being a WhyHunger Board Member impacted you or your music?
I have been a board member for about 5 years now, and have been with WhyHunger for about 15 years before I joined the board. I don’t just look at it from a board member’s perspective, but as an active member of WhyHunger for almost 20 years. I think that it’s helped me as a songwriter, and as a person just to be reminded that there are other people around us in need. I think that there are people out there that you can tell that to 100 times, and they are still not going to do anything for whatever reason. One of the things that we try to do as board members, and as musicians, is to remain hopeful that maybe on the 101st try, those people may change their mind. It takes a lot of perseverance, and what some might even call foolish persistence, but I use that in the most positive way, not a negative.
In what way does music and social justice connect?
For me personally, music and social justice connects without a doubt. I’ve always been a fan of people like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and those types of songwriters who could have fun songs, but many of their songs were also talking about something bigger than themselves, or the fun night they were about to have; it was about society. I think it’s hard just to be of a somewhat relative intelligence, and not look around and be able to see what you feel is morally wrong and right in society. Now, not everyone is going to agree with you, and you may not always be right, but I think that if you feel passionate about something and at least it stirs some emotions, then hopefully, something comes out of that. In that way, it all ties in together.
What can people look forward to at the festival?
Well first and foremost, I have 22 very talented bands and artists over the two days. It’s a very unique setting because it’s set in a woodsy, laid back park. It’s different from many other areas found at bigger festivals and it’s a very relaxed setting. We’ll have great food, great beverages, and as someone had said, which is probably the best quote I read last year or two years ago, is that ‘It’s like being at a family BBQ, but with famous people.’ That is exactly the kind of feeling I want. I don’t allow any VIP sections. I’ve never been a fan of someone’s wallet determining who the better music fan is. I realize that is part of the music business, but I’ve made it not part of my festival. So I try and keep it very calm, and have everyone on the same playing field.
Most popular food item at the festival?
One of my main food vendors is called Bailey’s SmokeHouse and they have the best pull pork sandwiches around. They also have the typical burgers, hot dogs, chicken, black bean burgers and it’s just lots of great food. They are one of the most famous restaurants in the area and they serve about 4,000 people a week, something crazy like that. I also have a company called Growler and Gil, who will be pouring 6-8 different craft beers. This year, for the first time, I’ll be bringing in a company that specializes in vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free options. I am trying to make sure that everyone is taken care of!
Anything else you’d like to add?
There are two stages at my festival, the first one is called the Glow-Seeger Stage. Glow after my mom and Seeger after Pete Seeger. The second stage is named after two friends of mine that recently passed away, Mr. Lou/Stefan’s Turning Point Stage. Lou was the bass player in my band for many, many years, and Stefan was in charge of The Turning Point, a venue that has hosted me many times. I had a tough decision while naming the stages because of my involvement with WhyHunger and Harry Chapin, because I wanted to get a Harry name in there as well, but since Pete has recently passed away, I felt that out of respect to Pete, I should include his name in there.
I want folks to know that I’ve really try to personalize everything and that we have truly grown. We have tripled our sponsorship this year, which is a great thing, even while staying true to our values. One sponsors asked me if they can have their people’s chairs set up upfront, and I said no, even knowing that they could withdraw their sponsorship, but what I try to do is offer something different like food and beverage vouchers for their guests because as I mentioned before, I don’t want to separate people and create divides. It is very important to me to keep that family vibe.
A special thanks to Joe for taking the time to tell me about his event which unites several great nonprofit organizations like Whyhunger! For more information on the festival visit //www.rocklandmusicfestival.com/ and to buy tickets click here.
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