This year’s Roc-Vemberfest is promising double the fun — and organizers hope to raise double the funds for veterans.
The annual music festival is expanding from a single location — Idol Beer Works — to include a second site, Five Window Beer Co. The two breweries will team up with Operation Restored Warrior, an organization that helps combat veterans with PTSD and other difficulties re-integrate into civilian life.
“We’re doubling our capacity, we’re doubling our stages, we’re doubling our number of artists,” said Kevin O’Connell, Roc-Vemberfest’s organizer.
O’Connell and his fellow volunteers, joined by the owners of Idol Beer works and Five Window, are also working to make the two-day event more of a true music festival.
That means there will be more to do this year, including crafts, pop-up artists and vendors. The street outside Five Window will be closed so that classic car enthusiasts can display their vehicles. Both breweries will welcome three or four food trucks, and Five Window will be selling pizza.
There will also be happy hour sampling from 3 to 6 p.m. each day.
“I’m getting home brewers and home winemakers to donate their craft,” O’Connell said. Among the offerings will be selections from the Brew Angels, Lodi Area Vintners Association, Delta Brewing and Wort to Fermentation.
High Water Brewing, which recently opened a tap room in Lodi, will join its fellow breweries in Downtown Lodi to keep beer fans satisfied.
Best of all, for a music festival, Roc-Vemberfest will feature four different stages, where more than 40 bands and artists will be featured over the two-day event.
Headlining will be a returning Lodi favorite — Shane Dwight, who now lives in Nashville but who made a name for himself locally playing at area wineries and the Lodi Grape Festival.
“He’s excited to come back for our weekend of music because that’s actually his birthday weekend,” O’Connell said.
Dwight will perform three sets: Closing the outdoor stage at Idol on Saturday afternoon, closing the indoor stage at Five Window on Saturday evening, and closing the outdoor stage at Five Window on Sunday afternoon.
Stockton-based band Dirty Pillows, fresh off the release of their debut album, will bring their blend of ‘50s rock, ‘60s blues and ‘90s grunge. Like hard rock duo Cities You Wish You Were From, they’re known for their high energy.
Singer-songwriter Korynn OC and American roots collective The Sound of Ghosts will travel up from Los Angeles for the festival.
Family Power Music will bring several hip hop acts, and
One band will even bring a little New Orleans to Lodi. Element Brass Band will perform a jazz set at Five Window on Saturday afternoon, before taking their show on the road. After a jazz parade down to Idol Beer Works, they’ll perform a second set.
“There’s gonna be somebody that you like,” O’Connell said.
George Gibson, who performs with Brandon Guttenfelder as Georgetowne, is doing more than adding another great act to the lineup, O’Connell said.
“He is our fundraising warrior, and he’s just done a heck of a job,” he said.
O’Connell — who is also performing with his band K-Doh & the Doh-Nutz — is turning the spotlight on less established bands this year, to turn Roc-Vemberfest into a true music festival. All of the acts will be performing their own original music.
There’s nothing wrong with cover acts, he said, but he wants the festival’s guests to discover new sounds.
“When you cover a song, it’s coming from your head,” he said. Performers aren’t creating the lyrics or the music, but they do need to decide how to interpret it, whether to give it their own spin, and so on.
“A song you wrote comes from the heart, not the head,” he said.
The other bonus for listeners is that they’ll hear something new, not a song that’s been played over and over on the radio. They may even discover they enjoy a new genre or style. And for musicians, it’s a chance to find new fans.
“There are so many new artists out there who are amazing,” O’Connell said.
As the third annual Roc-Vemberfest approached this year, O’Connell traveled to Michigan for a family reunion. While traveling, he and his wife decided to visit Washington, D.C., Buffalo — near his hometown of Niagara Falls, N.Y. — and Gettysburg.
There, O’Connell connected with two people. One was Capt. Michael Wiedrich, his great-great-grandfather, who led an all-German battery of 141 men during the Battle of Gettysburg. Wiedrich and his men faced off against one of the most fearsome Rebel units, the Louisiana Tigers.
The first time the two units faced off, the Tigers came out ahead. At Gettysburg, though, Wiedrich’s Battery won the day, one of the turning points of the Battle of Gettysburg, itself one of the turning points of the Civil War.
Wiedrich, later promoted to lieutenant colonel, was buried in Buffalo at Forest Lawn Cemetery.
The second person was not a relative, at least as far as O’Connell knows.
While in Washington, D.C., the O’Connells visited the Vietnam War monument. Kevin O’Connell registered for the draft as the Vietnam War came to a close. Since he didn’t know anyone he’d lost personally, he decided to visit the O’Connells on the Wall.
One of them was also named Kevin.
But it got stranger. While visiting Buffalo a few days later, O’Connell found his “name twin” listed on another monument — this one to western New York soldiers lost in Vietnam.
And when he went to Forest Lawn Cemetery to visit his Civil War ancestor, who should he find but that other Kevin O’Connell? He later found that the other Kevin O’Connell, U.S. Marine Corps, had grown up just 20 miles from him. Their high school sports teams even played one another.
Seeing his ancestor’s service and coming face to face with another Kevin O’Connell who gave everything revitalized O’Connell’s commitment to Roc-Vemberfest and the veterans it helps.
The first festival pulled in more than $15,000 for Operation Restored Warrior, and last year’s event doubled that. O’Connell is hoping to stick with this year’s theme and double that again, in honor of veterans past and present.
“This is why we do this, for these guys who gave such a sacrifice,” he said.