Press and Media

Rockland Bergen Music Fest back and bigger than ever

LoHud - June 17, 2016

Call it a Western Highway Woodstock.

22 acts will perform across two stages when the Rockland Bergen Music Festival returns to Tappan's German Masonic Park June 25 and 26. But for festival founder and organizer Joe D'Urso, the event is about much more than just music.

"I personally don't like any musical event to go on without something else being tied into it," D'Urso says, referring to the 15 nonprofits that will be represented at the festival. "I definitely come from a Pete Seeger, Harry Chapin school of thought in that way of thinking."

Rockland Homes for Heroes, ARC of Rockland and The Dan Sullivan Foundation are just a few of the local nonprofits that will have a presence at the festival and receive funds from Active Cares, the philanthropic arm of Pearl River's Active International, one of the festival's sponsors.

"I thought, what a great way to have music lovers, people who may be forward thinking in general, trip upon different organizations they may not know about," says D'Urso, who grew up in Tappan and now lives in Bergen County and works out of Nyack's Left Field Productions.

Of course, it's not like the music is an afterthought. D'Urso is presenting a solid lineup of both national and local acts to play the show, including New Riders of the Purple Sage, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Jorma Kaukonen and Professor Louie and The Cromatix.

D'Urso himself will be putting in work, too. He'll open one of the fest's stages with a solo set at 11:30 a.m. both days. On Saturday, D'Urso will be joined for another show at 3:45 p.m. by his band, Stone Caravan, with whom he's toured the world and released 14 albums since 1991.

When D'Urso first launched the festival three years ago, he says he was "lamenting that we don't have a music festival in Rockland County and never have. The closest thing around here was always Clearwater... but it was 50 miles away.

"I think I got a little tired of complaining to myself, so I said, "'Let's put one together.'"

Describing the event as "a throwback to older folk festivals or roots festivals," D'Urso says that it was important that the atmosphere is indicative of life in the county.

"I wanted to keep it very Tappan- and Rockland-centric," he says. "Meaning that it wasn't going to be big and glitzy, especially with the German Masonic Park. I wanted something very down-home and woodsy."

Two rainy days weren't enough to drown out the fun at last year's festival, and D'Urso says advanced ticket sales this year have been stronger than the fest's first two years.

The only minor complaint D'Urso heard about last year's event was regarding a lack of vegetarian options among the many food vendors onsite. This year, he's addressed this concern, adding Nyack's True Food to the selection of vendors that also includes Bailey's Smokehouse and Red Hill Cafe. Pearl River's Growler and Gill will provide a selection of craft beers and more.

The festival's two stages will be named the Glow/Seeger Stage and the Mr. Lou/Stefan's Turning Point Stage, the latter referring to two people close to D'Urso that recently passed. Lou DeMartino played bass for Stone Caravan and died in July of an asthma attack and Stefan Connolly, who died in a car accident last May, tended bar at Piermont's popular music destination The Turning Point Cafe.

"Stefan and Mr. Lou were kindred spirits in that they treated everyone they met with genuineness and warmth," D'Urso wrote in a press release announcing the festival. "Stefan and Mr. Lou also got along quite well, as you might imagine, and I thought it would be fitting to rename the stage this year."