Saugerties summer music fest will highlight drug and suicide issues

Karma Darwin

The issues of drug abuse and suicide are more urgent than ever. Two individuals locally were saved by police in recent heroin overdoses, and even more recently a Saugerties High School sophomore committed suicide.

Joe Defino, a teacher at Grant D. Morse Elementary School and a self-described “dreamer,” thinks the August Hope Rocks festival will help. The festival will be held Aug. 19-20 at Cantine Veterans Memorial Complex in Saugerties.

The idea grew out of the annual Morse Rocks festival, which brings area musicians and artists together to shine a light on local talent, particularly the area’s youths.


“I have a great group of volunteers that put on this festival, and we were sitting around looking at other ways to help the community,” Defino said. “We were in contact with a woman whose son committed suicide and saw what she was doing, and then we talked to Carole Kelder (principal at Mount Marion Elementary School), who lost her son Ryan, about the possibility of a festival to bring the community together.”

Kelder and her family have taken Ryan’s death “as a personal mission to prevent others from experiencing their emptiness and devastation resulting from narcotics addiction,” Defino said in a press release. Kelder, her husband Vince and daughter Randi have started a foundation in honor of Ryan. Raising Your Awareness about Narcotics (RYAN) is a grassroots organization designed to bring education, awareness and advocacy to those who presently struggle and are at risk of future involvement with opioids.

The Kelders are on board, Defino said. The Hope Rocks Festival has a higher social purpose than Morse Rocks. It will address drug abuse and suicide issues directly, bringing together school administrators, teachers, staff, parents, kids and community members to shed a light on these dark areas.

It will let those who suffer and their friends know that there is a way out from the abuse and from the depression that leads to suicide, Defino said. “It’s pretty remarkable how all our volunteers – more than 100 – have come together and put this all together.”


Bringing the families together

Twelve teams of volunteers began working on the project last October. They include those working on a sport tournament, crafters, social workers, musicians, artists and others.

“It all comes down to our faith, our belief that we can do something about this,” Defino said. “We have a major problem, and it’s important that we bring the families and those suffering out of the shadows and let them know there is hope.”

Ulster County Community College, SUNY New Paltz, and Columbia-Greene Community College will participate alongside the Saugerties school district, local police departments, area legislators and the community.

“My family could not wait to jump in and become involved with the Hope Rocks Festival,” said Carole Kelder. “We feel that this is a great opportunity to promote awareness about the disease of addiction and at the same time, provide hope to those who may be struggling. We find the importance in shedding light on not only addiction, but on mental-health-related issues, which lead to suicide, and will celebrate the choice to live life to the fullest.”


Food, health and hope

Kelder and the RYAN organization are assisting the festival, coordinating the speakers and presenters. “We will have several individuals who will offer their personal experiences about life in recovery, and how they now live beyond their wildest dreams,” she explained. “The festival is a gathering of musicians, artists, athletes, crafters, foodies, mental-health-service providers, support service agencies, etc. It’s a gathering of fun, food, health and hope.”

In addition to seminars and access to agencies and support, there will be athletic activities, art and film exhibitions, live music, crafters, vendors and food at Hope Rocks. Presently, registration is open for a 5/10K run and tournaments in softball volleyball and basketball. More than 40 bands and musicians will perform at five different performance areas around the festival grounds.

Though the festival offers many attractions, organizers hope the focus on recovery and mental health will have the greatest benefit. “The Hope Rocks festival can help individuals and the community at large by having a plethora of agencies and community organizations available at their fingertips providing resources for help,” Defino said. “Through presenters and speakers, we hope to dispel the myths of addiction and mental health issues, eliminating the stigma that is attached to each.”

The main sponsors are Sawyer Motors and Sawyer Chevrolet. For more information, e-mail