Hope Rocks festival in Saugerties seeks to assist, support and encourage recovery

The David Kolker Band performs at the Hope Rocks festival. (Photos by David Gordon)

Ian Flanigan performs.

The two-day Hope Rocks festival in Saugerties last weekend featured a variety of food, crafts and music — along with a powerful message: people who struggle with addiction need the help of family and friends, not exclusion from society.

A high point for this year’s event was a performance by Saugerties native, Ian Flanigan, whose third-place finish nationally on The Voice television competition has made him a hometown hero in Saugerties.

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“We want to address the stigma associated with mental health issues like depression and addiction,” said Joe Defino, the executive director and founder of Hope Rocks. The organization aims to publicize the issues surrounding mental health and addiction through outreach and entertainment, Defino said, with the music of Augystine playing in the background. The Hope Rocks festival, held this year on Saturday, August 14 and Sunday, August 15, is the main event for the organization.

Through music, food and talk “we hope to create a bond between the community and those that struggle – the individuals themselves and their family members and friends,” Defino said. “And last, we want to put it out in the open, to say in order for this to be solved, we have to do it from the grassroots community level.”

Why music festivals? “Music and art draw from the widest demographic, and we feel if we can provide a festival at no cost, we can at that point bring the idea of addiction and suicide — addressing those two issues in a different manner — less in an educational manner and more in a communal manner.”

The organization exists mainly on donations, and “thank God we have a generous community, generous businesses, organizations that believe in what we’re doing,” said Defino.

This year’s festival cost more than $36,000, Defino said. The money came from individuals, businesses and groups.”

Mike Farris performs at Hope Rocks festival.

The many artists who participate would perform for free and have done so in the past, Defino said. “They are not charging, but we are paying them. Each one would do it for free, but we recognize that their art is valuable, and we don’t pay them a lot of money, but we pay them what we can with the idea that they understand that we really value what they bring to this festival.”

While last weekend’s festival was the big event of the year, the organization holds other events, including baseball tournaments, Christmas parties, club shows and “pretty much everything in between. We’re looking to reach out to any and all demographics to get the message out, finding ways to reduce the stigma,” Defino explained.

Hope Rocks does not provide treatment for mental illness, addiction or alcoholism, Defino said, but it tries to bring the people who do perform the treatments to its events. “We bring the solutions to the people and the people to the solutions.”

A new feature of the Hope Rocks’ mission is the provision of clothing for the many people who are unable or ashamed to attend court appearances or other contact because they don’t have proper clothing. Jordan’s Closet, named for a volunteer who died recently, collects used upscale clothing for people who need it for a job interview, a court appearance or even a family function. “It’s all professional clothing,” Defino said. “People may not go to a function because they can’t dress up and don’t want to be put down about it.”

Tammy Jo Lain Guffney speaks at the festival.

Flanigan was preceded by the Mike Kolker Band and Mike Farris. Between the first two sets, Tammy Jo Lain Guffney from Washington state, gave a talk about the stress that veterans undergo, which can turn them on to drugs or alcohol. The suicide rate among veterans is much higher than the national rate, and Lain Guffney spoke frankly about her struggle with addiction and several suicide attempts. She urged veterans and others who feel depressed to the point of suicide to seek help from mental health professionals. Attempts to beat the alcohol or drug habit can end in repeated failures, Lain Guffney said, but “don’t be afraid to fail.” She recently ran for mayor of her small town and she placed third. Failure? Well, she said, she learned a lot “and I met some great people along the way and had great conversations I never would have had.”

The biographical sketch on Flanigan’s website includes the information that Hope Rocks helped him get past five years of addiction and that he is a member of the organization’s board. He attributed much of his success on The Voice to the support he received from his home town. As a member of Team Blake [Shelton], he placed third in the program’s finale, which became a springboard to advance his career.

Flanigan recently released a single with Shelton, whom he described as amazing. “Nothing and no one in this world has been more amazing than all of you,” said Flanigan to the crowd at the festival. “The support that you gave me this past year — I truly have love for everybody back home here, so thank you. We are having a beautiful time tonight, but we’re also here to celebrate Hope Rocks. Together as a community we have to address some difficult subjects sometimes, such as addiction.” Flanigan said he has been sober for five-and-a-half years, drawing applause. When the cheering died down, he noted that Hope Rocks is the only organization of its kind in America, and when we come together, “we are all part of something bigger than all of us.”

Food trucks offered a variety of ethnic and American food and drinks.

Hope Rocks founder and executive director Joe Defino.

He thanked the audience for donating their money and their time, to make this an even bigger event next year. And, he said, “sobriety can be a great thing.”

The story of Flanigan’s involvement with The Voice starts with he and his wife Ayla’s decision to sell everything they owned and travel the country in a 24-foot motor home. They were having a beautiful time until the Covid virus hit, he said, and then the bookings dried up. “We had one last show, and we had about $80 in the bank, which as you know, is not a lot. I didn’t really want to go. I said let’s save the money for gas money. If you know Ayla, it was basically ‘get your ass in the car.’ So we went, and that was the show where there was a scout from The Voice.”

The scout invited Flanigan to audition, and he moved up through the competitions to third place nationally. “And that’s exactly how it happened for me,” he said.

Flanigan ended the set with the sentiment he offered at the start — his appreciation for the support of his home town, and a call to contribute to Hope Rocks to enable it to carry out its mission.

To learn more about Hope Rocks, visit http://www.hoperocksny.com/.