A ‘good relationship’ that’s growing

Over the course of Tree Town Music Festival’s four days, crowds sometimes exceeding 20,000 saw big-name country music acts such as Blake Shelton, Dierks Bentley and Rascal Flatts perform on the campgrounds of Heritage Park of North Iowa in Forest City, Iowa. Not even a steady rain most of the final day could scare away the crowds.

And in the midst of all of it was The American Legion.

For the second year, the Legion was the official charity of the fledgling but steadily growing country music festival. After having a booth set up at the 2014 festival, the Legion’s role grew this year – to the tune of having an American Legion stage located in the food vendor section of the festival. Acts such as 38 Special played the Legion’s stage; the structure also served as the place for “after-party” concerts following the end of action on the main stage.

“To have our own American Legion stage, and to have it be last year’s main stage … this event is just going to continue to grow,” said American Legion Past National Commander Dave Rehbein, a member of the Department of Iowa and a festival attendee this year. “As it continues to grow, the vision of The American Legion out in the community is going to grow right along with it. This is really something.”

Additionally, American Legion signs were placed all over the festival grounds.

“We were successful with the booth last year in the fact we were able to help veterans with VA claims information and things like that,” Department of Iowa Adjutant John Derner said. “That is really what we were looking for. But now, people are coming up to us and asking what The American Legion is because they’re seeing our name and our emblem at various places around the venue, and they want to find out what we’re doing.”

The Legion also had a booth this year, complete with Legion service officers who were able to answer benefits and health-care questions from more than a dozen veterans over the course of the weekend. The Legion reps also worked with Soldier’s Wish, whose booth was stationed next to the Legion for part of the weekend. The two entities took the stage on Saturday as Soldier’s Wish presented an all-terrain wheelchair to U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Greg Foster, a decorated Green Beret who served three tours in Afghanistan before being seriously injured in a non-military parachuting accident.

“(The new wheelchair) has changed our life dramatically because we are very limited to where we can go right now,” said Colleen Foster, Greg’s wife. “Now we’re going to be able to go to the beach, the woods again, hunting, fishing. It’s just changed everything.”

A second wish was granted during the festival. Gwendolyn Kennedy, a 90-percent service-connected Gulf War veteran, was able to attend the concert via Soldier’s Wish and the Legion. Kennedy has been represented by Department of Iowa Service Officer Gary Carter, who found out she wanted to go to the show and passed on the information to department headquarters.

On the festival’s final day, the Legion also worked with Universal Plant Services to sponsor a special session on stage for Songs for Sound, a charity that aims to improve the quality of life for profoundly deaf children worldwide through health care, cochlear implants, hearing aids, prevention and information.

Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts, and songwriters, Neil Thrasher, Kelley Lovelace and Andrew Pates took the stage together for the Songs for Sound session.