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Vetstock music festival in Patchogue aims to be a healing force for former military members

Patrick Donohue, center, with Dennis O'Donnell onstage at

Patrick Donohue, center, with Dennis O'Donnell onstage at the 2015 Vetstock music festival. Photo Credit: Sean Fitzthum

Music is the healing force behind a festival returning to Long Island in which veterans are the musicians, telling stories of their time both on duty for the country and back home.

“Vetstock is a one-of-kind music festival,” says Islip resident and organizer Patrick Donohue, who also is founder of Project 9 Line, a not-for-profit that encourages servicemen and women to get involved with music and arts.

About 20 acts are slated to hit the stage Saturday, from hard rock bands to acoustic singers, rap and hip-hop artists. Two stages, one inside and another outside, means the music won’t stop during the six-hour event.

While Vetstock is performed mostly by military veterans, the event is open to everyone. It’s a family-friendly show, and the venue, The Emporium in Patchogue, will be selling food and drinks.

Previous Vetstocks — this is the third — had a festive atmosphere, organizers say. “What better way to show support to the veterans than to show up and hear them perform their art?” Donohue says.

LEARNING TO PLAY

This year’s show marks the debut of a new band, the Veteran All-Stars. “They’re students from our music programs,” Donohue says.

Some players didn’t know how to play an instrument before taking free classes at Project 9 Line with Dennis O’Donnell, who volunteers three times a week for the program and organized the band.

“It has been amazing to watch these guys evolve,” says O’Donnell, 58, of East Moriches. “The band is mostly Vietnam veterans. They weren’t really associating with other veterans, but were yearning for it.”

MUSIC FOR ALL

Among the bands in the festival is ZeroFive, which plays cover songs from Jimi Hendrix and Alice in Chains, as well as original war songs written by their lead singer, Ronnie Oldenburg, affectionately known as Sarge. The group has performed in the previous two Vetstocks.

“I think that, a lot of time, people donate to various veterans’ funds, but they don’t see where the money goes,” says Oldenburg, 37, of Locust Valley, who was among the first wave of soldiers to invade Iraq in 2003. “Now they can donate and get something back.”

The Suffolk County Police Emerald Society Pipe Band also will perform, Donohue says.

PROJECT 9 LINE

Project 9 Line, a military term used on the battlefield to get aid to the injured, became the name of the charity founded by Donohue, 35, who was in the U.S. Army’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team “Strike” of the 101st Airborne division, instrumental in Operation Dragon Strike, a bloody battle that forced the Taliban out of Kandahar in Afghanistan.

While the mission was deemed successful, that battle and others left Donohue with post-traumatic stress when he got back home. After intense therapy in and out of hospitals, he said he found that writing down thoughts in the form of poetry was cathartic. He developed his charity around that notion — of setting up an environment where other veterans could use art and other creative outlets to process emotions that come with service, and reintegrate into society.

The organization, based in Islip, offers programs where veterans can learn to tell jokes in a comedy workshop, write songs, take guitar lessons or get certified to teach Reiki, as well as participate in activities such as yoga and martial arts. Vetstock was a natural progression from those programs.

“The idea is for them to get fans and possibly play and make some income,” Donohue says. “That is the ultimate goal. To get them a following, and for them to make a living performing. That is their American dream.”

Vetstock

WHEN | WHERE 3-9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, at The Emporium, 9 Railroad Ave., Patchogue

INFO 631-841-1141, project9line.org

ADMISSION $22 (free for veterans and military personnel with ID)

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