Last year, when Johann Torres was closing down the Stage, a Design District music venue that he partly owned, he began sniffing around Miami for a new spot to host events. "One of the places I looked at was the American Legion," Torres tells us over the phone. The more he looked into the veterans organization, the more he felt compelled to help. "There I got to meet Richard Love, who ran the American Legion. Talking to him really inspired me to do something for veterans."
Now, after a year of stops and starts, an event has finally come to fruition. It's called VetFest and it will be, fittingly, held this Veteran's Day, November 11, at Mana Wynwood. "There's a lot of events for Veterans Day, but regularly they're for older veterans," Torres says. "We wanted to target this towards a younger demographic. We're trying to do something to honor younger veterans." The event, which is free for veterans and those that register at EventBrite.com, is also accepting cash donations to go toward Prosperity of Warriors, a local nonprofit that assists veterans in their transition back into civilian life. As a further incentive to give, those who bring two canned goods will get a free drink ticket at the door.
Torres used his contacts as a music booker to make sure VetFest wasn't just for a good cause but also for a good time. The headliner will be the Bright Light Social Hour, an Austin, Texas, quartet whose live show is equal parts psychedelic, garage, and classic Southern rock. Torres also wanted to put some of his favorite local bands on the bill. "I wanted something fitting the likes of indie rock, so we have SunGhosts, a band who are headed in the right direction with so much potential. I wanted some hip-hop, so Otto von Schirach fit perfectly with his crazy bass sound."
Also on the bill for the party — scheduled to go from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. — are Juke, Chantil Dukart, DJ Heron, and DJ Sharpsound. There will also be food, drinks, art, and merch for sale.
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A few weeks away from the event, Torres was still waiting to finalize more activities for veterans, including an after-party and a flag ceremony.
Torres has had multiple friends who served in the armed forces and is hopeful this can be the first of many VetFests. His goal is to grow the party bigger each and every year. Organizing this event has also made him eager to hold a similar festival for others in a similarly selfless and often thankless profession. "I'm hoping to do something next year that I'm not quite ready to announce that supports firefighters, coast guard, and other rescue service members real soon."
VetFest 2016 with Bright Light Social Hour and others. 5 p.m. Friday, November 11, at Mana Wynwood, 318 NW 23rd St., Miami. Admission is free for veterans or if you register at eventbrite.com; otherwise, it's a $10 donation at the door.