ST. ALBANS — After a year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Afterglow will again bring live music, positivity and education to Franklin County this Saturday.
In the wake of their son AJ’s death, St. Albans residents John Holzscheiter and Andrea Wells started Afterglow in 2019. The music festival is held annually on AJ’s birthday weekend at Hard’Ack Recreation Area.
In addition, the event this year falls on the would-be 21st birthday of Avery Vaillancourt, an Enosburg resident who was also recently lost to suicide. The Afterglow Committee is dedicating the festival this weekend to her.
“We want to make the faces of suicide real, to try to take the stigma away,” Holzscheiter said. “It's very emotional for us all, but we don't want it to be an emotional day that drags people down. We want it to be a celebration. We want it to be a party.”
Afterglow 2021 will be made possible by several area sponsors, including AN Deringer, Heritage Ford and Toyota, First Insurance Funding, The Vermont Agency and TIAdvisors.
A few weeks ago, at the 10th annual All Charity Golf Tournament hosted by The Vermont Agency, Holzscheiter and a team of friends won $15,000 for Afterglow in a wildcard competition — a bonus that will help offset costs and allow more proceeds to go to deserving organizations.
“It means so much to us to support something so honorable and something so important,” Jillian Wood, events and promotions coordinator at The Vermont Agency, said.
1. The all-day event includes music, food and activities for people of all ages.
“It's a whole family event,” Holzscheiter said. “Something that for a fairly relative cost, people can come up and spend the whole day at. We haven’t had live music for quite some time, and these are super, super great local bands.”
Between 1-8 p.m. three musical groups — Quadra, Bad Horsey and Glass Onion — will take to the stage.
Food and beverages will be offered by 14th Star Brewing, Mill River Brewing, Maquam Winery, AFK Kombucha, 242 Barbecue, Phoenix House 1835 and Fire on the Mountain Pizza.
The Vermont National Guard will also be on site with a number of activities for kids, including a climbing wall.
2. Proceeds will go to suicide support services.
Ticket sales will benefit Northwestern Counciling and Support Services and the Vermont chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
“These organizations, we feel, have a very firm handle on what is going on locally,” Holzscheiter said. “They're experts...so we are entrusting NCSS and the AFSP to put these funds to best use for people who are fighting or struggling with suicide.”
Tickets are $25 for adults age 18 and older, $10 for 15-17-year olds, $5 for 5-14 year olds and free for those age 5 and under. Cost for admission is new this year, but parking is now free.
In 2019, Afterglow raised $27,000 for NCSS, the St. Albans Recreation Department and the local Learn to Ski and Ride Program. Holzscheiter hopes this year’s festival will meet or exceed that amount, allowing the committee to donate again to local youth programs.
“Our son was very involved in the [St. Albans] youth programs and our daughter as well,” he said. “We believe the programs they are developing give kids a purpose. They give them a passion they can have for their whole life … which helps prevent kids from committing suicide.”
3. Afterglow will shine a light on the local organizations developing suicide prevention programs.
In addition to NCSS and AFSP, two other organizations working toward suicide prevention — the Josh Pallotta Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting veterans and service members, and Sweathearts and Heroes a group focused on anti-bullying intiiatives — will be present.
Every hour, representatives from these organizations will step up on stage to share information about their work and encourage people to stop by their tables for conversation and resources.
After the festival in 2019, NCSS used the money it received to develop suicide prevention programs for parents and students. This is important, Holzscheiter said, because many resources already exist to help parents talk about substance-use, driving and sex, but materials around suicide are lacking.
“Afterglow is a celebration, so we don't want to overpower the whole event with this, but we're just trying to provide information and raise some money for these organizations so that they can develop better programs to hopefully save lives,” Holzscheiter said.