Past National Commander Dave Rehbein announces the winner of the raffle for the Toby Keith-signed guitar at this year's Tree Town Music Festival. (Photo by Amy C. Elliott)

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.

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

“We got the opportunity from the Tree Town Festival to give ourselves increased visibility,” Department of Iowa Adjutant John Derner said. “That is really what we were looking for. 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. 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 also took to the stage on Saturday to present 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.

Legionnaires also got time on the main stage on Sunday when they announced the winner of a Toby Keith-signed Fender guitar.

On the final day, The American Legion 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.

Participating in Tree Town makes sense, Derner said. “I think it is a good relationship, and I think the country music audience is a good audience for us because they are patriotic at heart (and) they love America,” he said. “Those are the same things The American Legion stands for. I think this partnership will put us in touch with the kind of people that want to belong to our organization.”

The festival grew considerably from 2014 to 2015 and already has announced another big name for 2016. Tim McGraw will headline next year’s festival.

“I am surprised (by how fast the festival is growing), but the Tree Town people are really hard workers,” Department Finance Officer Ken Danilson said. “They’re very interested in promoting The American Legion, and we’re doing everything we can to help them promote The American Legion.”