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I have met a lot of remarkable people in my life, but right now I stand in awe of Dean Gary, founder and organizer of Freedom Fest, an event that celebrates the men and women who serve in our country’s military forces.
Five years ago, Dean started Freedom Fest and gathered over 1,500 people together. This year, he hopes to welcome 6,000. Every year, Dean serves as the event’s primary financial backer (aka: using his own money to fund the event), band recruiter, security organizer, ticket salesman, port-a-potty guru, stage manager, parking director and much, much more.
“It’s like planning 20 weddings at once,” says the Denver-area realtor. “I have grandkids and a career and I get utterly exhausted by the end of this event every year. I get sick for four to six weeks after it’s over. But I won’t quit on those who don’t quit on me.”
“I didn’t serve and I want to give back to the men and women out there who would take a bullet for me,” he says. “I have friends who suffer from PTSD and I’ve lost some friends due to it. I want to give veterans a safe place where they see and feel the love and respect we have for them.”
But, as you can imagine, he also hears from doubters who think he somehow makes money off of this event, that he’s profiting personally. As someone who’s been involved with Freedom Fest for three years now, I can tell you flat-out that this guy isn’t making a dime. In fact, I know that he has lost money in the six-figure range, but he just keeps doing it.
“I’m sure that the man above helps us every year,” he says. “These men and women don’t quit on me. If I hurt financially, I just remind myself that are hurting physically and emotionally. I just keep going.”
As a sponsor of this event, I understand the skepticism. In our society where we see headlines every day about people and organizations taking advantage of good people and good causes, it is hard to believe someone would give so much with no personal gain. But I’m here to tell you that there are angels out there and Dean Gary is one of them. He runs on faith and passion alone.
Every year, whether the event loses money or breaks even, Dean makes a gift to the American Soldier Network, whose mission is to end suicides among military veterans. But even that gift isn’t the end-goal of Dean’s efforts. Money isn’t the object.
“The biggest impact – the real reason I do this—is to let soldiers know they’re loved. When soldiers can stand in a crowd of thousands, where people are hugging them and telling them they are loved… that can save lives. Love can save lives. That’s why we don’t quit after the years I lose money. When someone tells you that they didn’t take their life, nothing can replace that.”
Every year, one of the most profound moments at the event occurs when a group of soldiers takes an oath not to end their lives. The founder of the American Soldier Network takes the stage and leads the soldiers in the oath. This year, they will also honor the families of fallen soldiers.
“People get confused,” Dean admits. “The cost of the show is outrageous. They think, ‘Tickets are $50 per person and you’re getting 5,000 people, so you’re making $250,000.’ But the show cost me $280,000! It doesn’t make money.”
Dean says he keeps going through faith and a belief that the event makes a difference.
Freedom Fest has outgrown the event’s previous venue and found a place that shares the same vision Dean has for helping heroes. Dean has partnered with Jefferson County Fairgrounds for Freedom Fest 2019 and he couldn’t be happier.
“Jeffco’s been amazing to work with,” he says. “They are so supportive of our mission to honor our nation’s heroes. I think everyone will feel that support as soon as they enter the fairgrounds.”
He’s also lined up a few volunteers and supporters to help with event organization and financing. I stepped up again this year to sponsor the event through Rider Justice and I am thrilled to be part of this important event.
These bands will keep the spirits tasting section hopping:
Then these legends hit the main stage!
Doors open at 11:30am, with festivities starting at noon, and the party rolls until 10pm. Limited VIP parking is available for purchase and limited parking is also available at the Fairgrounds. There is also free parking and light rail access from the Jefferson County Park n Ride. Get your tickets today!
“Please come!” says Dean. “You won’t believe how good this event makes you feel!”