You might assume that an event called Freedom On would be a kind of garish celebration of overzealous patriotism: nothing more than less-than-mediocre bands plus the Pledge of Allegiance led from the stage. It's true that last weekend's inaugural festival took place at the Grizzly Rose, a club that generally hosts country music and has not one but two mechanical bulls and an all-around design that seems to be based on the bar from Urban Cowboy.
Yet Freedom On also included gracious and sincere hosts and a crowd that minded its manners, and so it was impossible to come away with anything but a positive impression. There were more than a few people in attendance who had lost limbs, and their presence alone brought home the point of what it means to be a disabled veteran in the U.S. It was encouraging that no one treated them differently — well, not everyone. During a set by All That Remains, singer Phil Labonte drank from someone's prosthetic leg, but a show of solidarity doesn't get more real than that.
The Freedom On festival was the first iteration of the event put on by Drinkin' Bros, who run a popular podcast, and it benefited an organization called Fallen Angel Aviator Foundation. In a back room, there was a silent auction that featured items like signed movie and music posters, sports memorabilia, old knives and guns, and even a guitar signed by Prince.
As for the festival's music, you wouldn't find anything like Aphex Twin or Kendrick Lamar. However, the artists chosen to perform at this event were also not what you'd necessarily expect to hear in barracks or bars near military bases. While Lewis Bryce brought pretty standard bar rock with a country flavor, you couldn't dismiss it as cartoonish. Brandon Saller performed some covers, including a song by metalcore band Atreyu. Assuming We Survive played the kind of pop punk-metal hybrid that was most popular in the early 2000s, when many of these veterans were in high school. All That Remains was the most famous band on the bill, and its mix of hardcore and death metal was heavy yet accessible. Its brand may not fly with hipper-than-thou metal fans, but it never came off as bunk.
All of the musical acts in the lineup included someone who had served in the military, which pointed to thoughtfulness on the part of the event organizers. It seemed important to the event overall that it included performers who didn't merely sympathize, but instead could speak with authority about the military experience. While the Freedom On festival may not be considered by many music fans to be a "cool" event, the detail, care and consideration that went into its execution indicated that the effort was genuine rather than exploitative. Insincerity doesn't get a pass with soldiers, and the organizers knew that.