by Cori Hilsgen
When Rich Schwegel decided to step down as chairman of the Joetown Rocks July 3 concert after chairing it for more than 14 years, a trickle of questions and rumors began circulating in St. Joseph about whether or not there would be a concert this year.
After two new volunteers, Dean Budde and Bruce Bechtold, stepped up to co-chair the event, residents can be assured once again the show will go on.
Budde said Bechtold had asked him if he might be interested in the new chair position. After doing some “soul searching” he decided he would co-chair the event with Bechtold if he was also willing to do so.
“I thought to myself the parish needs the revenue and it is a strong community event,” Budde said. “There are a lot of good people doing a lot of good things in the system and I would hate to see it go by the wayside.”
Bechtold said the concert has become a large parish and area event.
“Dean and I spoke and wanted to keep the concert alive and part of our parish festival,” Bechtold said. “We hope to continue the concert and perhaps include other community members.”
Bechtold said parish leadership met with Jeff and Tommy Velline to see if they were still interested in helping with the concert.
“The Vellines once again stepped up and are working diligently on helping us to put on a quality show,” he said. “Many of the past members of the concert committee agreed to continue in their roles and several new people volunteered to assist as well.”
“The Vellines have been wonderful people to work with and the concert would not happen without them,” Budde said. “We thoroughly thank them for what they have done in the past and for what they continue to do.”
Budde said everything with the concert and festival should continue in a similar format as last year.
“My hope is we will draw the crowd we are used to, we will get good participation from all of our parish members – which I am very confident that can happen – and that the weather plays nice,” Budde said.
He said there is going to be a consistent transition of chairpeople in the festival stands at all times and it is right that should happen. Unless people choose to continue in their positions, the transitions need to happen to keep the event going.
Bechtold said they intend to provide another great concert and festival for the parish and area.
He said the concert has become an important part of the festival and draws huge crowds to St. Joseph.
“The concert was started by Rich and Darla Schwegel and they and a group of volunteers helped it to become what we know,” Bechtold said. The Schwegels served for years as the leaders of the Concert Committee but decided to step down after last year. They deserve a rest after all of the work they did.”
Rich Schwegel began putting the Concert Committee and concert plan together in the winter of 2005. After July 4, 2005, they received a commitment from Bobby Vee that he would perform a concert in 2006.
Robert Thomas Velline, who was known professionally as Bobby Vee, was a famous songwriter and musician who also appeared in films, had many Top 20 hits and performed worldwide. He died in 2016 after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Schwegel was the chair of the Church of St. Joseph Catholic Church’s Pastoral Council at that time and the group was planning the church’s 150th anniversary. As part of the celebration Sandy Scholz, who was then the parish business administrator, thought of the idea of an outdoor concert featuring Bobby Vee, since he had a recording studio across the street.
Scholz and the Rev. Greg Miller, the pastor at that time, consulted with Schwegel about it and he agreed it was a good idea. Schwegel said they then told him he was in charge of contacting Vee and organizing the event.
“I didn’t know anything about putting together a rock concert,” Schwegel said. “I thought about all (the) things one would need for an outdoor concert and then formed a committee of people who were smart in the different areas I thought we’d need. I talked with Jeff Vee and Bobby Vee about (performing) the concert and at first, they hesitated. Then they attended our July 3 and 4 celebration in 2005, liked what they saw and said yes, Bobby would (perform) a concert.”
A few memories Schwegel shared of past concerts include during one of the first years of the concert, around 1 a.m., when volunteers were still taking things down after the concert, he noticed a guy strolling through the parking lot where 12,000 people had been just a few hours before, kicking at beer cans and obviously very deep in his thoughts. Schwegel said he walked out to the person who turned out to be Bobby Vee, just enjoying the afterglow of a “fabulous night.”
Another memory was of the fourth or fifth concert. Volunteer Larry Christen, Jeff Vee, Bobby Vee and Schwegel were off to the side of the stage looking out at probably 15,000 people singing, cheering and having a great time. We were saying how unreal it felt to have “ordinary people like us put together such an extraordinary event.”
“It looked like Jeff had tears in his eyes and he said ‘It’s just magic. It’s just magic.'” Schwegel said.
Schwegel agreed with others who have said the concert has put St. Joseph on the map. He has talked to people from throughout the Midwest, Montana, Canada, England and Germany who came to St. Joseph just to attend the concert.
He contributes several things to the success the parish has experienced with the concert.
“First, of course, was Bobby Vee,” Schwegel said. “To have an internationally known rock star perform in a small town like ours puts us on the map. Second, Joetown Rocks was well organized. In its early years, Bobby Vee told a local resident Joetown Rocks was the best-organized concert he’s ever performed at. Third, I believe was our volunteers. The small town, friendly, German Catholic folks from our church were excellent at making the tens of thousands of visitors feel welcomed and appreciated. None of this could have happened without our hard- working parishioners. Finally, I think we drew the large crowds that we did (last year estimated at 22,000) because it was free. Where else can you go and get six hours of outstanding music for free?”
Schwegel said there are other towns such as St. Cloud, Willmar, Park Rapids and others that are also hosting free summertime outdoor music nights. They follow the format of the Joetown Rocks concert.
“We built a very successful model,” he said. “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.”
The Velline Family’s contributions
Jeff Vee said their family has a long-standing tradition of concert events in the area to raise funds for the Catholic community and specifically for the schools. In 1981 Rock Around The Clock was started at Cathedral High School by their parents Karen and Bob Velline.
After 24 successful years, and more than $2 million raised, they decided to do something different. St. Joseph had become their home base and it made sense to continue the tradition here. “Joetown Rocks” was born in 2006 and quickly built on the success of Rock Around The Clock carrying that tradition forward as they now head into their 15th year.
“Having initially been built around our father Bobby Vee’s annual local performance, it was a challenge to keep the concert alive and on track after his sudden retirement in 2011 due to a diagnosis of early on-set Alzheimer’s disease,” he said. “Despite this, the event continued to grow each year, something many people should be proud of.”
Vee said Joetown Rocks was always meant to be a “family-friendly, true community event, more than just a parish festival. Each year the event showcases young local talent in addition to the great headline performances.”
He said they appreciate the 20 years they’ve been on Main Street in St. Joseph running their business and have always felt it was important to give something back to this great area by doing what they know how to do, which is music. In many ways, this is also an ongoing tribute to their parents’ legacy and a tradition that started 40 years ago.
He said it has become more challenging to continue to maintain support and manage the logistics of such a large event.
“With strong support from new parish leadership, we chose to refocus and try to rebuild the machine necessary to keep it alive,” Vee said. “We want everyone to feel a part of this great annual summer celebration regardless of age, race and faith. Along with the new leadership, we are also exploring ways the event can contribute even more to needs in the immediate community.”
Budde joined the Church of St. Joseph Catholic Church around 2002 but said he didn’t get involved in any leadership activities until three years ago when he was asked to chair the Cemetery Committee.
He and his wife, Dede, also co-chaired a capital campaign with Mike and Jeny Meyer for renovating the church and helped raise $1.7 million. Dean was involved with the building and design of the renovation. Dede is a trustee of the parish and is part of the Finance Council.
Dean has been involved with Budde Trucking, including owning the company during part of the time, for 43 years and plans to retire soon.
Bechtold grew up in St. Joseph and is a retired Stearns County chief deputy who worked in law enforcement for 32 years.
His father, Herb Bechtold, was a chairperson at the July Fourth festival for many years while he was growing up and Bruce has volunteered at the festival “since he was old enough to help.”
Bruce and his wife, Pat, have chaired the chicken dinner and the refreshment stand. They were also general chairpersons for several years and are currently chairing the refreshment stand.
Schwegel is a retired health promotion manager from the Veterans Health Administration, who trained physicians and nurses for the upper midwest region in health promotion and patient-centered care. His wife, Darla, was active as secretary with the Concert Committee during the years he chaired the event.