Fans of Horseshoes and Hand Grenades show support for their band dancing in circles at the eighth Annual Labor of Love Music Festival (Earlene Frederick/The Report).

Labor of Love festival brings in the bluegrass beats

By Jason Arndt

A free-spirited crowd of diehard bluegrass fans converged Sept. 3 at the eighth annual Labor of Love Music Festival in New Munster, where several danced to the tune of four bands, with proceeds benefiting established suicide prevention and mental health programs.

The event, held since 2010, was presented by Just Live, Inc., a nonprofit organization with a mission to save the lives of people on the brink of suicide, which claimed the life of Jamie Leigh Wilson, whom the event memorializes.

The nonprofit organization, consisting of volunteer board members, started in 2009 after her death and looks to raise awareness by offering resources to those suffering the same pain with hopes of saving lives.

Just Live, Inc. board member Janet Geller-Lesko reports $72,000 was raised, and in October, the board of directors plans to decide where to distribute the funds.

Last year, the nonprofit organization made contributions to Hopeline, a text messaging helpline, and Marquette University, where scientists have used the funds to research the cause of mental illness.

On Sept. 3, Geller-Lesko said the four bands were well received and some brought in their own fans from across the region and state.

“We have great weather, we have got phenomenal bands, some of which have come back, like Horseshoes and Hand Grenades and Charlie Parr,” Geller-Lesko said. “Every one of the bands has their own following, so there were people in the audience that follows them wherever they go.”

Joining Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, and Charlie Parr were Dead Horses and Split Lip Rayfield.

This year, the festival extended the event by one hour.

“It went really well, because we have also extended the time,” Geller-Lesko said in regards to the added band. “We can fit in that extra band. That really helps a lot.”

Angel Kotrba, 32, agreed with Geller-Lesko’s assessment of the day.

“It is beautiful and everyone is having a good time,” Kotrba said. “People are dancing and having fun.”

For Kotrba, the event carried an additional meaning, considering Wilson was her friend.

Like the bands playing, Kotrba described Wilson as a free-spirit who had a love for bluegrass music and the outdoors.

“She had the heart of gold, she was very close with her family,” Kotrba said. “She loved the outdoors, loved Alaska, and was great at fishing – better than me.”

Kotrba, of Burlington, grew closer to Wilson when she returned to the area from college.

“Jamie and I just became inseparable, even though we weren’t best friends our whole life, we knew each other, but then the year I came back from college we became best friends.”

Kotrba attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Gateway Technical College.

Through their friendship, Kotrba understood Wilson’s struggles, including depression and anxiety.

Kotrba, however, hopes to help others as a nurse at an intensive care unit, where she sees patients facing struggles similar to Wilson.

Along with Kotrba, hundreds of other supporters came to the event, which stunned Wilson’s mother, Kelly.

Kelly said she was “overwhelmed” by the show of support.


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