Rocking Out for a Good Cause

By Lindsay Rassmann
Web Production Assistant

What does it take to put on a music festival? You can ask Bill Bourke, Zack Slater or any of the 60 Ocean County Vocational Technical School students that put on Tech Fest.

Bourke, Slater and the students of Tech Fest 4. Photo courtesy of Tech Fest.

Tech Fest is a student organized and run concert with ticket sales benefiting the Hopes and Dreams Scholarship fund which goes toward helping students pursue technical theater, audio or entertainment related careers. Over the past five years, Tech Fest has raised nearly $5,000 that has been awarded to six students.

Bourke and Slater, both instructors in the OCVTS Audio Recording program, say it started with the talented students and musicians in their classes.

“We started hosting shows for the kids. It was an opportunity to showcase their talents. Soon enough the idea began to grow and so did the student involvement and interest, so we started the first Tech Fest,” said Bourke.

“We came up with the idea to do a small acoustic show on a Friday night for the OCVTS students,” Slater said. “After having a blast at this small acoustic show, we went bigger. The first Tech Fest was in April 2010.  We had one stage with six bands on it. We had several acoustic or solo artists playing on the floor in a separate part of the room. I think we had six lights.”

Now in its fifth year, Tech Fest continues to grow. This year’s Tech Fest will have more than 40 LED lights, in addition to boasting complete PA systems for the event that have been loaned out by audio company PreSonus. Local companies such as DJ Mike West and Streamline Cinema have also donated their time and services to help make Tech Fest not only a great show, but also a learning experience for the students.

PreSonus Audio has sponsored our main stage sound! It is an incredible sound system. Their people are coming to help set it up, teach the students how to use it and host a professional demonstration on Saturday prior to the show,” Bourke said. “We have NJDJevents ‘DJ Mike West’ working with our student crew and sponsoring a bunch of lighting for our main stage. He is teaching the students how to program lights on computers and they are working with some great equipment. We also are working with Streamline Cinema and producing a live DVD of the headline band this year, Prehistoric Forest. They have been meeting weekly with our student crew of photographers and videographers and coordinating their assistance, along with his crew, for the taping of the production. These are all really great experiences for kids in high school who want to learn more about these technical fields. It’s hands-on application at its best in a very professional setting for hundreds of people.”

One of the two stages at last year’s Tech Fest. Photo courtesy of Tech Fest.

What Tech Fest Five has become is a far cry from the six artists that performed at the first Tech Fest. This year’s line-up will feature 23 artists performing over an eight hour time frame on two separate stages.

“The music doesn’t stop all day. When one stage is going, the opposite stage is setting up another band,” Slater said.

The artists include established popular bands from the tri-state area, as well as emerging artists and students from the school who have never performed before on stage.

“We like to mix it up and give the students an opportunity to perform with professionals. It’s an amazing experience,” Bourke said.

At the beginning, Bourke says they had a very small crew of four to five students and over the course of five years it’s grown close to 60 students that range from freshman Performing Arts Academy students to senior audio students to adult audio students from night classes to alumni that continue to come back to help, teach and support.

“From planning, booking bands, taking photos, making videos, mixing sound and running lights, Tech Fest is a showcase of our students’ abilities — both technical and performance based,” said Slater. “Our students start with an empty room and turn it into a full concert venue.”

What started as a small crew with limited gear and a lot of drive over the years has become a huge crew with even more drive.

“The students involved are getting smarter and smarter every year. Every year is a huge advance and many of the graduates leave high school work ready because of Tech Fest,” Slater said.

Students working the board at last year’s event. Photo courtesy of Tech Fest.

Bourke, Slater and other professionals from the industry train students all year to prepare for this event.

“By the time the show comes around, we really just watch them work,” Slater said.

To put how much Tech Fest has grown into perspective, the first Tech Fest took about two hours to set up. Last year’s show took 16 hours over the span of three days.

“We used to move all the gear from Tech Fest in my car and Bill’s car,” Slater said. “Now it takes multiple trucks and trailers to move in all the lights, speakers, consoles, computers, cameras, truss and all of the equipment that it takes to put on a show of this size.”

This year’s Tech Fest is being held at the Holy Cross Church in Toms River where the first Tech Fest took place.

“It’s nice to be back where it all began,” Slater said.

It’s a lot of work — and each year it grows bigger than the last — but according to Bourke they’re “building a coalition of new artists and technicians for the music industry, because we see where it all started, where it has been, where it is going and what we want it to be.”

Tech Fest will be held Saturday, April 18 at Holy Cross Church, 1500 Hooper Ave. in Toms River. Admission is $15 and proceeds support the Hopes and Dreams Scholarship Fund. Doors open at 1 p.m.

Watch the trailer for Tech Fest Five below: