The food truck, craft beer, and live music street fair comes back to Station Avenue Saturday, April 22. Some proceeds will benefit borough resident Doug Michell, who recently received a heart transplant.
By Matt Skoufalos | April 12, 2017
In a way, Doug Michell followed his heart to Haddon Heights.
The Toms River native and his wife, Allie, moved to the Philadelphia suburb for its proximity to the University of Pennsylvania health system.
That’s because ten years ago, Doug Michell was diagnosed with congenital cardiomyopathy, a hereditary condition from which his father died in 2015.
Since then, the 29-year-old has battled the effects of the disease while completing his degree in law and government, traveling internationally, and welcoming his infant son, Harris.
But in January, his condition worsened. Michell was rushed to the hospital, and was diagnosed with end-stage heart failure.
“We didn’t know why things got so bad so fast,” his sister Elizabeth DeRiggi said.
“He went in the hospital for surgery in January and never came out.”
Doctors kept Michell in the facility while they searched for a donor. During his stay, he flatlined twice. The family didn’t know whether he would survive. Finally, two weeks ago, he underwent a successful heart transplant. But DeRiggi said her brother is still very weak, and has a long recovery ahead.
“He hasn’t been walking since mid-January,” she said. “He’s been connected to pumps that have not allowed him to move at all. They have to do biopsies on his new heart once a week for a couple months.”
When word got out that Michell was rallying from his hospital stay, Haddon Heights in Progress (HIP) co-directors Joe Gentile and Fabian Brown decided to tie his cause to their upcoming Rhythm and Brews music festival, and came up with the hashtag #Hip4Doug to do it.
Tweeting out their support, organizers and HIP members have promoted the festival by advertising how $1 from every 16-ounce cup sold there will be donated to the Michell family to help offset the costs of Doug’s surgery and rehabilitation.
“We’re going to rally around the hashtag that day,” Brown said. “Hopefully it makes a difference.
“It’s not going to pay his debt for all the surgeries, but if it can ease the pain a little bit, we’re glad to do it.”
DeRiggi said the generosity of the group has overwhelmed her family.
“He’s completely dumbfounded,” she said. “It was enough for him to have people donate money in a GoFundMe campaign. He never imagined that this town that he lived in would support him.
“It’s his perfect little place to live,” DeRiggi said. “He cannot wait to get home. It’s almost like he was born to live there.”
Last year’s event drew between 4,000 and 5,000 guests, and Gentile expects this year’s will bring a similar crowd. The festival will feature 20 beers from 10 Jersey craft breweries and nine food trucks in addition to the eateries that line the 500 and 600 blocks of Station Avenue. Two stages will hold 11 musical acts from 3 to 8 p.m. The event is free to attend.
“I want Haddon Heights to be a place where there’s something downtown to do,” Gentile said. “Music on the avenue is important, and we’re going to really focus on that in the summer.”
Brown, who booked the musical acts for the show, similarly described Rhythm and Brews as a showcase for the community. Seven of the 11 bands on the bill are new to the downtown, and represent a diversity of styles including jam rock, classic rock, reggae, jazz, and singer-songwriter.
“We have a little bit of everything, and they’re all local,” he said.
“The focus is on good vibes, good music, and keeping the community together.”
Gentile said HIP is designed to bring community programming to the borough downtown business center, which does not have a formal business improvement district (BID).
Participating businesses, which need not have a Haddon Heights address to join, pay $100 per year for membership in the group, which Gentile described as “an elective BID.
“We’re trying to sustain ourselves as a business improvement organization without taxing the owners of the buildings,” he said. “We’re looking at this as an initiative to connect the towns, to erase this invisible line that’s not there.”
That get-along philosophy is already at work in the organization of the event. Power will be supplied by the Haddon Heights library as well as from a borrowed generator from the borough of Collingswood. Staging donated from the Camden County Parks Department and the borough of Audubon next door will give the acts a bigger boost. Volunteers from several communities will help keep the show running.
HIP pays for its own public works and police coverage for its programs, although Gentile said he wouldn’t mind some in-kind support from the borough in the future, as is typical at events in nearby Collingswood and Haddon Township. Nonetheless, he said the two-year-old organization is already making an impact.
“What inspires people to come down the street and hang out is if they have something to go to,” Gentile said.
“We are offering amenities to the area for all kinds of folks. When they see the charm of this place, you want to live here.”
Brown said organizers have also made improvements to the event that will smooth some of the bumps from last year’s inaugural performance.
He promised lines for the beer tents will flow better, and independent music label Ropeadope Records, which has an office on East Atlantic Avenue, will provide music to cover transitions between the acts. Last year’s sound engineer Charlie Sateriale will return to mix the performances.
“We’re about bringing culinary arts and music together and breaking down barriers,” Brown said. “We’re all one community. We want people to have some great beers, some great food, and some great music. That’s the goal.”
Cape May Brewing Company
Eight and Sand Brew Co.
Flying Fish Brewing Co.
Ludlam Island Brewing Company
Lunacy Brewing Company
St. Benjamin Brewing Company
Tuckahoe Brewing Company
Victory Brewing Company
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