The Tribute Fest celebrates 15 years of Giving 

 The Tribute Fest is a two-day, two-stage, 20-band festival with an altruistic drive. Since 2009, the event has had dual goals: fundraising for a homeless veteran organization & offering a free concert experience for military families.  

Longtime organizers Lou Campbell and Mike Donnahue want to grow the festival attendance. “So many people tell me they’ve never heard of The Tribute Fest,” says Campbell. With the help of some sponsorship dollars, they hope to change that.  

Glimpse into History 

It started with an invitation to a veteran event at the St. Louis County Depot. There the late veteran advocate Durbin Keeney talked about a local servicewoman who returned from a tour in Iraq. 

 She had left her husband and children to serve. When she returned, her job didn’t exist anymore, and soon her husband left their marriage. Ultimately, she lost her house. “After couch surfing, she was living in her car,” recounts Campbell. That’s when the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV) helped her with housing, college and to establish a stable life. The story touched Campbell. 


Doing What They Could 

Campbell felt confident throwing a music festival, given his years of organizing events at Bayfront Festival Park and his partnership with Donnahue. However, turning a profit on his own was a different challenge. 

  Initially, the pair brought in big acts with larger financial risks to The Tribune Fest, like Brad Paisley. “We lost 5k that year,” says Campbell. Then Chuck Berry pulled out of t

he event and caused significant monetary loss.  “I’ve certainly learned how to lose money when it comes to organizing festivals,” laughs Campbell.  


Looking to GROW


At one point, the event caused him to remortgage his house and put strains in his marriage. Fortunately, both the festival and his marriage have weathered the storm and are now celebrating their respective 15- and 48-year anniversaries. 

Now The Tribute Fest books high-quality cover bands. Not only does it save money and curtail risk, Campbell says it’s just more fun. “Everyone likes to hear music they already know and enjoy.” 

These days, the event turns a modest profit, but Campbell would like to see more going to MACV. “We give away up to 2,000 tickets to military families and then we feed them,” Campbell says. “I could use that budget to market the festival, but I use it to create something special for the veterans. It’s important.” 

Now he has a plan to do both. This year, presenting sponsor NorthShore Federal Credit Union increased their cash donation to fund advertising of The Tribute Fest. Campbell hopes for more paid attendees in the audience to increase the cash benefit to the veteran group. 


The Bands 

This year, the bands are almost entirely from Minnesota and represent popular screaming guitars from the Eagles to Black Sabbath.  Cambell says these professional musicians come specifically to play for the veterans. He appreciates the acts cutting the festival “a good deal” so more money may be donated. 

“Everyone has to leave their ego at the door,” says Campbell, who organizes everything down to the port-a-potties. “Really, this is all about the veterans and giving them what they deserve.   

Free tickets are available for veterans, active-duty personnel and their families. General tickets are available online at 

Lou Campbell photographed working an early Tribute Fest event.