David Lowery, lead singer of alternative rock band Cracker with popular 99X staples “Low”, “Get Off This” and “Teen Angst”, now lives in Athens and is a lecturer at the University of Georgia where he teaches music business. Drivin N Cryin became a legendary Atlanta rock band in the late 1980s and early 1990s with hits like “Fly Me Courageous”, “Honeysuckle Blue” and “Straight to Hell”. And Atlanta-based Arrested Development found success in 1992 with its quirky hip-hop sound, landing top 10 pop hits “Tennessee,” “Mr. Wendel,” and “People Everyday” and Grammy Awards.
The first eight Alzheimer’s Fests have collectively raised more than $150,000 and Zangaro expects this one to be the biggest yet.
The $60 general admission ticket can pay for three hours of respite care, the kind of break that primary caregivers need but often struggle to find or afford. (VIP tickets for $150 are also available.)
Zangaro, 46, said he was able to grow the festival thanks to a kindred spirit in Decatur resident Whitney Oeltmann, who co-founded the Dementia Spotlight Foundation in 2016.
Oeltmann, a 51-year-old mother of two with a master’s degree in social work, was hosting a fundraiser for her band at the Buckhead Theater featuring actor Jack McBrayer in 2017 and met Zangaro, one of the acts music this June night.
On paper, the two were very different.
Oeltmann grew up in a comfortable middle-class existence. His father Anthony DeMarlo was a lawyer before he had Alzheimer’s disease. Despite the financial resources, she said support was hard to come by. “My father’s dignity has been stripped away,” she said. “His friends are gone. The friends didn’t want to talk to him. They were scared.”
Zangaro’s father, Albert, was an aircraft mechanic, and young Zangaro became a tattooed and heavily pierced rock musician. When Zangaro had to take care of his father, he had to quit his job and they were barely managing financially, almost losing their house.
But Zangaro and Oeltmann bonded over their shared struggles and became instant friends.
“My father died two weeks after the event,” Oeltmann said. “Vince was my rock.”
Zangaro’s father will die a year later. “We ended up being advisers to each other,” Zangaro said. “Living with dementia can be extremely isolating. She was a godsend.
>>RELATED: Vince Zangaro’s journey caring for his father’s Alzheimer’s disease
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, approximately 6.2 million Americans will suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias in 2021, a number that is only expected to increase. Oeltmann’s nonprofit, which works in Atlanta and Tampa, Fla., offers educational training for first responders, separate virtual support groups for people with dementia and their caregivers, and grants for families who need respite care.
“It’s a problem everywhere,” Oeltmann said. “Dementia has no barriers, no prejudices.”
For the singer of Cracker Lowery, 61, the subject touches him closely: his mother died of Alzheimer’s disease a few years ago. While her memory has faded, the music of her youth has remained, such as Vera Lynn, a popular British singer during World War II and flamenco and mariachi music in their Southern California neighborhood from the 1960s. “Even when she was almost completely gone and couldn’t speak, she could appreciate those songs,” he said.
Studies have shown that music can relieve stress and anxiety in patients with dementia.
Speech, 53, of Arrested Development gets a lot of charity requests, but Alzheimer’s Fest wasn’t a hard sell. “I have family members who have suffered from dementia and Alzheimer’s,” he said, “so it piqued my interest and touched my heart. There was also a Georgian atmosphere and that made him special.
Kinney, 60, said he knows enough people with dementia to worry about catching it himself. “I constantly do crossword puzzles to try to keep my wits about me,” he said. “It’s easy to get paranoid if you forget something or can’t remember where the remote is.”
Zangaro said caring for his father changed his life 180 degrees. “Before he got sick, I was a pompous jerk who wanted to do drugs and meet girls,” he said. “Once my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, that selfishness in me had to go. I had to stop living in my world and start living in his world. It was moment to moment. No past, no future. Just now.”
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
The 9th Annual Alzheimer’s Festival featuring Cracker, Arrested Development and Drivin N Cryin
6 p.m. on Friday, February 4. $60 to $150. Buckhead Theater, 3110 Roswell Road NE, Atlanta. www.universe.com.