Biggest Alzheimer’s Fest yet features Cracker, Drivin N Cryin and Arrested Development

Feb. 4 fundraising event is at Buckhead Theatre.
The Alzheimer's Fest Feb. 4 at Buckhead Theatre features Arrested Development, Cracker and Drivin n Cryin. FILE PHOTOS

Credit: FIL PHO

Credit: FIL PHO

The Alzheimer's Fest Feb. 4 at Buckhead Theatre features Arrested Development, Cracker and Drivin n Cryin. FILE PHOTOS

Atlanta musician Vince Zangaro a decade ago had trouble finding services to help him take care of his father suffering from Alzheimer’s. He channeled those frustrations into Alzheimer’s Fest, a concert to raise money to help caregivers get respite care and support.

He turned the fundraiser into an annual event drawing acts over the years such as Reverend Horton Heat, Glenn Phillips and Cindy Wilson of the B-52s.

But Zangaro, now working with the Dementia Spotlight Foundation, outdid himself with his latest festival set for Feb. 4 at the Buckhead Theatre: a triple bill event featuring Cracker, Drivin N Cryin and Arrested Development. (The event was originally scheduled at the Tabernacle Aug. 28 but the rise of the delta variant at the time forced them to postpone it and move location.)

“It was a bucket list lineup,” Zangaro said.

All three bands have close ties to Georgia.

David Lowery, lead singer of alt-rock group 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 teaching the business of music. 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 collectively have raised more than $150,000 and Zangaro expects this one to be the biggest yet.

The $60 general admission ticket can pay for for three hours of respite care, the type of break primary caregivers need but often can’t easily find or afford. (VIP tickets for $150 are available as well.)

Zangaro, 46, said he has been able to grow the fest thanks to a kindred spirit in Decatur resident Whitney Oeltmann, who co-founded Dementia Spotlight Foundation in 2016.

Oeltmann, a 51-year-old mother of two with a masters degree in social work, was holding a fundraiser for her group at Buckhead Theater featuring actor Jack McBrayer in 2017 and met Zangaro, one of the musical acts that June night.

Whitney Oeltmann and Vince Zangaro are the organizers of the Alzheimer's Fest 2022 Feb. 4 at Buckhead Theatre. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONR

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Credit: CONR

On paper, the two were very different.

Oeltmann grew up in a comfortable, middle-class existence. Her dad Anthony DeMarlo was an attorney before he got Alzheimer’s. Despite having the financial resources, she said support was hard to find. “My father’s dignity was stripped away,” she said. “His friends went away. Friends wouldn’t talk to him. They were scared.”

Zangaro’s dad Albert was an aircraft mechanic and the younger Zangaro became a tatted-up, heavily pierced rock musician. When Zangaro had to take care of his father, he had to quit his job and they barely got by financially, almost losing their home.

But Zangaro and Oeltmann bonded over their common struggles and became instant friends.

“My father died two weeks after the event,” Oeltmann said. “Vince was my rock.”

Zangaro’s father would die a year later. “We ended up being each other’s counselors,” Zangaro said. “Living with dementia can be extremely isolating. She was a godsend.”

>>RELATED: Vince Zangaro’s journey taking care of his dad’s Alzheimer’s

About 6.2 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s and related dementias in 2021, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, a number that is only projected to rise. Oeltmann’s nonprofit, which works out of Atlanta and Tampa, Florida, provides educational training for first responders, separate virtual support groups for those who have dementia and their caregivers and grants for families who need respite care.

“This is an everywhere problem,” Oeltmann said. “Dementia has no barriers, no prejudices.”

Alternative rock band Cracker — David Lowery, left, and John Hickman — will play this year's Alzheimer's Fest. Contributed by Bradford Jones

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For Cracker lead singer Lowery, 61, the subject touches him closely: his mom died of Alzheimer’s a couple of years ago. While her memory faded, the music from her youth stuck, such as Vera Lynn, a British singer popular during World War II and the flamenco and mariachi music in their Southern California neighborhood from the 1960s. “Even when she was almost completely gone and couldn’t talk anymore, she could enjoy these songs,” he said.

Arrested Development won two Grammy awards for best new artist and best rap single in 1993 ('Tennessee'), selling over 6 million albums to date.

Credit: Robb D. Cohen/

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Credit: Robb D. Cohen/

Studies have shown that music can relieve stress and anxiety for dementia patients.

Speech, 53, of Arrested Development gets plenty of charity requests but Alzheimer’s Fest was not a hard sell. “I have family members who have suffered through dementia and Alzheimer’s,” he said, “so this piqued my interest and connected to my heart. It also had a Georgia feel to it and that made it feel special.”

Drivin' N' Cryin' rattled the Tabernacle windows with their spirited rock. Photo: JONATHAN PHILLIPS / SPECIAL

Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

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Credit: Melissa Ruggieri

Kinney, 60, said he knows enough people with dementia to worry about getting it himself. “I’m constantly doing crossword puzzles trying to keep my mind going,” he said. “It’s easy to get paranoid if you forget something or can’t remember where the remote is.”

Zangaro said taking care of his father changed his life direction 180 degrees. “Before he got sick, I was a pompous jerk who wanted to do drugs and meet girls,” he said. “Once my dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, that selfishness in me had to go away. I had to stop living in my world and start living in his world. It was moment by moment. No past, no future. Just now.”


The 9th Annual Alzheimer’s Fest with Cracker, Arrested Development and Drivin N Cryin

6 p.m. Friday, Feb. 4. $60-$150. Buckhead Theatre, 3110 Roswell Road NE, Atlanta.

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