Despite reports of low attendance during the inaugural Mobile AeroFest last weekend, organizers maintain the event was a success and, most of all, carried out their mission of bringing the community together in support of assisting service men and women, who have been affected both physically and emotionally.

AeroFest spokesman Ernest Baynard emphasized the event’s primary goal was to show support and raise awareness for veterans, telling Lagniappe organizers are already in “planning mode” for 2016, though he did not provide specifics.

The event, held at Mobile Aeroplex, brought a wide variety of musical talent to Mobile while also generating money for the Independence Fund, a nonprofit organization focused on assisting veterans. Additionally, the festival boasted several events-in-one like mixed-martial arts bouts, “Hero Games” tailored to injured veterans and Arts Alive! among others.

“The inaugural AeroFest was a wonderful experience and something we felt was successful,” he said. “A lot of people had to see and experience it before they got the full picture.”

The Independence Fund presents retired U.S. Army Sgt. Dustin Tuller with a “Tank” track chair onstage during AeroFest.

The Independence Fund presents retired U.S. Army Sgt. Dustin Tuller, with a “Tank” track chair onstage during AeroFest.

According to Baynard, there were “many different storylines” of participating veterans who were honored throughout the two-day event, and he and other festival organizers believe those personal stories were what stood out and ultimately made Mobile AeroFest successful.

For example, the Independence Fund, which provides custom bicycles for injured veterans with mobility challenges, along with AHERO Foundation, SMA Solutions and the Tank Chair company, presented retired U.S. Army Sgt. Dustin Tuller, with a “Tank” track chair onstage during the festival. Tuller, who was wounded in Iraq 2003, had to have both legs amputated as a result of his injuries.

The Independence Fund also partnered with the festival for the inaugural AeroFest Independence Ride, a community bicycle ride with specialty cycles provided to injured veterans. While Baynard could not yet provide approximate numbers for those who participated in the ride, he said the special event “went really well.” Video footage and photographs posted online over the weekend show the cyclists traveling in a very small group, and musicians playing to just a handful of people.

“It was a pretty magical weekend,” he added.

Baynard said attendance and ticket sale numbers for the festival, in addition to the amount of money raised for the Independence Fund, are all still being tabulated and could not provide any preliminary estimates.

While numerous Mobilians admitted to not having heard about AeroFest until after the festival had concluded, Baynard said about 100 stories were written about AeroFest in the media and about 30 television news stories were broadcast. However, he said festival organizers are looking to do more advertising for future events, citing the inaugural festival was “operating under a pretty tight budget.”

Tight budget or not, Baynard went on to say organizers are really satisfied with the festival’s first-year, considering it came together in less than eight months. Most inaugural festivals, he said, take at least 18 months of planning.

“That in itself was very impressive,” he said, citing the amount of people and different organizations that came together in such a short period of time to organize a multifaceted festival.

When asked to address rumors of AeroFest canceling and alleged financial issues, Baynard released the following statement: “The show went on as planned, and very smoothly at that – it’s no small matter to put so many different acts and programs in one place, for the first time. Our hats are off to all the crew, volunteers, veterans organizations and active duty military who participated to make it such a success. Another thing that made AeroFest such a unique event was the fact that it was built as a nonprofit that partnered with several deserving organizations. We are very proud to support groups such as Independence Fund, AHERO and Gary Sinise Foundation.”

Buddy Rice, public relations and marketing manager for Mobile Aeroplex, said the facility was grateful to provide the partnership with AeroFest and allow the festival to use the grounds at Brookley, but have not confirmed the use of the grounds for next year’s festival.

For being only in its first year, Rice said Mobile AeroFest was a success and that every guest he interacted with over the course of the weekend were very appreciative.

“[AeroFest] is for all the right reasons,” he said.

According to Baynard, 22 service members commit suicide every day, and festival organizers felt a sense of urgency to assist disabled veterans and provide them with needed support and assistance.

“We didn’t want to wait until next year to start doing our part to do something about it,” he said.”