Suzy Fest is a community success Local family is helped by the community's generosity
The Yuen family, at left, were the recipents of the funds raised by Suzy Fest. They were overwhelmed by the community's generosity and have pledged to be part of Suzy Fest in 2018.
By Linda Smith Hancharick WARWICK — Suzy Fest was the epitome of a community event. The Warwick Valley Winery was the setting on June 17 where 23 musicians volunteered their time and talents, singing the songs of Suzy Arnowitz, the Warwick musician they came to honor. Suzy Arnowitz lost her long battle with cancer last September. Her husband, Glenn Arnowitz, and their music partner Gerard “Gee” Mancini, decided to honor Suzy with the music festival but also to do something good for a local family in the Warwick community struggling with cancer. “The entire experience was amazing,” Arnowitz said. “We had no idea that Suzy Fest would be that successful. Twenty-three musicians, sold out in 10 days, over 100 people on the waiting list! And we sold almost 100 T-shirts as well.” Many on that waiting list attended, filling the winery to capacity for what would become a very memorable night. Different musicians from the area, most of whom worked with Suzy at some point during her career, chose their favorite songs written by Suzy to perform. The Arnowitz’s daughters, Kara McKevitt and Lisa Arnowitz, sang their version of “I’m Your Mother,” reworking it to “You’re Our Mother,” bringing laughs and tears to the crowd. “I have to give a special call out to the Arnowitz girls who not only supported the event but became an important part of it,” said Mancini. “From day one, Kara and Lisa set the emotional tone and we all took their lead. I can’t express how emotionally powerful it was for me to see those two young women, whom I’ve known since the day they were born, get up on that stage and sing their mom’s songs.” Paying it forwardIn addition to honoring Suzy Arnowitz and her music, the event raised $6,000 for a Warwick family. The Yuen family was the recipient of the community’s generosity. They attended the event. Vicki Yuen was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer just after her husband, Alan, was released from the hospital after treatment for Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS), a type of cancer that occurs when the blood-forming cells in the bone marrow are damaged. The couple has two children. Vicki has had two surgeries and numerous chemotherapy treatments. “It was very hard on our twins, who were 14 at the time,” said Yuen. “We have been very fortunate to have supportive friends and work-place supervisors and coworkers.” Yuen said she read about Suzy Fest in The Warwick Advertiser and thought it was a beautiful way to celebrate Suzy’s life and to help someone in the community. Little did she know her family would be the ones helped. “Through a guidance counselor at Warwick Valley High School, Mary Fox, I was connected with Glenn,” said Yuen. “From the start of the conversation, I felt the warmth and compassion he feels for others. We had a long conversation about our lives and about Suzy. We were very overwhelmed when Glenn told us that our family had been chosen as the beneficiaries for this wonderful event. We plan to be a part of next year’s Suzy Fest and help Glenn and Gee as much as we can.” Paying it forward - that is exactly what this event was about. “The event was amazing,” said Yuen. “Friends and family members shared memories of Suzy with stories about her and performing the songs she had written. Her lyrics spoke to me: so powerful, passionate, honest and gave voice to so many of my thoughts and feelings over the past few years.” A ‘beautiful gesture’It wasn’t just those who came to Suzy Fest who contributed. “Another beautiful gesture came from Christy Halligan Brown, whose band, Emish, was playing the same night on the green in Warwick,” said Glenn Arnowitz. “She spoke about Suzy Fest to her audience and they collected $310 from passing the hat around. The Blarney Stone kicked in another $100 which was so generous. My daughter Kara and her husband Matt met while working there years ago.” Suzy Fest 2018?Musicians and attendees immediately started talking about doing Suzy Fest on an annual basis. “Gee and I are discussing our options for making Suzy Fest an annual event but recognize that it will need to evolve to include different performers as well as different venues and expanded musical material,” said Arnowitz. “Throughout the process, Sue was our beacon, guiding us in the right direction and we would like to believe that we did her proud.” Closing the show After all of the musicians performed their Suzy songs, the stage was turned over to Suzy. A recording of her singing her song, “The Mountain,” closed the show. “It seemed fitting to hand the stage over to Sue for the finale,” said Mancini. “The Mountain really is Sue telling her story and it put the whole evening in perspective. You felt the emotion in the room but I think Sue’s words put us all at ease.”