Compass, ESFM Associates Rally for Our Nation’s Heroes During Bands for the Brave

November 10, 2023
Chris Lilly performs during Bands for the Brave 2023.

From pulse-pounding beats to soul-stirring melodies, groovy rhythms and infectious hooks that demand to be sung along with, music has a way of bringing people together. 

That’s exactly what Bands for the Brave is doing in Stillwater, Minnesota — rallying the community through food, drink and, of course, live music all to help support veterans struggling with mental trauma.  

At the heart of the effort is Compass Group USA. Bands for the Brave was started a decade ago by a handful of Canteen One associates including Chris Lilly, currently ESFM’s Senior Vice President, Technology, and Doug Kotulski, Canteen Senior Cloud Engineer, under the leadership and support of Tony McDonald, Eurest and ESFM CEO, and Phil Richard, Canteen One President. The idea was simple — create an outlet for employees to give back to our veterans and have a good time in the process. 

“The festival draws musicians from many genres who donate their time to perform and create a fun atmosphere for all to enjoy,” Lilly said.  

Bands for the Brave is an annual daylong festival held in early September at a brewery in Stillwater with free admission, a family friendly atmosphere and plenty of great food donated by Compass. It serves as a fundraiser to send veterans through evidence-based programs to treat anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation via the HOOAH (Helping Out Our American Heroes) Victory for 22 program. (The number 22 represents the approximately 22 veterans who lose their battle with post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, each day.)  

“Bands for the Brave holds a very special place in my heart,” Kotulski said. “I have had the privilege of meeting and personally knowing some of the veterans who have been helped through the program. These are men and women who very well may not be with us today if it weren’t for this program.” 

Volunteers pose for a photo during Bands for the Brave.The event has grown steadily over the years. In its first year, Bands for the Brave raised about $4,500; in 2022 donations soared to $110,000. Celebrating its 10th year in 2023 Bands for the Brave exceeded $131,000 in donations and sponsorships. All funds raised go directly to HOOAH’s Victory for 22 program. Canteen One covers the costs of putting on the event.    

Each year, approximately 50 Compass employees help manage and run the festival. Compass leaders serve as executive sponsors, volunteer coordinators and even performers. A staple of the lineup is The CeeGees: a tribute rock band of associates from across the country, including Lilly. 

“It is very meaningful to be a part of an event that does so much for our heroes who need it most,” Lilly said. “I’m grateful to be a part of Compass and to know our organization supports efforts like this to ensure more people who are struggling get access to the treatment they need.”