Headed back to Pennypack

Ed Kelly was honored last week as he re­turned to the stage he built 30 years ago in Pennypack Park.

Ed Kelly, the ori­gin­al founder of the Pennypack Park Mu­sic Fest­iv­al blows out his birth­day candle on his 85th birth­day on Wed­nes­day, Ju­ly 13. Kev­in Cook/for the Times

The 3,000-plus people who at­ten­ded last week’s Pennypack Park Mu­sic Fest­iv­al con­cert had a chance to show their ap­pre­ci­ation to the man largely re­spons­ible for the sum­mer en­ter­tain­ment series.

Ed Kelly, who turned 85 on Ju­ly 11, was honored two nights later dur­ing a con­cert by Joe Coyne and the Glim­mer Twins, who are trib­ute acts for Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones, re­spect­ively.

Valori Steele, from the Glim­mer Twins band, led the crowd in singing Happy Birth­day as Kelly took the stage. He blew out a gi­ant candle on a large sheet cake as Janet Tagliavia, one of the con­cert com­mit­tee mem­bers, made a big an­nounce­ment.

“It will be called the Ed Kelly Stage,” she said.

That would be ap­pro­pri­ate, since Kelly used his own money to build the stage about three dec­ades ago. It is loc­ated near the park en­trance at Welsh Road and Cresco Av­en­ue in Holmes­burg.

The con­certs con­tin­ued through the early 1990s, but ended when or­gan­izers could no longer handle the tasks of run­ning the fest­iv­al.

In 2000, Glenn Mc­Curdy was drink­ing cof­fee and read­ing the news­pa­per one morn­ing at the Coun­try Club Diner when he over­heard Kelly and oth­ers dis­cuss­ing a re­sur­rec­tion of the fest­iv­al. By then, the band shell had be­come a tar­get of graf­fiti van­dals and home to pi­geons.

Kelly, Mc­Curdy and the rest of the team were able to se­cure fund­ing from the city to re­store the band shell, which fea­tures a beau­ti­ful peace­ful park-set­ting mur­al. The con­certs made a mod­est re­turn in 2001.

In the dec­ade since, the con­certs have be­come some­what of a must-see for loc­al mu­sic fans.

This sea­son, 15 free con­certs were sched­uled on Wed­nes­days from May 11 to Sept. 14. They at­tract loc­als who walk to the park and folks from oth­er North­east neigh­bor­hoods whose cars sur­round the peri­met­er of the park and line side streets.

Kelly, who lives on Borbe­ck Av­en­ue in Rhawn­hurst, en­joys at­tend­ing the mu­sic shows and is buoyed by the large crowds.

While Kelly prefers string bands and the Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Harry James or­ches­tras to Mick Jag­ger and Keith Richards, he fa­vors book­ing acts that will draw people.

“Pennypack is great. I love it up there,” he said. “When I see the people so happy, it makes me feel good. It doesn’t cost them any­thing. Every­body is re­spect­ful of each oth­er. There are a lot of young people, and I love that. It’s won­der­ful to see all those kids dan­cing.”

The trib­ute was part of an ex­ten­ded cel­eb­ra­tion for Kelly, who also marked his birth­day with a din­ner at Fam­ous Dave’s res­taur­ant and an out­ing at one of his fa­vor­ite ven­ues, the Parx Ra­cing horse track.

Sev­er­al of those fam­ily mem­bers, in­clud­ing his wife of 60 years, Jane, joined him at the con­cert.

Kelly has been a re­spec­ted mem­ber of the com­munity for dec­ades. A com­bat vet­er­an of the Pa­cific Theat­er in World War II, he owned a suc­cess­ful auto re­pair and tow­ing shop in Burholme and served as pres­id­ent of the Great­er North­east Phil­adelphia Cham­ber of Com­merce from 1971-82.

“He was a polit­ic­al mover and shaker. He had clout,” said Mc­Curdy, pres­id­ent of the fest­iv­al board.

Kelly, who con­tin­ues to move in polit­ic­al circles, likes the pres­ence of the park rangers at the con­certs and thanks vis­it­ors for re­spect­ing the ban on drink­ing al­co­hol and smoking. The con­certs, though, could not go on without the com­mit­tee.

“They’re all vo­lun­teers. That’s im­port­ant to me,” he said.

The con­certs run from 7 to 9:30 p.m. People are wel­come to bring chairs or blankets.

Mc­Curdy said the con­certs have be­come a pop­u­lar tra­di­tion. People start mark­ing their cal­en­dars in the middle of winter, identi­fy­ing Wed­nes­day nights in the sum­mer as con­cert nights.

The crowd con­sists of people of all ages. They bring their cool­ers, bi­cycles, chil­dren’s coaches and dogs. Kids play catch with base­balls and foot­balls. There is usu­ally no trouble, and the park is left clean at night.

Or­gan­izers seek spon­sors to pay for the acts, in­sur­ance, port­able toi­lets, ground­s­keep­er, elec­tri­cian and sound equip­ment. Man­or Col­lege sponsored last week’s show and dis­trib­uted hand-held pa­per fans to keep people cool.

Com­mit­tee mem­bers ac­cept dona­tions in buck­ets, hold a draw­ing for a Paddy Whacks gift card and sell wa­ter ice, grilled food, re­fresh­ments, T-shirts and oth­er items.

The suc­cess of today’s con­certs can be traced to Kelly’s vis­ion, the com­mit­tee agrees.

“Not one of us would be in the park to­night without him. We’d be sit­ting home watch­ing the TV,” Tagliavia said.

Ruth Hor­witz, former prin­cip­al of what is now Swen­son Arts and Tech­no­logy High School, noted that Kelly in­cluded stu­dent bands in con­certs and had them cre­ate a mur­al.

“He is a pub­lic ad­voc­ate for everything,” she said.

Al Tauben­ber­ger, pres­id­ent of the Great­er North­east Phil­adelphia Cham­ber of Com­merce, presen­ted Kelly with a plaque from the busi­ness group.

Tauben­ber­ger worked closely with Kelly when he served on the staff of U.S. Rep. Charlie Dougherty. He cred­its Kelly with se­cur­ing the Cham­ber’s cur­rent of­fice at 8601 Roosevelt Blvd.

“Ed has worked tire­lessly for North­east Phil­adelphia,” Tauben­ber­ger said. “Without him, this area of the park would just be a si­lent grove.” ••

For the lineup of the rest of the sum­mer or more in­form­a­tion, call 215-574-2100, go to www.pennypack.org or vis­it the Face­book page Pennypack Mu­sicfest­iv­al.

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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