It's a new concert season

Pennypack Park mu­sic fest finds a good for­mula by sign­ing up bands that play the hits of mu­sic­al greats.

By Tom War­ing

Times Staff Writer

Norm Jad­czak, a Pennypack Park Mu­sic Fest­iv­al board mem­ber, re­called a BStreet­Band con­cert about six or sev­en years ago.

The ven­er­able Bruce Spring­steen trib­ute band, formerly known as Back­streets, at­trac­ted a large crowd.

“A light bulb went on,” he said. “People like trib­ute bands.”

In the last few years, Jad­czak and oth­er board mem­bers have lined up a large num­ber of trib­ute bands, and audi­ences have had a pos­it­ive re­ac­tion.

The mu­sic fest­iv­al is go­ing strong. Its sea­son open­er was May 11, with Sat­urn and the All-Cath­ol­ic Jazz Band.

The May 18 con­cert was post­poned due to wet grounds, but the Fath­er Judge Jazz Band and Drum Line and Steal Your Face (a Grate­ful Dead trib­ute band) might re­turn on June 15.

Ring of Fire, a Johnny Cash trib­ute band, was sched­uled to per­form on Wed­nes­day, May 25. It was to be the fest­iv­al’s first coun­try act.

There will be fu­ture trib­utes to Ozzy Os­bourne, Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Dav­id Bowie, U2, Rolling Stones, Van Halen, Heart, Elvis Pres­ley, Eng­lish rock and Tina Turn­er.

“I think it’s be­come a des­tin­a­tion,” Jad­czak said. “Some people don’t care who the act is. It’s a nice night out. It’s very fam­ily ori­ented. The crowds are very well be­haved. And it’s spot­less when they leave.”

Jad­czak said crowds grow as the days get longer, the weath­er warms and news spreads by word-of-mouth.

“It builds,” he said. “Some people don’t real­ize it star­ted.”

The fest­iv­al series star­ted in the mid-1970s. Among the founders was Ed Kelly, who re­mains in­volved today.

In the be­gin­ning, big bands and string bands were pop­u­lar acts. Le­gend has it that Bon­nie Raitt’s first paid show was at the fest­iv­al. Kris Kris­tof­fer­son also per­formed in the park.

By the early 1990s, though, or­gan­iz­ing the fest­iv­al had be­come too big a chore for the vo­lun­teers.

The mu­sic died for about a dec­ade, but Kelly and oth­ers re­sur­rec­ted the fest­iv­al in 2001.

The cur­rent pres­id­ent is Glenn Mc­Curdy. Board mem­bers in­clude Jad­czak, Steve Hartzell, Liz Har­bison, Jerry Lath­rop, Glenn De­vitt, Bob To­maszewski and Janet Thielavia.

Harry Fritsch handles elec­tric­al work, and Bob Fin­neg­an and Lon­nie Goldiner per­form mul­tiple tasks.

Most mem­bers of the all-vo­lun­teer force are city work­ers and/or friends of Kelly’s.

Jad­czak, who met Kelly through Re­sur­rec­tion of Our Lord church, helps in set­ting up the sound sys­tem and Web site and hir­ing the bands.

“We try to add something new every year,” he said.

New acts this year in­clude Vince DeBlas­is and the TCE Band, which will put on an Elvis show on Aug. 10, and the Ir­ish bands Bog­side Rogues and Jam­is­on, which will per­form on Ju­ly 20.

“Ir­ish night is very, very pop­u­lar,” Jad­czak said. “People are go­ing to come.”

In ad­di­tion, there are main­stays. Le­Compt, a pop­u­lar long­time loc­al band, will join Bat Salad (an Ozzy Os­bourne trib­ute band) on stage on Wed­nes­day, June 1.

Simply the Best, a Tina Turn­er trib­ute band, will close the sea­son on Sept. 14.

“They’re fant­ast­ic,” Jad­czak said. “They’re al­most like a Broad­way show.”

Jad­czak said many of the bands have large, loy­al fol­low­ings, and he said con­cert-go­ers come from all neigh­bor­hoods in the North­east. Rain, of course, will dampen crowd size.

The con­certs are fun­ded by grants and con­tri­bu­tions from spon­sors.

The con­certs are free, but or­gan­izers ask for a nom­in­al dona­tion.

“People are very gen­er­ous,” Jad­czak said.

“We couldn’t do it without them,” said Hartzell, a Phil­adelphia Po­lice De­part­ment DARE of­ficer who is the an­noun­cer and also per­forms stage work and fund-rais­ing.

Con­cert or­gan­izers can largely do it without the city. They have to pay the city for an elec­tri­cian and ground­s­keep­er, along with a $1,000 as­sess­ment.

In all, the cost is about $1,300 per show. That in­cludes port­able bath­rooms, in­sur­ance and sound equip­ment. The cost rises when the bands are paid.

Still, the most im­port­ant thing for the or­gan­izers is that crowds have fun.

“We ex­pect a very nice sea­son,” Hartzell said. ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­

Listen to the mu­sic …

The 2011 Pennypack Park Mu­sic Fest­iv­al will of­fer con­certs most Wed­nes­days, from 7 to 9:30 p.m., through Sept. 14.

Con­certs are free, though dona­tions are ap­pre­ci­ated. Guests are en­cour­aged to bring lawn chairs. Al­co­hol is not per­mit­ted. A vendor sells re­fresh­ments.

There is some park­ing in the park and plenty of on-street spots. Those who park on the street can enter the park at Welsh Road and Cresco Av­en­ue and fol­low the path to the band shell.

For a con­cert lineup or more in­form­a­tion, call 215-574-2100 or vis­it or the Face­book page Pennypack Mu­sicfest­iv­al.

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