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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 www.pennypack.org or the Facebook page Pennypack Musicfestival.