Today we’re talking to Steve Hartzel, announcer and volunteer of Pennypack Park Music series. We also talked to some of the talent that performed on May 20, 2015.
What year did the concerts in the park start?
“1971. Ed Kelly started them. He was the last of the people who started the original music festival. Everything had fallen into disarray. He just went around and found people, including myself, and he found some talent that we had. It could be a sound person, an announcer, someone that knew how to raise money. He actually went out and recruited all of us. He was very passionate about the festival. And over the last 11 years we all have become friends. Till the day Ed Kelly died, he was laying in his bed, in hospice, and he’d wake up and say “Alright now we gotta start talking about next week. Who are we having next week? How are we going to raise the money?” That was what he was like until the second he died. And that’s why it’s called the Ed Kelly amphitheater.”
Ken (another volunteer):
“Steve and I went to high school together, George Washington class of 1974, and one of the things we did back then was do some fundraising. We adopted two children from the children’s foundation. So it’s kind of growth from that…we’re still involved in community service.”
“Yeah you have to give back. You do. People come up to me all the time and ask what they can do. They want to do something. They may not have a lot of money but they want to help however they can.”
How did they start the concerts?
“Ed Kelly, and a bunch of like-minded citizens, started it. They wanted to build a stage and everything and the city said it was X amount of dollars, and from what I understand, the legend (the legend is usually the truth here), Ed Kelly said “I can build it for way less” and he raised the money to build the stage. He built it for about 1/4 the cost from what the city said.”
Anyone famous ever play here?
“We’ve had a lot of (famous) people play here (in the early days). Chris Christopherson. Bonnie Raitt…her first paid job was here. The real Glenn Miller Orchestra played here. We were all kids back then.”
How are the bands that play here now selected?
“We have a board. We take emails from the audience, or phone calls and then we decide to sit down (and vote on it). The basis is you have to be a tribute band. A tribute means one of a particular artist.”
I’ve noticed that there are some bands that play here that do not solely play one artist. Are there certain exceptions?
“Tonight is uniquely different because they are technically a country tribute band. We’re allowing different artists because in the Philadelphia area we’re testing the waters for country because we want to be able to do everything.”
Why is it solely one artist, or a tribute band, as opposed to cover bands that may please the masses as well? Especially with so many great bands in the area.
“Well, we’ve had them in the past on Saturday shows and we’ve come to find out that the draw really is the tributes. There is a lot of good ones out there (cover bands) that you’ll see at the bars. Here, people will come for the Rolling Stones tribute or the Bob Seger tribute, The Irish night tribute. That’s the draw. The cover bands… It’s a large variety of music. You could have this you can have that. With a tribute we’re sticking to one type and it helps with our crowds too.”
I remember those Saturday shows. They were awesome! Why aren’t they doing them anymore?
“It was just too much for us. There’s a lot that goes into it. We work on this nine months out of the year. We just decided to try it because we wanted to give some local people, even though some of these tribute bands are local, we wanted to give the local cover bands a chance. That’s why we did it for three years.”
What expenses are involved in running the concert series? Obviously electricity is one of them but what else?
“Oh it’s way more than that. We have to pay for permits, insurance. We have to pay expenses to Fairmount Park, overtime for an electrician, groundskeepers, The Porta potty’s. Right now we have 12 Porta potty’s and they run us about $800 a month. We’re basically on a $50,000 budget a year and that’s before we pay the bands. And the bands don’t charge us a lot.”
How is that money raised?
“We have a lot of sponsors come in and we have a lot of different levels. Also from the audience. So many things we do here; we might raffle off gift cards or shirts, something like that.”
Is that a tax-deductible donation?
“It is. If someone wanted to make a donation it is tax-deductible. We are a 501(c)(3).”
Are measures being taken to keep this music festival going for future generations?
“Just like when Ed Kelly and his crew got older, and they all passed away, Ed Kelly was the last one to go, some of us are getting older now. We work with Father Judge high school, and we also have some college students that are doing their internship here. We’re teaching people how to run the board, how to do the controls. We’re even teaching children of people that work with Pennypack how to take over for that day when we get a little older and want to step down.”
Do you think the music will change?
“The music played here now is timeless. When I was a kid Led Zeppelin was big and now they play them in orchestras at schools. It’s all mainstream now. You’ll see some changes but we’re very careful about what direction we go. But you won’t see us with anything excessive. No vulgarities. No extremes that would be offensive to anyone.”
Anything else you’d like people to know?
“Once a year we have, since Ed Kelly passed away, I believe it’s the third year, that we sing “happy birthday” to him and the whole Kelly family comes out to make a presentation to help us out. This year it’ll be July 15.
And a big thing we want to emphasize is that we leave this place cleaner than when we got here.”
Jim MacNew (drummer of Evryman Jack)
Are you from the area?
“Now I live near St. Joes on City Ave., but I use to live on Lardner St., near Devereux. I played the first show here, when it started. They didn’t even have this stage, they had a flat bed truck with just boards around it. One of the boards fell down and hit me in the head. Anyway…”
What band was it?
“It was called the “Flood band” (after the founder of the band). The bass player I’m with now was in that band too. So we both played that first show.”
What was it like playing then? Was it exciting?
“Yeah, it was pretty neat. I was pretty young. That was like 46 years ago.”
Why do you think the Pennypack concerts have lasted so long?
“Well, for one thing, they’re free. They always have decent bands.”
Do you come to see other bands play here?
“I haven’t lately, but I have (in the past). Years ago, I used to come when they had big bands. I saw Buddy Rich here. I had to check him out, being a drummer. Now they just have us local yokels. I don’t think they have a budget like that anymore.”
Brodi Valos (of Dirt Road Anthem):
Is this exciting for you, playing here for the first time?
“I’m stoked. I had so much going on that I was sort of being calm, not paying attention to it. But then when it became the only thing, the next thing to do, I stayed cool, but at about 4:00, “I can’t wait!”
Why is this such a special gig to play?
“I grew up in this park. This is where I went fishing for the first time, rode my bike for the first time. Then I’d play my guitar down here during high school keg parties and get on the stage acting like a rock star. There was nobody there except me and probably some other drunk asses. (Laughter) I remember those moments, so to be up here today…”