Chestnut Hill’s scenic Pastorius Park is great for a daily escape – a sprawling green space valued by the community for rest and relaxation. Come summertime, however, that tranquility is replaced by a custom even more coveted – the annual Pastorius Park concert series.
“This has been going so long, it’s like a summer institution,” said Julie Byrne, a Chestnut Hill Community Association board member and co-chair of the concert series.
Now in its 65th consecutive season, the free family-friendly event is still a favorite among many. Hosted by the CHCA, concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. every Wednesday and run from June 19 to July 31.
Singer-songwriter Suzie Brown kicked off the first show, performing for hundreds of people alongside her husband Scot Sax on guitar, Ken Pendergast on upright bass and Freddie Rojo on drums. The band played two, 45-minute sets of their rocking twang.
This past Wednesday, thunderstorms forced the John Byrne Band indoors, but fortunately did not suppress the rousing Celtic folk music group.
The two acts speak to the diverse musical lineup that has become a staple of the concert series in recent years. While similar summer series exist throughout the Philadelphia area, Byrne said the array of music is what sets the Pastorius Park shows apart from others.
“We’re fairly unique in our mix of genres,” said Byrne.
Neil Scheinin, who chairs the series alongside Byrne, agreed that it was the variety of music that makes the Pastorius Park summer series so special – and that’s not just because Scheinin is responsible for picking the lineup. The goal each year is to have an extensive enough lineup to draw people out for a few shows, he said, adding that they even cater to people far beyond the Chestnut Hill neighborhood.
“I know that people come from many other parts of Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs, probably New Jersey too,” said Scheinin. “It’s not just strictly a Chestnut Hill thing.”
Fort Washington resident Mark Sullivan can attest to that. Introduced to the series over ten years ago through friends that lived in Chestnut Hill, Sullivan said he tries to come to a few shows every summer.
At the time, Sullivan recalled asking his friends, “Is it worth the drive?”
But it was, he admitted. Even though his friends have long moved away from the area, Sullivan has remained a fan of the series ever since.
“By having a variety, you can appeal to all different musical tastes,” Scheinin said.
Scheinin said he tries to pick the bands according to what is going on in the local music scene. This year, all of the acts hail from Philadelphia and highlight the best in local talent.
Although, concerts weren’t always like this, said Byrne. When the series first started, it was known for its classical style of music, regularly featuring acts like the Allentown Band and the Mummers, said Byrne. Only in the past 15 years has the series evolved and modernized, eventually arriving at the current form.
However, the one thing that has remained the same for the duration of the series is the sense of community surrounding it, said Byrne. For 65 years, the series has remained volunteer-supported and community-sponsored, and it shows.
For instance, the final concert of every series honors local police, fire and postal workers by providing them with free food, said Chris Padova, CHCA at-large board member and liaison for the area’s Town Watch. Last year, local restaurants and CHCA members donated food for the workers, said Padova.
Along with organizational assistance from dedicated volunteers, the series receives financial support from Chestnut Hill Hospital, the Chestnut Hill Community Fund, WXPN, the Parks and Recreation Department and most importantly, donations from concert attendees.
“The Pastorius Park summer concert series is so beloved because it really gives people a reason to come out and enjoy themselves,” said Padova. “Adults might bring a bottle of wine, kids dance around and play, young couples lay out on a blanket, families take their dogs – it really is a wonderful time for everybody – young and old alike.”
Here is the lineup for the rest of the summer:
July 3 – The Dukes of Destiny (rhythm and blues)
July 10 – Aaron & The Spell (folk-soul)
July 17 – Cheers Elephant (indie-rock)
July 24 – Phyllis Chapell & SIORA (ethno-jazz)
July 31 – John Train (folk-rock)
Pastorius Park is located two blocks west of Germantown Avenue, at Abington Avenue and Lincoln Drive. In the event of rain, performances will be held at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy’s lower school auditorium, located at 8000 Cherokee St. For more information, call the Chestnut Hill Community Association at 215-248-8810, or visit the CHCA website at https://www.chestnuthill.org.