Spruce Hill and Walnut Hill: Local Bands Gear Up for Clark Park Fest

Spruce Hill and Walnut Hill: Local Bands Gear Up for Clark Park Fest
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Since 1970, the Clark Park Music and Arts Festival has been a summer staple in the West Philadelphia area, attracting local musical acts, artists and vendors. This year’s festival is at the end of the month, but preparations have been underway since late March.

“There’s a number of different attractions we have,” said Joshua Craft, owner and founder of Cloud Entertainment, the company coordinating the festival. “We have a number of local, Philadelphia-based bands that play original music. We’re also highlighting a lot of vendors … art vendors, people selling records or people that sell their jewelry or T-shirts. There are some kids’ activities too, face painting and things like that.”

Craft started Cloud Entertainment when he was in college and would book bands to play at venues throughout the city. He got involved with the Clark Park Fest three years ago, acting as the festival’s music director at a request from the director of Clark Park. This year is Craft’s first year as the director of the whole festival.

Craft is also the director of Rock to the Future, a nonprofit dedicated to providing music education to lower-income Philadelphia students. In order to join, students must be between the ages of 9 and 14 and must be considered “lower-income or at-risk,” according to Rock to the Future’s website.

Children from different age groups make up seven bands in the program. These bands focus on a combination of cover songs and original songwriting.

The Rock to the Future house band, which will play at Clark Park, is separate from the other Rock to the Future bands.

“Our house band is an additional band,” Craft said. “All those kids have their own band, but if they want to be in the house band, they have to have an additional practice on Fridays and we put them up with a bunch of different shows in the community.”

Past shows include performances at the Wells Fargo Center opening up for the 76ers and the Philadelphia Soul and shows at Union Transfer, World Cafe Live and the annual Shad Fest in Lambertville, Pa.

The current house band includes lead guitarist Cheyenne Oxendine, keyboardist Destinee Mateo and drummer Ethan Chrzanowski (all pictured above), as well as a rhythm guitarist, a bassist and three vocalists. Their repertoire includes alternative, grunge, indie, punk, Motown and R&B, according to Oxendine and Mateo.

“We kind of branch out into different genres,” said Oxendine. “We try to get different music tastes for different crowds.”

Cheyenne Oxendine playing Neon Trees' "Everybody Talks" during a house band practice.

Cheyenne Oxendine playing Neon Trees’ “Everybody Talks” during a house band practice.

All three young musicians grew up with a love of music.

“The first band I was ever into was Queen,” said Chrzanowski. “And that’s when I first started playing air drums. That’s when I got into [drumming] at first.”

Oxendine said she was inspired to start playing guitar by her father, who wanted to learn to play but never could. She loves the adrenaline of playing music.

“I can’t stop playing guitar because it’s kind of like a really good healthy addiction,” she said.

“Ever since I was younger, music was what I wanted to do,” said Mateo. “I wanted to be able to play it, perform it, compose it, anything that I could do with music.”

Mateo said that joining Rock to the Future has actually been a huge help; through the program, she has learned how to play bass, guitar, piano and a little bit of drums.

Rock to the Future will open the festival June 21 with a 90-minute show. The show will be the first time Mateo has played Clark Park. Oxendine, on the other hand, is a veteran.

“It was really fun there,” she said of her past experiences. “The people there are really nice and the people are really supportive and it’s a great area in general.”

Family Vacation, a North Philly-based indie rock band, will also be playing at the festival. The band’s drummer, Adam Shumski, names Modest Mouse, Built to Spill and the Flaming Lips as some of the group’s musical influences. Singer and guitarist Luke Harsel said that the band is “a little folky, a little surf-y, [and] rock-y,” although they try not to think too much about labels.

“I guess that’d be kind of constricting for us,” Harsel said. “But we appreciate hearing what other people have to say about it.”

The members of Family Vacation met two years ago at Temple University.

“We started jamming freshman year, but it really wasn’t a band until sophomore year,” said Harsel.

Adam Shumski (left, on drums) and Luke Harsel of Family Vacation perform "Plastic Chandelier."

Adam Shumski (left, on drums) and Luke Harsel of Family Vacation perform “Plastic Chandelier.”

Adam Shumski, the band’s drummer, said that the group did not consciously decide to become a band until they recorded their first EP.

“Prior to that, it was just doing it for fun, but once we got some songs together … I think then we started to take it a little more seriously.”

The band has also toured the East Coast and, over the past summer, released a full-length album, Trails.

“Once our guitarist comes back from abroad, we’ll definitely be practicing a lot,” said Shumski on the band’s preparations for the festival. “We’re playing some other shows too, leading up to Clark Park, so that’ll probably prepare us.”

Family Vacation’s other plans for the future include writing new material, reworking old songs and, after their one of their guitarists returns from Rome, trying out a five-man line-up.

Other bands slotted to play the Clark Park Festival are City Rai, which Craft describes as an electronic duo band, and Commonwealth Choir.

“We looked at the line-up a while ago when it got sent out and I remember getting really excited because it looked good,” said Harsel.

Since he started working as its music director, Craft has known that the festival “would be something a lot bigger than it was.”

“It could be a way for the community to reach out to each other and to be able to find out more information about different craft vendors or people selling jewelry, just a way for us to connect people that are musicians or artists and people that are just bringing their kids up to the park to enjoy all those,” he said. “We’re bringing all those components together into one amazing festival.”

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