A Time-Honored Tradition
For natives of the area, music on the historic Brandon Park Bandshell stage is about as “Williamsport” as it gets. Music in the park dates as far back as the early 1970s, when the city’s cultural arts coordinator, Doris Heller Teufel, began a weekend series of “Concerts in the Park,” which, according to Thad Meckley, Brandon Park Commission Chair, was hit or miss in its early days.
“As time went on, they filled in more so and then the Recreation Department began to partner with her in the ’70s and ’80s,” Meckley said. “Bonita (Bonnie) Mahoney, who now serves as the manager of the First Community Foundation Partnership of Pennsylvania’s Rider Park, used to run the Recreation Department and they began to build upon their collective backgrounds and experiences.”
Teufel, Meckley said, was very gifted musically and also was an art teacher, so she was an integral part in bringing performers to the stage, as well as organizing a mix of cultural activities that were introduced to the park though the efforts of the Recreation Department.
“You have to understand — it was a big deal to play on the stage of the Bandshell,” Meckley said. “It was considered a huge honor to play on the stage. If you played on the stage, it meant you’ve made it.”
To get the ball rolling financially, in the early ’70s, the city put up $3,500, which was matched by Williamsport Area School District, FCFPP and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, allowing coordinators $14,000 to organize the concerts and the park’s famous HomeMade Days. As time passed, funding for providing music in the park dwindled, which requires staff time, Bandshell upkeep, performer fees and other financial responsibilities, and the beloved concert series fell by the wayside for a few years.
“Then, about eight years ago, Mayor Campana brought the concert series back for the Summer Concert Series,” Meckley said. “There has been a string of mayors who have supported the concerts in the park and through their support, the series has been kept alive and revived. In fact, Mayor Leo Williamson even put together a Mayor’s Sing-a-Long back in the day and on Aug. 31, 1949, he held the first Community Hymn Sing, at which the Williamsport Civic Chorus and other music groups played. We now have a $3,000 budget to do the series and we pay about $200 to $250 per band. We have applied for a grant to help preserve the Bandshell and we’re in the process of making renovations throughout the park, but there are no additional funds, so any organizations interested in becoming a sponsor should contact us.”
It is truly fitting, Meckley said, that the Northern Appalachian Wind Symphony will be kicking off this year’s Summer Concert Series, set to open May 27 and run through Sept. 9. During the concert, which takes place just before the start of the Memorial Day weekend, each branch of the military will be recognized with the playing of their anthem and family members will be asked to stand and be recognized.
“It’s nice because we have all ages — men and women — and it’s interesting to see people representing all these different branches and Conflicts,” Meckley said. “The Northern Appalachian Wind Symphony is absolutely phenomenal. This is an incredibly talented group of performers who, no doubt, will put on a fantastic show for audience members during such a special weekend.”
Of special note, Meckley said this year’s Fourth of July concert, which will be celebrated July 1, will feature a concert by the Repasz Band, something that he said is near and dear to the Brandon Park Commission. The band, which is considered the oldest in the United States, played for the opening ceremonies for the existing Bandshell 105 years ago this season, making this a time-honored place for the Repasz Band to play.
The Summer Concert Series schedule includes:
May 27 – 7 to 9p.m., Northern Appalachian Wind Symphony
June 3 – 6 to 8 p.m., Miz Ida and The All-Nightas
June 10 – 6 to 8 p.m., Keystone Cats
June 17 – 6 to 8 p.m., Leo&KG with Family Traditions
June 22 – 5 to 7 p.m., Ish & Vic Whisky (HomeMade Days)
June 23 – 2 to 5 p.m., Loose Cannons (HomeMade Days)
June 24 – 6 to 8 p.m., Five O’Clock World Band
June 26 – 6 to 8 p.m., The Basement Boys
July 1 – 7 to 8 p.m., The Repasz Band
July 8 – TBD
July 15 – 6 to 8 p.m., Prairie Dogma
July 22 – 6 to 8 p.m., Nate Myers & The Aces
July 28 – Uptown Music Collective
July 29 – 6 to 8 p.m., The Heartstrings
August 5 – 6 to 8 p.m., High Strung Band
Aug. 12 – 6 to 8 p.m., Williamsport City Jazz Orchestra
Aug. 19 – 6 to 8 p.m., The Family Ties
Aug. 26 – 6 to 8 p.m., Lockport Drifters
Sept. 2 – TBD
Sept. 9 – Lycoming College Concert Band
For more information about the Summer Concert Series, find “Brandon Park” and “Williamsport Recreation Department” on Facebook.