by Pete Mazzaccaro

This week, for the 65th consecutive season, a concert series will begin in Chestnut Hill’s Pastorius Park.

Sixty five years is an awful long time to do nearly anything, but it’s a very long time to run a volunteer-supported and community-sponsored concert series.

Once again, the series has been produced by the Chestnut Hill Community Association, namely by Julie Byrne, who in her capacity as the chair of the association’s social division, has raised the funds, made the deals and hired the bands needed to complete the seven-concert series.

Chestnut Hill Hospital also was largely responsible for the series’ ongoing success, having given $10,000 in support for several years now. Financial and organizational support has also come from the Chestnut Hill Community Fund, WXPN and the Parks and Recreation Department.

Interestingly, despite its age, the Pastorius Park Concert Series has changed a lot. It has changed a great deal in just the last 15 years.

Fifteen years ago, the series was mostly a collection of large concert band ensembles curated by the late Fred Williams. Those concerts were real throwbacks, typically inaugurated with a performance of the Chestnut Hill Orchestra. That group was founded in 1962 by Art Conkey, who was head of Chestnut Hill Academy’s music department from 1940 to 1978.

In the late 1990s, the picture of Martin Knoblauch – who has conducted the group since 1986 – would inevitably hit the front page of the local as the first concert approached.

Much of what followed was similar – orchestras that specialized in the classics, show tunes or the John Philip Sousa songbook. The most contemporary music you’d expect to find in any given summer was the odd swing band.

There was nothing at all wrong with the programming under Williams’ direction, and it was a popular series for many years because of the extraordinary work he put into it. In the early 2000s, however, seeking a fresher approach, association member Tia Burke took over the series and attracted some notable acts, including rock, folk and other contemporary artists. During Burke’s stewardship of the series, Pastorius Park hosted the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Now in its 65th year, the concert series is smaller in that fewer acts are scheduled for the season, but it is as eclectic and interesting as ever. From folk to Celtic and alt rock to blues, the series is easily one of the best summer bets in the region. How can you beat a free outdoor show?

So, 65 years after its inception, the Pastorius Park Concert series still is fresh and interesting – an event in which the neighborhood should take pride. There are other summer concert series out there, but few featuring the level of talent and the unique ambiance of Pastorius Park.

Suzie Brown kicks off the series on Wednesday, June 19, and that concert is followed the next Wednesday by the John Byrne Band. All shows begin at 7:30 p.m. at the park, at Abington Avenue and Lincoln Drive. In the event of rain, performances will be held at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, 8000 Cherokee St.

Be sure to go often. You won’t regret it.

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