The Birth of the Clark Park Music and Arts Festival

A few days ago, we posted a request for any materials people may have about the history of Clark Park. Amazingly, that request went a long ways away… and brought forth a piece of real history. 

Richard Fortman of New York, NY, was one of the organizers for what is, probably, the earliest Clark Park Music Festival.  He was kind enough to send a PDF scan of a flyer/poster, which he estimates is from 1974 or 1975. Here’s what he wrote: 

Hi Brian: My friend Peter Taney was kind enough to forward your request for historical materials on Clark Park. I have attached two pdfs from what I believe was the first music festival held in Clark Park – I think it was in 1975, though we didn’t include years in any of the posters I have, and it could have been 1974. I organized and ran the Clark Park festival for three (maybe four) years, from 1974 or 1975 through 1977, with the invaluable help of so many people. Among them were Peters Day (sadly, he passed away this year in Paris) who was a fine musician and artist, and did the poster for the first festival; Peter Taney (also an incredibly talented musician and performer, who did t-shirts for all the festivals, did the posters for the second and third Clark Park festivals, played in all of them, and was an exceptional ambassador for the festival and a p.r. guru when I didn’t really know what p.r. was); Jack McGann (a supremely talented musician); Charles Grumbling, who donated the services of his lithographic printing company to print high quality posters for the second festival and helped with sound; several staff members from WXPN; and so many other volunteers, without whose help the festivals would not have happened. When I went to law school in 1978, I was able to find someone (whose name, unfortunately, escapes me) willing to take on the responsibility. I believe he ran it for at least two years, but after him, my knowledge of the festival, goes cold.

Two things combined to give me the idea for holding a festival in Clark Park. One was that I lived at 47th and Baltimore, and passed Clark Park every day on my way to and from work (I worked for Temple University three days per week, and part-time at The Eatery, a collectively-run restaurant that flourished for many years in The Christian Association building on Locust Walk). It was impossible not to notice that there were no events to speak of in the Park, other than gatherings of enthusiastic dogs and their owners. The other was that I was playing music at the time with various groupings of people – including Peter Taney, Janet Bregman, Jeff Claus, Judy Hyman, Frank Springer and Victor Alpher – in the Larchwood String Band and other local bands. So I was looking for places for us and our friends to play. The clincher was that the mother of a friend was involved in the Mariposa Food Coop, and told me that a festival would be a great way for the coop to earn money to help defray costs. Anything to help Mrs. M!

I had never worked in any capacity promoting a concert or a music festival, so when I decided to try to make the Clark Park festival happen, I sought out the advice of two people in the West Philly neighborhood – Peter Taney and Jack McGann. Peter had developed a list of media contacts in the Philadelphia area, which he gave to me (on a manila envelope, which I discovered this morning when I checked to see what materials I have from the early festivals). I scanned it for you and have attached it for whatever historical interest it may hold.

Having Peter on board was key, as he was close with many talented musicians, including Jack McGann. Both Peter and Jack graciously agreed to play, as did a group called Tiger. Among the other acts that played that first year were the Larchwood String Band (OK, cronyism, but Peter Taney, Jeff Claus and Judy Hyman have all gone on to make their marks in music, so they certainly were deserving), and a local musician named Ken Kweder, who I believe is still active in the area. I know there were others, but because the line-up wasn’t settled until a few days before the concert, none of the performers are listed on the poster.

One thing I learned from the first festival is that people have a huge capacity for generosity. If the cause seems right, they want to help. And help they did – with good humor and no pay. Many, many individuals volunteered their time, on tasks ranging from p.r. (much of which consisted of trudging around West Philly, finding places to put up posters), to set-up, to sound, to clean-up. The school/center at the edge of the Park (I think it was for Cerebral Palsy), kindly agreed to let us plug into their electric grid. The City of Philadelphia provided a stage – which they set up and removed – along with Port-a-san toilets.

And lots of people came. In my mind’s eye, that first festival was almost as large as Woodstock, and the next two were even larger, though memory may have inflated the totals just a bit. I do know that it grew in popularity each year, and also changed names each year. I think the second year was called “The Penultimate West Philadelphia Bluegrass and Bouzouki Festival – reflecting the fact that two talented Greek musicians from the neighborhood, John Roussos and Alkis Kitides, played (as did, if memory serves, David Amram) and that I was less-than-informed as to the meaning of “penultimate.” I think the third year was called the “Ultimate West Philadelphia Bluegrass and Bouzouki Festival.

I’ll look for other posters I may have, though I fear the second and third years may be lost in multiple moves, home mishaps, and the vicissitudes of time. Let me know if any of this was helpful.

Best regards,
Richard Fortmann, New York, NY

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