Flower Power gala with Philly Gumbo, plus garden tour


Taking a cue from the “Flower Power” movement of the 1960s, the Mt. Airy Learning Tree is using that upbeat theme of “peace, love and understanding” for its fundraising events this weekend: a Flower Power Gala Dance Party, Sat. June 3 and the Annual Hidden Gardens Tour, Sun. June 4.

Janet Gala, executive director of the Northwest’s adult education nonprofit, said she chose the theme because “We’ve been presenting our garden tour for more than 35 years. This year, we wanted to bring more joy to the community, and extend the weekend's events.”

Her choice of local band Philly Gumbo, known for its distinctive blend of New Orleans R&B, funk, reggae, blues and soul, was instinctual. A local band with a national reputation, Philly Gumbo has opened for music legends Dr. John, Buddy Guy and Jr. Wells, and Rick Danko and Levon Helm of The Band.

“I have always loved Philly Gumbo,” said Gala. “And Randall Grass, their keyboard player, is one of our teachers.” If the Grass name rings a bell, that’s because he was a host on WXPN-FM from 1978 to 1991. 

“When we decided to hold a Dance Party, I reached out to ask if his band could perform. To my delight, he responded that they wanted to support MALT and kindly offered to be our band.”

Along with Grass, the band includes drummer Tim Hayes, bassist Bert Harris, guitarist Pete Eshelman, who have been the core of the band since the beginning, plus Richard Orr on saxophone, flute and clarinet and vocalist India Rex.

Formed in the 1980s, Philly Gumbo got its start at Taker’s Cafe in Germantown, and went on to perform at Bacchanal on South Street for a decade. They are credited with bringing the New Orleans sound to Philadelphia and also for making Mardi Gras celebrations a local tradition. 

If it’s any indication of the band’s appeal, consider this: former Philadelphia resident Sarah Peck, 63, is driving from her home in Richmond, Va., to attend the MALT dance. 

“When I lived in Philly in my twenties, I hung out at Bacchanal and Philly Gumbo was the soundtrack of my life,” she said. The same goes for two other band fans, one of whom is flying in from Florida, and another is driving down from Upstate New York.

The Flower Power Gala will be held at Cliveden Historic Trust Carriage House, 6401 Germantown Avenue, under a canopy of flowers and lights. The event includes hors d'oeuvres, desserts by the Frosted Fox Cake Shop, and a silent auction and raffles. A cash bar will feature beer by Attic Brewing Co, and wine and a signature cocktail by Bar Lizette, Mt. Airy’s newest bistro. 

Festive spring attire is encouraged, and off-street parking is available. Attendees can pre-order a corsage or boutonniere from Jewells in Bloom which is donating half of each order to MALT, along with all of the bouquets for the Gala’s decorations.

Hidden Gardens Tour

The fun continues at a slower pace the following day when MALT presents its annual, self-guided, self-paced tour of nine gardens, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., allowing time for church, brunch or sleeping off the night before. The gardens are revealed on the day of the tour, which is part of the excitement. “The best word to describe this year’s tour is eclectic,” Gala said. This year the gardens include a historic formal rose garden, a native plant oasis with water features and a rock garden.  An enchanted acre filled to the brim with specialty plants is also part of the tour, along with grand gardens to stroll through while learning new techniques.

Pick up your booklet and map at Ned Wolf Park, 7018 McCallum Street between 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The tour is rain or shine. This year, some of the tour will be bike-friendly with a recommended route provided.

Sponsors for Flower Power Weekend include Elfant Wissahickon, Bowman Properties, Philly Office Retail, Univest, Weavers Way, Temple Health Chestnut Hill Hospital and the Mt. Airy Local.

Learning from One Another

When Mt. Airy Learning Tree was founded in 1981, the goal was to create affordable community classes where neighbors could come together to learn from each other. Back then, MALT offered just 17 courses. Today, it offers more than 235 classes each term, all held in churches, businesses, homes, and online. Instructors are residents with unique skills, from juggling and TV sitcom writing to estate planning and salsa dancing.

Your purchase of tickets to the Flower Power Gala and Annual Hidden Gardens Tour will support MALT’s programs throughout the year. Tickets to the Gala are $55 with a cash bar, and tickets to the Garden Tour are $35 in advance, $40 on the day of the tour. Buy a combo ticket and receive a $10 discount. To reserve a ticket visit mtairylearningtree.org or call 215-843-6333, Mon-Fri, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.