Real-life concerts (not Zoom) benefit local musicians

Posted 8/20/20

Ensemble Novo, which will perform live this Sunday, Aug. 23, 6:30 p.m., consists of (from left) Ryan McNeely, guitar; Jim Hamilton, percussion; Tom Moon, flute and tenor saxophone; Mark Przybylowski, …

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Real-life concerts (not Zoom) benefit local musicians

Ensemble Novo, which will perform live this Sunday, Aug. 23, 6:30 p.m., consists of (from left) Ryan McNeely, guitar; Jim Hamilton, percussion; Tom Moon, flute and tenor saxophone; Mark Przybylowski, bass; and Behn Gillece, vibraphone (Photo by David Dubinski)

By Stacia Friedman

Music lovers rejoice!  The Community Relief Concert Series at Awbury Arboretum features some of the area’s most popular musicians every Sunday in August, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Here are the remaining concerts this month: Ensemble Novo, Brazilian Flavored Jazz, Aug. 23; Herding Cats, Americana Roots Rock, Aug. 30.

All concerts will strictly adhere to social distancing guidelines, offering attendees a choice between sitting in a large, open-air tent or in the surrounding picnic area and gardens. Feel free to bring lawn chairs or blankets. Only 45 tickets will be available for each performance. Masks are required. Restrooms are on the premises.

“Our first concert with the Larry McKenna Quartet sold out within six days,” said Heather Zimmerman, deputy executive director of Awbury Arboretum. “The concert was amazing. It felt great to have a sense of community again.”  McKenna’s concert benefited Musicopia, a non-profit that collects and supplies musical instruments for students in under-served areas.

If you didn’t attend the first two concerts, there’s still time to make reservations for Ensemble Novo on Aug. 23, featuring saxophonist/flutist Tom Moon. A former Inquirer music critic and current contributor to NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Moon is joined by vibraphonist Behn Gillece, percussionist Jim Hamilton and bassist Mark Przybylowski.

“This performance is the first we've done since the pandemic began,” said Moon. “I believe that music has healing energy in it, and I feel that these Brazilian influenced songs we play might just help someone cope with the stress of everyday life.” The band will play songs from Ensemble Novo’s aptly named new CD, “Songs for the Summer We Are Not Having.” Previously Ensemble Novo performed at the Barnes Foundation, Longwood Gardens and Rittenhouse Soundworks.

Herding Cats on Aug. 30 will have you rocking and rolling with songs from The Band, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, etc. The band features Marc Bernstein on bass guitar, Steve Bard on guitar and harmonica, Mike McCauley on electric guitar and mandolin and Andy Fritz on drums.

The series is the brainchild of Barry Wahrhaftig, lead vocalist/guitarist of the Hot Club of Philadelphia, a swinging gypsy jazz band that has frequently appeared at Paris Bistro. “Barry performed here several years ago, and we were thrilled when he asked if the Community Relief Concerts could be held here,” said Zimmerman. The series was originally a live-stream-only event organized by Wahrhaftig. “Weavers Way had previously sponsored Hot Club Philly performances at the Venetian Club, so this was a natural outgrowth,” said Wahrhaftig. “The goal is to help musicians and others impacted by the COVID-19 shutdown. A portion of each show’s proceeds benefits a local charity.

“A lot of the audience and players hadn’t been at a live show since March, so it was very rewarding. Plus, it’s a pleasure to perform at Awbury where we can provide optimal safety,” said Wahrhaftig, whose Aug. 16 concert presented songs from his newest CD, “Gypsy-Americana.”

If you haven’t been to Awbury Arboretum, prepare to be enchanted. Henry Cope, a Quaker shipping merchant, purchased 40 acres of farmland in East Germantown in 1852 and named the estate after the village, Avebury, England, from which his family originally emigrated.

The Francis Cope House, where the concerts are held, was built in 1860. Francis, son of Henry Cope, was Director of the Insurance Company of North America and the Lehigh Valley Railroad and a member of Germantown Monthly Meeting. His descendants gave the Arboretum to the public in trust in 1916.

There are several entrances to the Arboretum, which is tucked into a densely bucolic area just off Washington Lane and Chew Avenue. For the concert series, use the main entrance off Chew at Awbury Street. The Cope House, built of Wissahickon schist, is large and elegant but not ostentatious, reflecting Quaker ideals of simplicity.

Awbury’s grounds consist of an extraordinary 55 acres of green space and the largest remaining island of open space in Northwest Philadelphia. It is unique among area arboretums in that it is free and open to the public 365 days a year, from dawn to dusk with many community events and activities.

If you can't make an August concert, try again in September when they will be held on Wednesday evenings at Awbury. Tickets are $20.

Chairs are provided for the concerts, but guests have the option of bringing their own lawn chairs and blankets if they prefer. For reservations, call 215-849-2855 or visit