It was the “dawning of the age of Aquarius.” The theme of the era was peace and love – especially on Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. A three-day music festival, Woodstock, would enter into the history books after that hot, sometimes wet, August weekend in 1969.
While the Woodstock 50 Music Festival was still in flux as July arrived, Lancaster’s version has been on track since last year. The idea materialized when Phil Kresge was hosting a party at his home, and a guest suggested he plan and produce a local version of the Woodstock 50th anniversary event. Fortunately, the guest had access to the perfect location – Long’s Park, which is the site of the annual Summer Concert Series. Phil liked the idea, and together with his good friend Greg Pencheff, who is a former DJ (Q106, FM97 and Hot 105.7) and is now a fine woodworker and musician, set out to produce the August 17 event.
No doubt, it will attract an enthusiastic crowd. The baby boomers still love their music and flock to places such as Marion Court, Nissley Vineyards and the American Legion (Arcadia Road) to hear and dance to music provided by their favorite oldies bands. There’s even a Facebook page devoted to that boomer rite of summer, Park Dance, which was held on the tennis courts at Buchanan Park. Back in the ’60s, fire companies such as Salunga, Schoeneck and Neffsville sponsored fundraising dances that packed ‘em in.
Woodstock happened just as Phil was preparing for his senior year at Hempfield High School. Back then, the average family owned only one vehicle. “It never entered my mind to say, ‘Hey Pop, can I use the family station wagon to go to a hippie festival in New York?” he says.
Anyone who knows Phil can tell you he would have loved to have been at Woodstock, as music has always been in his blood. From the time he first held a flutophone in his hands as a grade-schooler, he was hooked on making music. He even delayed entering college in order to continue playing in local bands well into the disco era.
When DJs came into vogue, he saw the writing on the wall – playing in a band on a full-time basis wasn’t going to cut it in the long run. So, he put his music career on the back burner and enrolled at Millersville University, attaining a degree in technical education, which reflected his other passion in life, “building things.” After graduating in 1984, Phil returned to Hempfield, only this time as a teacher.
He also continued playing music. In 1990, he formed a band, the Fabulous Cheeze Brothers and Sisters, which is still going strong today. (They will appear at Nissley Vineyards on August 3 and at Fuhrman Park in Maytown on August 11.) He has also maintained a steady connection with Woodstock throughout his adult life through attending concerts each summer at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in Bethel, New York.
Now retired from teaching, Phil devotes his time to music and community service. In addition to the Fabulous Cheeze Brothers and Sisters (dance hits from the ’60s and ’70s), he also heads Over Easy (lite pop) and Kracker Beez (oldies and rock), which also includes Greg Pencheff and Bev Reece. Kracker Beez is frequently seen in area parades and performs at milestone boomer birthday/retirement parties.
Phil’s children, Katie and Chet, were raised on music of all types. Both grew up with the Cheeze Brothers and Sisters band. Katie, who began singing with the band in second grade, also performs with the bands Pocketful O’ Soul and PopScotch. Phil’s wife, Patti Grabowski, sings with Cheeze Brothers and Sisters and Over Easy.
As for community service, Phil takes a deep interest in Mountville, the small town in which he was raised and has lived his entire life. He began by serving on borough council/parks and recreation and saw the office of mayor as the next logical step. “I like being mayor because it is the best way for me to give back to my community,” he remarks.
In retirement, Phil has also been able to put his building/remodeling skills to use on personal projects. In need of space for a shop, storage and band practice, he had a two-story “garage” built on his property. After a lot of trial and some errors, it morphed into a two-story dream music studio complete with a downstairs canteen. Today it’s affectionately known as “The Hot Box.”
Phil says, “We record everything we do here, so none of the talent is missed out on. This is where talent gets together.” The studio is also the site of his annual, and very popular, Woodstock-themed party.
The Woodstock Anniversary Celebration will be held at Long’s Park on August 17, 7:30-9:30 p.m. (rain/shine). Admission is free. Entertainment will be provided by 26 musicians, including the Fabulous Cheeze Brothers and Sisters, Kracker Beez, Pocketful O’ Soul, Bob Nobile and other guest artists. Bell-bottoms and tie-dyed T-shirts are encouraged! Longspark.org.