Look-alike soundalike superstars draw thousands to Pennypack Park all summer long
MICK JAGGER from Wilmington, Del., and Keith Richards from Mayfair were getting sticky fingers from the crab fries at Chickie's & Pete's, and happily trashing each other as they remembered how they became the Glimmer Twins.
Their eight-piece Rolling Stones tribute band has rocked for six years at the Pennypack Park Music Festival - a free, summerlong series of Wednesday night tribute band concerts that attract thousands to the Ed Kelly Amphitheater on the banks of Pennypack Creek in Holmesburg.
The switch from local bands, big bands, string bands and jazz bands to tribute bands brought the festival - which had thrived in the '70s and '80s but shut down in the early '90s - back from the dead 10 years ago.
"I saw a Bruce Springsteen tribute band in one of the clubs," said Norm Jadczak, president of the Pennypack Park Music Festival. "The place was packed. That's when the lightbulb went on."
Donny Smith, president of the Mayfair Civic Association, who has volunteered with the festival for 10 years, said, "When we went to all tribute bands, our crowds grew from a couple hundred to a couple thousand every concert. People want to come to see Van Halen whether it's Van Halen or not. And, of course, it's free."
This summer's tribute band concerts - 7 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Sept. 10 - include Idol Kings (Journey and John Mellencamp) this Wednesday, Black Dog (Led Zeppelin) on July 16, Romeo Delight (Van Halen) and Ozzman Cometh (Osborne) on July 23, and Dino & the Missiles (Alice Cooper) and Diamond Dogs (David Bowie) on July 30.
The Glimmer Twins, who rocked the festival last week, began in 2009 when Wilmington housepainter Keith Call, a Jagger look-alike/soundalike who has mastered all of Mick's shtick, auditioned for a Stones tribute band where Mayfair steamfitter Bernie Bollendorf was playing guitarist Keith Richards.
Call had never sung in public before. "I never even sang karaoke," he said.
Bollendorf cracked, "He was so bad, his wife kicked him out of the shower."
But like Bollendorf, Call was a Stones junkie, spending hours immersed in bootleg CDs of the band's '60s and '70s prime.
So right from the first rehearsal, even before he squeezed into the skintight red pants and applied the eyeliner, Call morphed into Mick.
Bollendorf, who had been Jagger in a Stones tribute band years earlier, told the Daily News that he wasn't jealous over Call's amazingly spot-on Mick.
"Truth is, he got fat," Call deadpanned. "He couldn't keep up with the physical requirements of being Mick. Besides, he's way older than I am."
Call is a late 30-something. Bollendorf is an early 40-something. Neither man is fat.
Bollendorf tried to look deeply wounded, then said the real reason Call was a better Jagger is "the way he puts that lipstick on - never over the line."
He cited Call's fondness for Mick's flamboyant clothes. "You can't imagine the laughing his dry cleaning lady does," Bollendorf said.
The Glimmer Twins, who sound shockingly like the real Rolling Stones, demonstrate the dramatic difference between a cover band that plays the tunes and a tribute band that lives them.
That's why tribute bands were the defibrillator that resuscitated the Pennypack Park Music Festival a decade ago and continue to draw thousands on Wednesday nights.
The "bring a lawn chair" festival was born in the mid-'70s as the brainchild of the late Ed Kelly, who built the stage in a natural grassy amphitheater along a Pennypack Park path that begins at the corner of Welsh Road and Cresco Avenue.
Kelly, who died in 2012 at age 86, was legendary in Northeast Philadelphia for his ability to meet people for the first time, find out what they loved to do, and get them involved in his pet projects like the festival.
"Ed was talking to my wife at church," Jadczak said, "and found out that I was an electrical engineer who played guitar in a wedding party band."
Jadczak soon found himself joining Kelly's corps of festival concert workers, running the sound system.
"We're all volunteers," Jadczak said. "We all grew up in Northeast Philadelphia. We all hang out together, even in the winter, when there is no festival, talking about bands.
"Steve Hartzel, a Philadelphia police officer, does our announcing," he said. "Lisa Greco, who owns Bellalisa Hair Studio on Cottman Avenue, helps with just about everything including passing the hat at every show to pay expenses. She's a firecracker."
Smith said the festival's core volunteers are the same people who power the civic associations, the neighborhood watch, the holiday parades and the other vital organs of surrounding neighborhoods.
"The festival's gotten so big, you would think it's a city-run organization with a full-time staff," Smith said. "But the whole shebang is six of us sitting around a cooler, putting this thing together. We're extremely local. I'm talking Frankford Avenue in Mayfair local."
The tribute bands are local, too, Smith said. They understand that the nonprofit festival's major source of funding is passing the hat, so it can't pay bands as if they really were Pink Floyd or AC/DC.
"Their dream is to get chicks and to play in front of thousands of people," Smith said. "I tell them, 'Listen dude, I'd love to have you play, but there's no way I can pay a million dollars. I know you're worth it, but I can't do it.' "
Because the bands understand, Smith said, the festival was able to pay them and all its 2013 expenses - city rent, union electricians, portable potties, insurance, park rangers, groundskeepers - and buy 10 guitars for cash-poor Lincoln High School's music students.
Smith said the guitars fostered festival founder Kelly's dream of "keeping live music alive in Northeast Philadelphia."
That dream, Smith said, has lived in Pennypack Park for nearly 40 years. "My grandfather used to go to these festivals," he said. "Back in the day, instead of saying so-and-so died, they said, 'He isn't going to make it to Pennypack next year.'"
They still do. In the heart of Northeast Philadelphia, on the banks of Pennypack Creek, Ed Kelly's live-music dream lives on.
On Twitter: @DanGeringer