News Column

Promoter bringing big-time music back to Kempton

May 10, 2013

YellowBrix

May 10--When Rob Hunt moved to Berks County 20 years ago, he says he found the vistas so beautiful it suggested music to him. Literally.

Hunt quickly found out he wasn't alone, and that music was part of the fiber of the area -- particularly Kempton, where the annual county fair and music festivals at Kempton Community Center filled the summer and Willie Nelson played four times from the 1960s to the early 1990s.

So Hunt joined in. Last May, he started the Spring Blossoms Bluegrass Festival, a family-oriented progressive bluegrass festival.

And as a member of The Rex Foundation, an organization founded by The Grateful Dead to use music fundraisers to support creative endeavors, he helped bring in The Pinnacle Festival, a three-day jam music event, last September.

Both were successful. But Hunt says he dreamed of a permanent music venue that would bring in regular national acts to the 900-capacity indoor community center and, in summer, a lawn venue that could accommodate 8,000.

That dream comes true Saturday, when the community center becomes Kempton Music Center with a concert by Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart and his band.

Another concert, by country rocker band Marshall Tucker Band, which had the hits "Heard it in a Love Song" and "Can't You See" in the 1970s, is scheduled for May 18. Hunt says he hopes to offer 10 to 15 outdoor shows this summer, and more indoors later in the year. Southern rockers The Outlaws are scheduled for Nov. 17.

"This is the start of putting Kempton on the map as a destination for tours by national acts, for the benefit of the community," Hunt says. "We hope to eventually have a thriving music scene here. This place is magical; it's beautiful around here."

Hunt, who with his wife, Gina, and son, Bobby, run Flagship Music Productions, says it was Hart who helped push the dream to reality.

Hunt says the drummer, who is on the Rex Foundation board, started inquiring about the festivals being held in Kempton, and "entertained the idea of coming here."

"I couldn't think of a better way to start it off," Hunt says. "That was an easy one."

The Community Center, on whose board Hunt sits, also bought in, paying for renovations to the outdoor stage area, which accommodates 1,000 concert goers in a covered amphitheater and the rest on a lawn.

"The building the stage is in is 60 years old," Hunt says. "So we're updating, painting, cleaning up and getting everything up to code. You have to make it presentable to draw the national acts."

Hunt also has brought in professional lighting, hired a production manager and rented fencing for the season.

Hunt says the concerts will benefit the community center. His Flagship Music Productions pays a rental fee, which is the primary way the center makes money, and through sales of food and beverages. The center has a license to sell alcohol.

"Everything we do is a fundraiser for the community," Hunt says. "We help them out by keeping this place going."

He said area businesses also will benefit. A local winery will have a stand at the outdoor shows. Local motels and bed and breakfasts are doing specials, and gas stations and stores are helping to promote the shows. Eventually, Hunt says, he wants to have local craft people at the concerts.

"We're trying to keep it a community thing even though we're bringing in the national acts," Hunt says. "The community and the center are backing us 100 percent, which is a big, big thing."

A big attraction is that the center has free parking and room for overnight camping, which encourages a longer stay and more spending.

Hunt says the area is big on country, bluegrass and oldies, but he's open to bring in artists of other genres. He says he's even talking to an Elvis impersonator.

"We put a poll up on Facebook to look at what bands people would want to see. We're looking all over the place -- rock and roll, pop. We're not dedicated to one thing. We'll listen to our people."

He said that in addition to the new shows, The Pinnacle Festival will return Sept. 13 and 14. And a new Jambalaya Festival, with 29 performances by 15 acts and Cajun food, is set for July 5-7.

Also, Hunt said he's preparing a festival July 13 to mark the 40th anniversary of Summer Jam at Watkins Glen, a 1973 rock festival with The Allman Brothers Band, Grateful Dead and The Band that once held the record for the largest crowd ever at a popular music concert. Hunt says he expects members of The Band to attend.

john.moser@mcall.com

610-820-6722

KEMPTON MUSIC CENTER

-- Where: Kempton Community Recreation Center, 83 Community Center Drive

-- Concerts:

Mickey Hart Band, 5 p.m. May 11, with the African Showboy and Mysterytrain, $39.50.

Marshall Tucker Band, 5 p.m. May 18, $35.

Jambalaya Music Fest, July 5-7. Two stages and 15 acts, including Camile Baudoin, Magnolia Sisters, Mo' Mojo, Dikki Du and the Zydeco Krewe, The Iguanas, Jude Taylor & his Burning Flames. $95 weekend; $25 Friday; $50 Saturday; $40 Sunday.

-- Info: http://www.kemptonmusiccenter.com,

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