New Kensington Community Days gives crowds, performers a chance to see revamped Memorial Park
New Kensington's Community Days celebration isn't just a favorite with those in the Alle-Kiski Valley. Take it from Jack Hunt, better known as Johnny Angel.
“As an entertainer, we have special gigs that just bring out the best in us. New Ken is one of them,” says the lead singer of the popular oldies band, Johnny Angel and the Halos.
“We always look forward to coming back to New Ken, it's fun to see all of our old friends. We have a lot of fond memories of the New Ken area and the beautiful people of the area.”
Those at Community Days will have the chance to see Johnny Angel and the Halos perform June 22 at the festival at Memorial Park.
Other performances at the three-day festival include Jimbo and the Soupbones, Sourmash, Ovation School of Dance and Jeff Jimerson and Airborne.
Community Days takes place from June 21 to 23. Admission is $2, and proceeds benefit the New Kensington Volunteer Fire Department.
The three-day event has a wide appeal, Hunt says. That includes rides for kids, food booths, crafts and vendors and, of course, music.
“We have been performing now for nearly 50 years and have seen and performed at communities all over the state. The New Ken fest is still one of our favorites,” says the North Side resident.
Hunt says he and his band will showcase new material, and play some of their traditional songs and plenty of fan favorites. All will share something in common — the ability to play to a spirit of community.
“Music has always been a part of festival success ever since the beginning of our great nation,” Hunt says. “Music has a way of bringing everyone together, always has and always will.”
James “Jimbo” Jackson — of Jimbo and the Soupbones, which will be the featured entertainment on opening night (June 21) — considers the band fortunate to have so many great musicians in the area from whom to learn the ins and outs of the business.
“We absolutely enjoy having an opportunity to play for a crowd of family and friends. Most of us were born and bred in this valley,” he says.
According to festival co-chair B.J. Kersey, this year's event offers the same favorite attractions, just more of them, as it continues to grow.
“This is, by far, the biggest event in our area, even in the tri-city area,” he says. “It's a nice family atmosphere, so everybody can come down and enjoy.”
Kersey credits the city park with helping to create a welcoming weekend of family fun. “I don't think there's too many places around here that offer that kind of atmosphere,” he says.
He notes that the park, too, has been seeing progress. Those advances lend themselves to a successful festival.
“This year, there's been a lot of work done on the park,” he says, noting the bridge, pavilion and restrooms, which have been replaced.
“Everything's back in there, and it's started to shape back up. The city officials have managed to get a lot done down there, and it's really helped us and helped the park.”
The event, now in its second decade, started out as a fireman's carnival in downtown New Kensington. It is also a fundraiser for the many community organizations that set up as food vendors at Community Days.
“It's mostly all homemade food, made right there,” Kersey says. “We've got a great, big selection. In the past years, they've really increased in number.”
For Community Days newcomer Jeff Jimerson, known for singing the national anthem at Pittsburgh Penguins home games, the opportunity to play at the festival with his band, Airborne, is a welcome one.
“I'm looking forward to it,” the Wexford musician says. “I actually made a conscious effort to do more outdoor events.”
He and his band will perform June 23, offering up a mix of today's music, '80s and '90s tunes and Motown hits.
As with the entire festival, he says Airborne's set should offer something for the whole family. He even plans on bringing his 9-year-old son Colin.
“You can have a little 6-year-old upfront dancing away and you can have their grandparents in the back,” he says. “It's really neat when you get to do gigs like this.”
Julie Martin is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.