Swinging at Pen Mar Park

June 20, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

CASCADE - Sundays are swinging at Pen Mar Park in Cascade.

Thousands of big-band era ballroom dance music lovers will flock to the scenic park in the northeast corner of Washington County to listen to the sounds that have kept Pen Mar's main pavilion swinging since the 1930s. The park's 2003 summer concert series runs rain or shine from 2 to 5 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 5.

Once a mountaintop resort and amusement park, Pen Mar Park closed after World War II when many families began traveling to oceanfront resorts. The county's Recreation and Parks Department, which reopened the park in 1977, has since partnered with the American Federation of Musicians Local 770 to sponsor the free summer concert series.

"Some people refer to it as the best-kept secret in Washington County - but I don't know why because we attract big crowds," says series organizer Jim Powers, the federation's executive secretary.


The concerts draw between 1,500 and 2,000 guests if the weather is good, Powers says.

This year's Everybody's Day - a concert series highlight that attracts about 5,000 visitors - will begin at noon Sunday, Aug. 31. The celebration will feature the 20-piece For Dancers Only Orchestra, jitterbug and waltz contests, a barbershop quartet, a vintage car show and children's activities ranging from balloon sculpting and face painting to a magic show and clown, says Jaime Dick, recreation manager for the county Recreation and Parks Department.

"We think it's a pretty enjoyable day for no cost," Dick says.

For Everybody's Day and the other concert dates, Powers has booked a mix of new musical acts and past favorites, he says. The organist also will entertain concertgoers during a July 13 show that's sure to be over-the-top.

"I always carry on," says Powers, who has been serving as master of ceremonies for a decade.

He often wears showy tuxedos modeled after those worn by the famed pianist Liberace, whom Powers met four years before Liberace died in 1987. Like his idol, Powers' performances are marked by costume changes and such Liberace one-liners as, "Look me over. I didn't get dressed up like this to go unnoticed."

Powers has made a flamboyant entrance at the park for the past three years, arriving by horse or extravagant sports car to please the crowd behind his candelabra- and mirror-topped Yamaha organ.

He's keeping his plans for this year under wraps.

Assisted by his wife, Fay, Powers has been organizing the weekly ballroom dance music concerts at Pen Mar since 1993. Dubbed "Mr. and Mrs. Pen Mar," they were nominated for Washington County's Most Wonderful Citizen award in October 2001 for their involvement with the concert series.

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