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At Pen Mar, a spring in their step

May 24, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

Several hundred fans of big-band music and warm spring weather packed the area in and in front of the Pen Mar Park dance pavilion for the opening concert of the popular summer series.

The Howard Burns Orchestra heated up Pen Mar Park with a three-hour set to open the 2004 free concert series Sunday afternoon.

The 22-piece band got plenty of dance-happy couples out of their chairs and onto the floor with songs such as "Jump, Jive an' Wail" and "Pennsylvania 6-5000" despite the hot conditions.

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"It's very, very warm," said Burns, the band's director and vice president of the American Federation of Musicians Local 770. "But I'd much rather be doing this than mowing my lawn."

In a lighter moment, the band dedicated "Under My Skin" to the cicadas at the park. There were cicadas visible around nearly every tree within a few hundred yards of the stage.

Pen Mar Park, a former amusement park that closed after World War II and reopened in 1977, is the annual host site for the big-band concert series, which has been organized by the county's Recreation and Parks Department and AFM Local 770.

Ginny Leiter of Hagerstown, attending with her husband, Frank, said she was there with a group celebrating a Hagerstown High School class of 1938 reunion. Leiter said she has been coming to the park since she was a child for the amusement rides and later regularly attended with her husband, whom she has been with for more than 60 years.

"We used to date here 100 years ago," she said with a laugh. "We'd come up here and dance before we got married."

Like the Leiters, Waynesboro, Pa., residents Edythe and Vaughn Shook have been using the park and the concerts as a date destination for several decades. They said the quality of the bands keeps them coming back year after year.

"The music is the attraction. Plus, you see people that you don't see from summer to summer," Edythe Shook said.

The summer concert series opener was not enjoyed exclusively by returning fans. Many said they were attending a show at Pen Mar Park for the first time Sunday.

Germantown, Md., residents Andy and Jane Ippolite made the trip because they knew a band member, and said they were impressed by the band, the large crowd, the scenery and the performance and dance-floor area.

"We'd never heard of this space," Andy Ippolite said. "It's great. It's a hidden jewel."

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