Last week Diane and I went to the Mann Music Center with Susan and Jerry Taylor. The program was The Philadelphia Orchestra “A Night of Gershwin.” There was a bit of rain in the forecast but basically a beautiful cool summer night. We brought chairs and sat on the lawn. In the first part, selections from “Girl Crazy” ending with “Rhapsody in Blue.” I shot a few illegal pictures and illegally recorded Rhapsody to share. After intermission, there were selections from “Porgy and Bess” (a favorite) concluding with “An American in Paris.” In the closing minutes the rain came in torrents. We were soaked, but warm, and feeling good.
Experiences like this bring on a flood of memories. It was in the 1980s (maybe 1981 according to the Mann’s online performers list), that we saw Russian dancers, Mikhail Baryshnikow and Natalia Makarova. Not only did it rain, but thunder roared, and lightning flashed and flashed, behind, and around the dancers. I don’t recall if we sat in the rain or grabbed empty seats under the roof, but I will never forget that dancing and lightening. It was as if it was choragraphed. Simple unforgettable.
Another memory imprinted is Bob Dylan in 1997. Ani DiFranco was the opening act. She was strong, moving, a powerful voice. Dylan came on and shuffled a bit, his head bobbed up and down, gravelly phrases piled on and on. But OK this was Bobby Dylan. I’m not a big music person. But wondering now, where is DiFranco today?
The origins of the Mann go back to 1935 when Robin Hood Dell concerts in Fairmount Park were started as the summer venue for the Philadelphia Orchestra. In 1948, Fredric Mann saved the venue from closing by offering free tickets to anyone who mailed in a coupon published in local newspapers. I’m not sure how that saved the Dell but I do remember mailing in the coupons in the early 1960s through the 1970s.
Memory is strange. What imprints are left on our mind. I definitely remember in my high school years, going to Profy’s store to clip Dell coupons from the Philadelphia Inquirer. Not once but many times. Why not. They were good for free tickets. When I dig deeper into memory, I remember driving to Robin Hood Dell on Roosevelt Boulvard. At the Huntington Park fork, I took Route 13, to Fairmout Park and the Dell. I remember knowing the route, driving it many times. But . . . . what car was I driving? My father’s maroon Tempest or my grandfather’s white Cadillac? Who was with me? Was it a date, or some high school friends? And what was on the program?
Diane remembers that during the early 1970s, we clipped coupons, got free tickets, and went to the Dell. Probably on Route 1 to . . . I suspect for all of these performances, it was classical music, The Philadelphia Orchestra, or maybe a visiting Orchestra?
In 1976, the concerts moved across the river, in what would be known as Robin Hood Dell West, later the Mann Center for the Performing Arts. In addition to Dylan and the Russian dancers, I think we saw other performances at the Mann. But what? Robin Hood Dell East has been renovated and is now a venue for pop, jazz and folk artists. I should pay more attention to what’s playing at both venues. Even if there are no more free tickets.
Gershwin, 1920s musicals, Broadway, hit songs, Tin Pan Alley, “a musical kaleidoscope of America'” jazz and the blues, the folk opera “Porgy and Bess.” Will I remember this evening at the Mann, five years, ten or twenty years from now. Will I remember the traffic jam on I-95 getting to the Park, dinner at Vetri’s Alla Spina on North Broad Street before the show, or the torrential rain that soaked us on the way back to the car.
Why do we remember; and why do we forget?
Here is a photograph from the Mann website. Van Cliburn. I think we may have seen him there?
Maybe . . . When . . . Memory . . . .