Phil Kresge didn’t make it to the actual Woodstock festival.
So he decided to create his own.
Kresge, a musician who is a member of Fabulous Cheeze Brothers and Sisters and the Crackerbeez, has hosted an annual Woodstock party in his garage for the past several years. His bandmates and other musical friends performed in the garage’s performance space, where his bands and many others rehearse.
This year, Kresge and his friends are making the annual tribute bigger than ever because of the Woodstock’s 50th anniversary. For starters, they’re bringing it out of Kresge’s garage and onto the Long’s Park stage on Saturday. It’s one of three Saturday shows the Summer Music Series hosts annually to shine a light on local musicians.
In total, 25 musicians will cycle through the stage to re-create the music of that wild three-day affair in 1969.
Kresge, who also happens to be the mayor of Mountville, was between his junior and senior years at Hempfield High School during the summer of ’69. His family owned one car, and he knew borrowing it to go to a concert wouldn’t be a possibility, so he didn’t ask.
But he was a voracious music lover.
“I wanted to be the next Jimi Hendrix,” Kresge says.
After retiring from Hempfield High School in 2011, Kresge invested time in creating the garage behind his Mountville home.
The word “garage” is a bit of a misnomer, though. It’s really more of a playhouse for adults. The first floor is where he sets up tables and has food and beverages displayed during his party. Upstairs, the space is half stage, half nightclub, outfitted with professional audio equipment, lighting, vintage music memorabilia and neon signs.
His first event was for his 60th birthday. Then came a party for his daughter Katie’s birthday. Then he realized a lot of his musician friends didn’t have gigs during Labor Day weekend, so he hosted his first Woodstock event. About 20-something friends took the mic as they pleased, playing impromptu covers of songs by artists who performed at the festival.
The party was a hit.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Kresge says. “And we have as many as 150 people in here at one time. Maybe 250 over the course of the night.”
Over the years, he became more and more organized in his preparation, to the point where even the parties had a program of performers and a setlist.
He knew he’d elevate his game for the 50th anniversary, so he took last year off from Woodstock and hosted a Motown party instead. When a friend from the Long’s Park Amphitheater Foundation asked if he’d be interested in bringing the party to the park, he knew he’d have to approach things a little differently.
As counterculture icon Timothy Leary once said, "Turn on, tune in and drop out."
He started scouting musicians around Christmastime and built the set with the talent he had to work with in mind.
“I want to do the best of Woodstock, almost like the original Woodstock movie,” Kresge says. “Not everything, but I wanted to have all the hits.”
Almost every song included in Saturday’s set was played at the actual Woodstock, with two exceptions: “Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell, which was inspired by and written after the festival, and “Me and Bobby McGee” by Janis Joplin.
“For some unknown reason, Woodstock may have been the only gig that she ever did that she did not perform that song,” Kresge says of Joplin. “I’m taking a little bit of poetic license.”
The set includes “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and “Marrakesh Express” by Crosby, Stills and Nash; “Everyday People” and “Dance to the Music” by Sly and the Family Stone; “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane; and “The Weight” by The Band, just to name a few.
Many participating musicians are mainstays of the Lancaster scene, including Kresge’s daughter Katie, Rex DeCarr, Chuck Ronemus and Don Hodgen of Pocketful O’ Soul. Other performers include Greg Pencheff, Mike Truitt and John Camilleri.
Katie Kresge says her dad’s circle of friends are more than capable of the job.
“I think it was the perfect opportunity for all of his friends to showcase their talents because we’ve got the soul, the funk, the folky artists, too.” she says. “So, it was such a good mix for everything.”
She and her fiance, Camilleri, have visited the Woodstock museum and memorial at the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts with her dad.
“I guess it was almost like a spiritual experience, just feeling the energy and going to the grounds,” Katie Kresge says. “And it was almost emotional, too, of just how much it means to my dad and that I was there with him. It was a really special bonding moment.”