The summer sounds of Penn’s Landing

Keeya Branson-Davis has been lining up free riverfront entertainment for Philadelphians for 14 years.

As director of programming for the Delaware River Waterfront Corp. (the successor to Penn’s Landing Corp.), she mixes crowd favorites with new acts.

For a decade, she satisfied audiences with a certain jazz favorite.

“If it was the third Friday of August, a Steve Cole concert was going to happen,” she said of the popular saxophone player.

Cole is back again, but this time as part of a smooth jazz Sax Pack concert with Kim Waters and Jeff Kashiwa on Aug. 12.

“To have all three artists onstage will be quite a treat,” she said.

At the same time, Branson-Davis likes to book new faces for the loyal crowds.

“We like to offer different things,” she said. “There are so many talented people in Philadelphia and beyond. They should get to play on the stage in front of their hometown audience.”

Free riverfront entertainment has been a Philadelphia staple since 1983. Today, the Delaware River Waterfront Corp. — formed in January 2009 — is in charge.

The waterfront isn’t dormant in the cold weather months. The outdoor Blue Cross RiverRink is open for ice skating from the day after Thanksgiving to early March.

While the bulk of the upcoming activities will take place in the summer months, the fun is already underway. It started May 5 with an all-you-can-eat ice cream festival and won’t wrap up until Oct. 9, when the Philadelphia Orchestra puts on a concert.

In its time, the Penn’s Landing Corp. focused on the area from Spring Garden Street to Washington Avenue. The Delaware River Waterfront Corp. plans activities along a larger stretch of Columbus Boulevard, from Allegheny to Oregon avenues.

Still, the bulk of the events will take place at Festival Pier at Spring Garden Street and the Great Plaza at Chestnut Street.

The shows will go on, unless there is lightning or a heavy rainfall, for five-plus months.

“The programming has been enhanced each year,” Branson-Davis said. “It’s definitely gotten bigger and better.”

Some events, of course, are more popular than others.

In all, there are 11 multicultural festivals.

“All of the ethnic festivals draw large crowds,” Branson-Davis said.

The highest-attended ones include the Irish-American Festival (June 5), the Hispanic Fiesta (July 9–10) and the Global Fusion Festival (July 16). Branson-Davis said the past turnout has been “massive” for those parties.

Other highlights include a July 3 concert starring former American Idol contestant Tim Urban and Hannah Montana star Emily Osment; Screening Under the Stars, an outdoor large-screen movie series every Thursday night in July and August; a jazz series concert every Friday night in August, with Kevin Eubanks headlining on Aug. 26; a doo-wop festival on Sept. 17; a preview of filmmaker Ken Burns’ Prohibition on Oct. 2; and, of course, multiple fireworks spectaculars.

Each event features food and merchandise vendors, and there are different looks to the stage setup.

“It’s Penn’s Landing, but it never looks the same way twice,” Branson-Davis said.

The crowds include tourists who are already in town and learn of the riverfront entertainment.

The biggest percentage, though, comes from Philadelphia-area residents who want to enjoy the riverfront while being entertained by marquee talent. Some come week after week, year after year. Others come less frequently.

In a sputtering economy, the free programs allow folks to spend their money on essentials.

“I like to think that our mission is needed more than ever,” Branson-Davis said. “People deserve to have quality entertainment. To do it for free is one of the great gifts Philadelphia gives to its citizens.”

Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215–354–3034 or twaring@bsmphilly.com

Happy Landing . . .

The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation will be offering free events through October.

For a lineup of guests or more information, call 215–922–2FUN or visit www.delawareriverevents.com