Wawa Welcome America arrived in the Northeast on Saturday, showcasing local music and food.
The heat was scorching and the sun unforgiving, but that didn’t stop Northeast Philadelphia from having a good time.
Wawa Welcome America came to the Northeast for the first time Saturday, giving a stage (or more accurately, two stages) to local musical acts. It was hosted at Pennypack on the Delaware Park along the scenic riverfront.
More than a thousand Northeast residents braved the peak 96-degree weather to check out live music, good food and community vendors. Local volunteers poured their blood, sweat and tears into making the event happen for months.
“The Kid’s Corner was a hit, the community corridor was a hit, the bands were awesome, we have a ton of great volunteers and people really showed up today,” said Tara Gontek of the planning committee.
The event started five or six years ago as a seed in Jim Lopardo’s mind. Lopardo of Sandbox Music Group and SawTown Tavern wanted to create a local festival that highlights local music.
At first he pictured a small shindig in Disston Park, but he connected with what is now known as Riverfront North Partnership, and the event ballooned from there. RNP and Councilman Bobby Henon helped connect the event to Wawa Welcome America, bringing the Philly-famous music festival to the Northeast.
SawTown Tavern hosts open mic nights where he connected with many local artists and invited them to perform.
“People need to hear these bands,” he said. “I wanted to make a diverse lineup with all different styles of music.”
Adventure Lost was one of many bands that proved that sentiment. Singer Jack Faracchio, wearing a dark T-shirt and jeans despite the heat, kept the energy pumping with bandmates Johnathan Sellers and Larry Iaccio. Faracchio, who left the stage to jam out with people in the audience during their self-proclaimed pop-progressive set, said they get their energy from one place.
“La Colombe special brand dark roast,” he joked.
“Or the audience,” Iaccio corrected him.
“The audience is where we get the energy,” Faracchio said. “They responded well the first few songs and they just made us want to perform better.”
Members of Philadelphia-based acoustic rock band The Wayside Shakeup were used to performing in the heat. When they were invited through a connection with Lopardo, they jumped at the chance to perform.
“It’s a great event,” said Chris D’Antonio of the band. “Hopefully it’s something that happens every year.”
Both Adventure Lost and The Wayside Shakeup have their music available on Spotify and Bandcamp.
The soupy weather may have thrown an unprecedented curveball at the proceedings, but Lopardo considers it a success.
“I think if it was 10 degrees cooler even more people would have come out,” Gontek said.
Lopardo and Gontek acknowledged the lack of parking was an issue that will hopefully be improved next year, so that festival-goers won’t be asked to walk upward of a quarter of a mile in the sweltering heat.
“Now we know what to address next year, and I think everyone is committed to it,” he said.
One of the main goals of the festival was to give awareness to the park itself. Gontek said one of the main questions they had received was where the park was located.
“How many of you are at this park for the first time today?” Gontek asked the crowd to many raised hands. “So now you know, and I hope you will come back. It’s a beautiful park, and could we ask for better scenery?”
This isn’t the last event the park will see this summer. Upcoming summer events include free outdoor movies, a couple of Bikes, Beans & Beers and Paws By the River. Check out what’s going on at the riverfront at riverfrontnorth.org/events.
The day kicked off at 10 a.m. with yoga on the pier with instructor Marghi Insignares. An area called Kid’s Corner kept the youngsters busy, and Kathy O’Connell, host of WXPN’s radio show Kid’s Corner, stopped by to keep them entertained. ••