The Kennett Flash: Up on the Roof04/13/2021 04:56PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Just like every other event venue manager and live music promoter in the world like him, Andrew Miller, the managing director of The Kennett Flash, is both thrilled and apprehensive at the moment, and there is not a soul alive in the business of making live music happen who isn’t living with the same emotions.
Miller is just two weeks away from the start of what will be the venue’s most creative initiative in its long history, and quite possibly it’s most courageous. On April 30, The Flash will kick off a 35-concert rooftop series of shows on the top level of the Genesis Parking Garage on 101 East Linden Street in Kennett Square, with a performance by legendary jazz musician Dave Mattock and his band Funktap.
Each performer in the series – which will also include recording artist Patty Larkin, the Levin Brothers and several tribute bands, always a popular draw at the venue’s indoor listening room – will be performing on a 12’ x 16’ roofed stage The Flash has purchased for the new location.
“There is a perception among some people that this rooftop concert series is a clear indication that The Flash is back in business, and that it will become a big money maker for us,” Miller said. “We’re a non-profit, and we exist to serve the needs of the community, and the reality is that we’re investing a lot of money in these shows, and if we can make that money back, that would be great. I just want these events to be self sustainable.”
The idea to move the business of the popular venue from its cozy listening room off of Sycamore Alley to the top level of the garage atop the Genesis Walkway is one of creativity, achieved in the service of necessity.
The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic last March took The Flash’s normally rigorous and diverse schedule and promptly leveled it, leaving the venue without its usual revenue stream and forcing Miller to pursue other ways to keep The Flash going. A live streaming concert series has been successful, as was an appeal for donations from members and the general public, and through the venue’s membership in The National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), Miller was able to connect with several grant programs.
Federal and local assistance
Over the last year, The Flash has received federal assistance from the Payroll Protection Program, grants from the Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts; The Kennett Small Business Emergency Fund; the Cares Act, arranged through the Chester County Community Foundation; and a grant from the Live Music Society.
Through lobbying done by NIVA, The Flash also received a grant from the Save Our Stages Act, a bipartisan initiative introduced by Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn and Minnesota Democrat Sen. Amy Klobuchar that contributed $10 billion to help small venues affected by the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020.
The Flash has also recently applied to the federally-funded Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program, that was recently launched by the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits and Venues Act, and amended by the American Rescue Plan Act. The program includes over $16 billion in grants to shuttered venues that will be administered by Small Business Association’s Office of Disaster Assistance.
Miller said that he expects to receive a reply from SVOG in the coming weeks.
“NIVA was formed one year ago this week,” Miller said. “There has never been an organization that brings together all of the independent venues across the country, and there is now. That organization started lobbying last April, saying, ‘We need help.’”
While these grants helped usher The Flash through 2020 and likely through the first six months of 2021, Miller knew that he still needed to find a way to reintroduce the venue’s entertainment to the public. Miller began meeting with stakeholders in the Kennett Borough about the possibility of producing outdoor shows in Apple Alley, but was told that the idea would not work logistically.
When the idea of using the top deck of the Genesis Parking Garage was pitched, Miller was immediately on board with the plan. After a revised proposal was accepted by the borough’s codes and infrastructure committees and later approved by borough council, Miller was then on to his next hurdle -- booking acts at the new venue.
The logistics of a new venue
The space between the cozy indoor confines of The Flash and its new location is best measured in yards, but logistically, the process of moving the business of live music from a listening room to the roof of a parking garage is a logistical tangle of equipment, wiring and technology – all of which will be completed by a part-time tech crew in the coming weeks. Architect Dennis Melton – who is also one of The Flash’s founding directors – is creating a schematic drawing for the design of the outdoor venue, which will position the stage at the southeast corner of the parking lot’s rooftop, tilting each performer away from the direct light of the setting sun.
“We’re running a generator for power, which will be positioned on the lower level of the parking lot and require the need to run the cables up four levels of the lot to get to the stage,” Miller said. “There is a lot happening all at once, but without the volunteers, this does not happen. The biggest thing the volunteers will do is usher concert-goers into the events and to the socially-distant seating areas that we will have created.”
The Kennett Flash Rooftop Concert Series is being introduced in perfect harmony with the plodding progress of COVID-19 vaccinations, coupled with the cabin fever of restless music lovers who are desperate to experience live performances again. While the circumference of the rooftop venue will be much larger than The Flash’s indoor shows, Miller said that doesn’t mean that music fans can anticipate a shoulder-to-shoulder super-spreader event that clogs the entirety of the garage’s top floor. Instead, the socially-distant pod areas drawn throughout the seating area will keep the maximum seating capacity between 100 and 125 – about the same as an indoor show.
“I want The Flash to be a leader in the safe ways of offering outdoor shows during this challenging time, and I am hopeful that once we start this series, people are going to hear the music from down on the ground and want to know what’s going on up there on the roof,” Miller said. “There will be a number of people in attendance who will be going to hear a particular artist, and there will be others who will attend just for the curiosity of what it’s like to see an outdoor concert on the roof of a parking garage in Kennett Square.”
The Kennett Flash Rooftop Concert Series will take place on the rooftop of the Genesis Parking Garage, beginning on April 30, rain or shine. Those attending the concerts will be asked to provide their own seating, and seating areas will be arranged in visible and socially-distanced pods throughout the venue. No food, alcohol or coolers will be permitted, and masks will be required for entry and will need to be worn throughout the event.
To see the current list of shows, and to order tickets online for the series, visit www.kennettflash.org.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].
The Kennett Flash Rooftop Concert Series (through June 19)
Dave Mattock and Funktap, April 30
Stephen Kellogg, May 6
Jeffrey Gaines, May 8
Patty Larkin with special guest Katie Barbato, May 15
Highway 61 Revival – Bob Dylan tribute, May 22
Beatlemania Again, June 5 (two shows)
Arlen Roth, June 11
The Bryan Tuk Complex, June 12
The Levin Brothers, June 13
Total Mass Retain – Yes tribute, June 19