Let’s say, just for purposes of discussion, you’re at an age when you need reading glasses and you might have a bit more gray hair. Or maybe you have a bit less hair, period. That doesn’t mean you don’t want to go out and have a good time. But so much night life and entertainment is geared toward the very young, and the very casually dressed, you know, Those Who Tend to Behave Badly.
DJ Shawn T., co-founder of Philadelphia-based Ol’ Skool Entertainment, sees something missing in nightlife for the over-35 crowd. That’s why his company puts on and promotes events for mature but fun-loving people who haven’t forgotten how to have a good time, and who want to relax in style and see and be seen without having to worry about a fight breaking out.
One such sophisticated event will be heating up the holiday weekend, when Ol’ Skool presents its Fourth of July Indoor/Outdoor Summer Bash at the Hamilton Manor in Hamilton on Sunday, July 4. With the theme of “Party Sunday, No Work Monday,” the Summer Bash will feature two DJs (including DJ Shawn T., a veteran of radio, clubs, and social events) spinning all kinds of great funk, R&B, and old school hip-hop. There will also be live music by Delaware-based To The Max, as well as Philly’s own band of musician’s musicians, the Urban Guerrilla Orchestra (UGO).
Dress is “summer casual,” but definitely not T-shirt and baseball hat casual. The dress code is something that sets Ol’ Skool events apart, and Shawn T. is adamant about setting the fashion bar higher. At age 40, he is mature enough to remember a time when people got dressed up to go out. We’re not talking about tuxedos and tiaras, just nice, tasteful attire.
“We try to emphasize that the event is upscale and that means no jeans or sneakers, no Timberlands, no guys with their pants hanging halfway off their (behinds), no girls half-undressed,” he says. “Ladies, you don’t have to be half-dressed to look good in my opinion. If you go to our website (www.olskoolentertainment.com) you’ll see what we allow and what we don’t. We stress ‘adult, summer casual.’
A press statement for the event says: “‘Ain’t no party like an Ol’ Skool party cause and old school party don’t stop’ is the phrase often echoed by many African-American baby-boomers in urban America.”
“Most older African Americans don’t like to go out because of this type of atmosphere they have a fear of getting hurt or having to hurt someone in order to protect themselves and that to me is a shame," says DJ Shawn T. “I come from Philly, and I’ve seen that if you’re 35 or older, there aren’t a lot of places for you to go, for various reasons. Our friends in this area have said the same thing — they see the same gap. When you’re this age, you’re probably working and when you have time off, you want to relax; you don’t want to deal with the nonsense when you go out. There’s a hole in the community for ‘adult events,’ and that’s where Ol’ Skool comes in.”
Founded in September, 2008, the company caters to the over-35 crowd (even over 75, Shawn T. says) providing live entertainment, networking parties, and social events. For the Summer Bash, there will be three rooms of festivities. Listen up for great oldies, with line dancing and the Bop, “the official dance of Philadelphia,” Shawn T. says. There will be lots of food, drink specials, and a number of raffles, including tickets to see upcoming shows at the Robin Hood Dell East (re-opening Monday, July 12, as the Dell Music Center).
Both live bands are high energy groups that can handle a variety of styles, but perhaps no one can shift gears quite like UGO. That’s because the instrumentalists and vocalists have performed, recorded, and toured with such musical legends as Quincy Jones, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Patti LaBelle, Boyz II Men, the Temptations, the O’Jays, the Stylistics, Teddy Pendergrass, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Michael Bolton, Kool and the Gang, the Roots, and many, many more. Philadelphia is a city rich with musical talent, and the members of the UGO — Philly natives and residents — are no exception.
In a phone interview drummer Daryl “Kwesi” Burgee, vocalist Lawrence “Weez” Newton, and Henri McMillian Jr., who plays lead trumpet and flugelhorn, reflect on their youth, when they saw shows at the old Uptown theater in North Philadelphia just about every night and twice on Saturdays. They absorbed the music of such soul and R&B greats as James Brown, Gladys Knight, and Smokey Robinson. This was their musical education, and they still pinch themselves when they think about growing up to play music with their heroes.
When he gets up in front of an audience, Newton says he barely has to think about how he will sing or in what style. “Most of these people (whose music we do) I’ve seen in person, and mostly at the Uptown,” he says. “We lived there. We went to every show. I saw Patti LaBelle when it was Patti LaBelle and the Bluebells. I used to pretend I was one of the Temptations.
“We saw these people as children and then we got to work with them, so we saw them from two different perspectives,” says Newton. “We would have these conversations that were like an education. They would explain how they made it, how they performed on the Chitlin Circuit, when there were just a few places to play. They told me about being rich and being poor.”
Burgee, who grew up with Newton, says the musicians all continue to tour and expose themselves to all different genres of music, which keeps them fresh. Case in point: Burgee had just arrived back in Philly from the Bonnaroo festival near Nashville, where he played with Stevie Wonder. “I have been playing drums since age five, and by the time I was in high school, I was already working professionally,” he says. “Then I moved to Ghana for a couple of years and studied West African drumming. I loved the culture and decided that would be my higher education.”
In addition to UGO and other touring and studio work, he is a member of the nationally recognized Spoken Hand percussion ensemble. For all his talents and the talents of his fellow instrumentalists, Burgee says musicians have to keep doing live performances because the recording industry isn’t nearly as profitable as it used to be. “The music industry requires you to cover a wide variety of music because you’re playing at weddings, concerts, and corporate events,” he says. “That’s how we honed the craft, that’s why we can play music from four different eras.”
“Even five eras,” says McMillian, one of UGO’s founding members. “If we’re playing a wedding reception, someone might want to hear something by Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra, or the Platters. And then you might be asked to play Bon Jovi or Journey. The main song at a recent wedding was something by (young singer-songwriter) Gavin DeGraw. We get all kinds of requests, and that’s why we can cover the gamut.”
Forty-some years of performing all kinds of music has been McMillian’s college education, although he is thinking about going back to school to get a degree so he can teach in the Philadelphia school system. “We’re basically from the school of hard knocks,” McMillian says. “But when you’re 15 and your high school music teacher is setting you up to play (in the pit orchestra) for someone like Engelbert Humperdinck, why do you need formal education? We learned by doing.
“It’s great to be playing live for people, and this party is going to be reminiscent of an old style approach, maybe even based on the cabaret style,” he says. “We developed a relationship with Ol’ Skool, and people really responded to the live music. That’s why this (July 4 event) will be so special. It’s an opportunity for mature people to come out, put on their best clothing, and have a good time without having to worry about the environment.”
4th of July Indoor/Outdoor Summer Bash, Ol’ Skool Entertainment, Hamilton Manor, Cellar, 30 Route 156, Hamilton. Sunday, July 4, 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. The Urban Guerrilla Orchestra and other live bands and DJs will perform at the “Party Sunday, No Work Monday” social mixer and professional networking bash. Urban Guerrilla Orchestra on the Web: www.ugofunk.com 609-581-6782 or http://4thofjulysummerbash.eventbrite.com.