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After A Break For The Pandemic, Live Music Returns To Band City USA


Across the country, as COVID cases drop and restrictions lift, in-person activities are resuming. For an eastern Pennsylvania town with the nickname Band City, U.S.A., this means the return of free live music in the park. From member station WLVR, Tyler Pratt brings us this story from Allentown.


TYLER PRATT, BYLINE: Hector Rosado and his 12-piece orchestra Hache set up under a small bandshell in Allentown's West Park. It's a sprawling area filled with trees and war memorials. Rosado has led the group for 30 years. He says he draws inspiration from Tito Puente and other big Latin orchestras.

HECTOR ROSADO: That's the sound that I really like, big band with this big baritone sax, two trumpets, 'bone, sometimes another 'bone.

PRATT: 'Bone being short for trombone.

ROSADO: Oh, sometimes four or five singers. So that's what I'm really - you know, we're after. We're there already, but I still want more.

PRATT: Allentown is dubbed Band City because of the Allentown Band, which bills itself as the oldest in the U.S., nearing 200 years old. And each summer, big band music fills West Park. But not last year.

ROSADO: As far as, like, the epidemic, I mean, it's been really bad, you know? I think I had one gig last year, maybe two, no music scene at all anywhere.

PRATT: Hache members say they struggled not being able to perform for live audiences. Bill Smith has played 'bone with Rosado for a decade. He says it was tough to practice during the shutdowns.

BILL SMITH: After a few months of that, it just - it's really hard. And I went through a period where, you know, I didn't touch the horn for maybe a week or so at the time.

PRATT: Keith Wagner play sax in the band and also works for the city of Allentown. He says he saw the same frustrations grow among residents.

KEITH WAGNER: There was just no release. There was no passion. We just went through our day and went through our day and went through our day without music.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in Spanish).

PRATT: As the sun goes down, the band fires up, and the crowd is having a good time. Families sprawl out on blankets with cold drinks. A vendor sells barbecue and empanadas. People say they are happy that live music is back.

SHEILA PEREZ: It's like humanity is finally back on its feet. Let's get motivated, man.

PRATT: Sheila Perez heads up to the front of the stage to salsa dance. Later in the night, trombone player Bill Smith walks to the side smiling, but he says he's feeling a little winded.

SMITH: It's not exactly like getting back on a bicycle (laughter). But, yeah, I feel good. I think the band played great tonight.

PRATT: Hector Rosado and Hache say they have more shows coming up. And Allentown's West Park has free orchestra concerts scheduled all summer. It's starting to sound like the 'bones are back in Band City.

For NPR News, I'm Tyler Pratt in Allentown. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tyler Pratt