STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
June Rich, one of Philadelphia’s favorite bands of all time, called it quits back in 1998, disappointing their many fans. After bursting onto the local scene in 1995 they quickly became contenders for the brass ring – a record deal.
After releasing two independent albums, “June Rich” (Longview Records, 1995) and “Rain” (Hard Time Records, 1997), and nearly incessant touring, the band members were disillusioned and decided to move on with other ventures.
Perhaps it all happened too fast. Within months of their first rehearsals they began playing at the Grape Street Pub in Manayunk every Wednesday night. They became an instant crowd favorite. And soon WXPN, Philly’s influential non-commercial Triple A radio station, jumped on board as well.
They got to play some coveted gigs along the way. They were the only local band to play the main stage at Philadelphia Folk Festival in 1996. They also appeared at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival three years in a row, at the renowned Telluride Bluegrass Festival and at WXPN’s Singer-Songwriter Festival. They performed on the nationally syndicated radio show Mountain Stage. And they were the first band to perform at the re-opened Electric Factory in Philadelphia.
Nearly 20 years after it all began June Rich was all but forgotten. Sort of. A huge fan of the band, Randy Berghaier, asked his wife, Rose, if she could get June Rich to play at his 60th birthday party in 2014 — and the band said yes!
Despite having not performed together in nearly 17 years, the nearly instant chemistry that amazed them back in 1995 was still there. They decided to keep the band going on a limited basis.
The band wanted to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of their debut CD. So they booked gigs last year at The Living Room in Brooklyn, NY, at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, at Ardmore Music Hall and at The Grape Room (formerly the Grape Street Pub), where the band first performed. They were also invited by WXPN to do a Free at Noon show, their weekly Friday afternoon live broadcast.
“The reunion shows last year were a blast!,” said bassist Garry Lee in an email interview. “(It was) a lot of hard work putting them together logistically, but it was fascinating coming together after 17 years and re-visiting what we had created musically.”
He added, “The audiences were great… so many people we hadn’t seen for a lot of years. Folks telling us how much the band had meant to them earlier in their lives and that they still listened to the record. One woman told me she had been afraid that it wouldn’t be as good as she remembered, but said it was just as good if not better. That put a big smile on my face.”
In addition, the band released a special re-mastered 20th anniversary edition of “June Rich,” complete with three bonus tracks – the previously unreleased studio recording of “Who I Am” as well as “A Little Country” and “Clothesline,” a fan favorite, that had been recorded live at the Tin Angel in Philadelphia.
“I re-mastered the debut album along with Mike Tarsia,” said Lee. “It was rewarding going back and examining those tracks again, modernizing them sonically, and also realizing how well they stood the test of time.”
Although last year’s reunion shows were very successful, as was this year’s Father’s Day show at Concerts Under the Stars in King of Prussia, it is a lot of work to maintain the band, even for just doing a few shows a year. And even though everything clicked artistically, the band members are all at a different place in their lives. They decided that this show would be their last.
“It wasn’t really that big a decision (to) make this the final gig,” explained Lee. “I think we accomplished our goal… to renew some musical and personal relationships and to cement June Rich’s place as an important band in the rich history of Philadelphia music.”
Of the current band members, only Lee and Allen James continue to make performing music their primary career. They have both performed with the Deb Callahan Band for over a decade. Drummer Tom Walling, who has sat in for original drummer Ronny Crawford for some of the reunion shows, is also a member of Callahan’s band. Lee, James and Walling are also Greg Sover’s backing band.
Vanida Gail had pondered pursuing a solo career but instead created a photography business with long-time June Rich manager Karen Schubert. And Jackie Murphy Danielsson is happy as a wife, mother of two and middle school physical science teacher.
So whether you’re a long-time fan or have only recently become a fan of June Rich, you don’t want to miss this special show at Ardmore Music Hall, where they will say “Goodnight” for the final time.