Above: Rob Grant (front) and area musicians have been producing the Deadfest benefit concerts since 2010. Photo by Kevin Matsanka.

By Steve Lanahan

The Brandywine Valley is what is known as a watershed. Rain that falls in the valley flows down to Brandywine Creek to start the journey to the Atlantic Ocean. The watershed covers 330 square miles and is home to more than 300,000 people. It is the primary drinking water source for much of New Castle County, so conservation efforts are needed to keep water quality high. 

Sometimes support for such critical efforts can come from unexpected places. Take music, for example. And more specifically, the Summer Music Series sponsored by the Brandywine Red Clay Alliance (BRC). 

The weekly concert series, at the Myrick Conservation Center, in Pocopson Township along Route 842, features a mix of local bands and styles of music. The free events often attract 300 people, who come for the music, the food trucks, and the beautiful natural surroundings. They are held most Thursdays in July and August from 7 to 9 p.m., and are expected to start this year on Thursday, July 6.

Deadfest is another musical event at the Myrick, one that has been ongoing since 2010 and has grown from small crowds to sell-out events. This concert is distinct from the Summer Music Series in a number of ways, one of which is that there are no bands. Each song has a different lineup of musicians and performers. This once-a-year event will be on Friday, Sept. 8 .

The BRC — sponsors of the concerts — is a collaboration among three watershed conservation associations: the Brandywine Valley Association (BVA), the Red Clay Valley Association (BCVA), and Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County (TLC).

Three-Fold Mission

The BRC mission is threefold: watershed conservation, environmental education, and land preservation. Put simply, the goal of its watershed conservation efforts is to have drinkable, fishable, and swimmable waters available to all. Environmental education comes through science and STEM-based nature programs. These aim to connect children with the outdoors and the natural world, away from electronic gadgets. Land preservation protects and enhances biodiversity. 

CEO Jim Jordan is proud of the many initiatives the BRC has taken on. In particular, he cites the miles of streams the group has restored. “These streams are the primary source of drinking water for the city of Wilmington and northern New Castle County,” Jordan says. 

He also notes the organization’s Red Clay Valley and Brandywine Clean Ups. “The Red Clay Valley Clean Up covers over 98 miles of streams and roadways in both Pennsylvania and Delaware,” he says. “In the history of this event 18,489 volunteers have collected 431 tons of trash. 

BRC’s annual Deadfest draws more than 1000 guests annually. Photo by Kevin Matsanka.

Another accomplishment: “The thousands of children that participate in our school and summer camps programs each year. This generation is our future, and our natural world will be in their hands.”

The mission of the BRC can be traced to 1945, when veterans back from World War II found that their streams, specifically the Brandywine, had been polluted from industrial discharges and agricultural runoff.  No strangers to teamwork, they got together and began to clean up and preserve the Brandywine and officially formed the BVA. In 1952, the BCVA was formed with similar goals for Red Clay Creek. The two groups joined forces on their conservation efforts and worked together for decades. 

The idea of using music to attract people to the BRC cause occurred 25 years ago. 

Says Jordan, “In 1998, one of our board members, Jack Williams, who, sadly, passed away a few months ago, initiated the idea that we should have a music event to help introduce people to our Myrick Conservation Center — then our only preserve — and the work that BRC does. Jack then spearheaded and funded efforts to build our current amphitheater. He led our free Summer Music Series Concerts each July and August.”

Jordan says the concerts are, hopefully, a recruiting tool. “They bring new people along with old friends to our Myrick Conservation Center and give us an opportunity to introduce them to our mission and work that we do. It is not at all a money maker for us as these are free concerts. We hope at least a few of our guests join as members each week. Our members are really the backbone of the organization.”

Some recent Summer Series bands have included Bones Brigade, the Cameltones, and the Flying Komorowski Brothers.

Deadfest Beginnings

The other musical event — Deadfest — is the brainchild of board member Rob Grant, who also now leads the Summer Music series. It has become a sell-out event, prompting board member and musician Pat Bruner to offer a simple suggestion: “Buy tickets early. It amazes me every year that the event gets marketed heavily as ‘This will sell out,’ and then it sells out, and then everyone is scrambling for tickets. Mark your calendar for the date of the show and buy your tickets when they go on sale.”

Jordan speaks highly of Grant’s leadership. “Rob has taken our music program to a whole new level by bringing in some incredible local bands and musicians.” 

Deadfest can be challenging for the musicians. “Every song is a different lineup made up of musicians from different bands,” Grant says. With intentionally limited rehearsals, the performers are forced to rely on listening to each other, which creates some synergetic music.

Deadheads seem to be a BRC kind of audience. To start with, says Jordan, “you gotta love the tie dye and Volkswagen buses. And as we know, most Deadheads are conservationists at heart.” As a result, he says, many join the BRC after attending a concert.

The goal for this year is to raise $100,000, which would be a record for the event.

BRC has put its fundraising to good use. It now owns more than 1,000 acres of land, including six preserves open to the public. It also has conservation easements on an additional 1,400 acres. It sponsors school and camp programs for between 10,000 and 13,000 students each year. 

In addition, there are two ongoing projects to preserve properties which are scheduled to be completed by the end of this month. There are also four stream restoration projects in various stages. Included in those projects is an assessment of the entire Red Clay West Branch and its tributaries. 

— More information about the BRC and its events can be found at BrandywineRedClay.org.