UPPER MERION >> So you thought you said farewell to the fair nearly 20 years ago?
Valley Forge Casino Resort has other ideas.
Invoking the spirit of the long-gone and much missed Valley Forge Music Fair in Devon to fit its new entertainment strategy in nearby King of Prussia was a no-brainer, noted VFCR CEO Mike Bowman.
“The Valley Forge Convention and Visitors Bureau has been screaming for entertainment, and we’ve been providing it, but we wanted to take it to the next level and really elevate the experience by bringing in some big time entertainment as the Valley Forge Casino Resort Music Fair,” Bowman said.
As a veteran of the original Music Fair, Smokey Robinson was a smart headliner choice to kick off the Valley Forge Casino Resort Music Fair in the newly remodeled Convention Center at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 13, Bowman added.
“We’ve had an incredible buzz about the first show. Smokey Robinson is an icon who sells out big venues in Vegas and he’s launching our new entertainment strategy for us.”
The Music Fair moniker and the roster of big league headliners may be the only tangible entities working on VFCR’s behalf as it tries to connect with all those fond memories that fans have of the 41-year-old Devon venue that closed in 1996.
“Everyone who’s been there has a story about it,” Bowman said. “And then it all comes back to this market — all the hotels, the mall, the restaurants, and now you’ll be able to come to see a world-class show and not having to drive into Philly or long distances to do it.”
Although the stage will not be a turntable, in-the-round type like the original, showgoers will enjoy a state-of-the-art sound and lighting system, Bowman said.
“It’s all top notch. There will be a lot more major announcements about what is coming. In the meantime, we still have something for everybody … gaming, celebrity chefs, restaurants, the wine events, pay per view with the MMA, comedy. And now we’ll have even bigger comedy names coming in.”
Comedy legends like George Carlin and Bob Hope were no strangers to the old Valley Forge Music Fair, a concept that fell together through the ingenuity of three partners and childhood buddies — Shelly Gross, Lee Guber and Frank Ford — as a tented theater presenting Broadway musicals to suburban audiences in 1955.
When the tent was replaced by a permanent building in the early ‘70s, the Music Fair became a hotbed for middle of the road acts, from The Carpenters and Frank Sinatra — who used to get his hair cut when he was in town by none other than master barber Armando Mastrocola of Armando’s Barber Stylist Shop in Valley Forge Shopping Center — to rockabilly legends the Everly Brothers, Tom Jones, Diana Ross and Bette Midler.
Eventually, diverse rock acts such as Kansas, Eddie Money, Warren Zevon, Huey Lewis & the News, and even Frank Zappa, would perform on the rotating stage in the center of the 3,000-seat theater, where, no matter where your ticket landed, you felt an intimate connection with the performer.
The Valley Forge Music Fair closed its doors following Kenny Rogers’ Christmas show in December, 1996, and was razed the following spring to clear the way for a supermarket.
Bowman said he’s confident the lingering good will created by the unique original will inspire many who remember the old showplace to give its dislocated descendant a shot.
Some of the acts who graced the Devon stage are being considered for the new go-round, he allowed.
“We hope to bring back that level of excitement for the community to come out and see a show. We’re evolving the Valley Forge Casino Resort Music Fair into a strong entertainment brand.”