Monkeephiles return to Elmwood Park July 16
NORRISTOWN » Can you think of a better time for The Monkeephiles to “bring the summer” to the Elmwood Park concert scene than the middle of July?
When the popular and profoundly faithful Monkees tribute band returns to the Fire Chief’s Memorial Band Shell on July 16 at 7 p.m., “You Bring the Summer — the irresistibly buoyant tune from the Monkees 2016 reunion album “Good Times!” — will join a roster of monster hits like “Daydream Believer” and “Last Train to Clarksville” guaranteed to enthrall a crowd that spans generations.
From fledgling musical moppets to their nostalgic grandparents who grew up with “The Monkees” TV show phenomenon of the mid-1960s, they’ll all be there at Elmwood Park, 1661 Harding Blvd., Norristown, to celebrate summer and some timeless tunes, noted Monkeephiles bassist and singer Michael Kropp.
“We do see all ages at our concerts, and a lot of families come out. It’s always fun for us to meet first generation fans, and we do not take that for granted, but at the same time, it’s really fun when they bring their children or grandchildren who say ‘I really like that “Stepping Stone” song’ … so you know there are future Monkees fans coming.”
Many Daytime Believers will remember that The Monkeephiles played the band shell around Labor Day last year, after the band’s original show was rained out during the summer.
Kropp agreed that he and his band mates — John Roginski (vocals, guitar, keyboards); Paul Venturi (vocals, keyboards, percussion) and Ryan Fenton (drums) — are more than just a Monkees cover band.
“We’re definitely trying to sound like the Monkees, but we’re not trying to be them,” he cautioned. “People will ask, ‘Which Monkee are you?’ I’m the bass player but I’m not trying to be Peter Tork. We are trying to give you the impression that you’re hearing the songs like the original records. And we do a lot of album tracks besides the hits. We’re doing it because we love it,” Kropp added. “It’s our jobs, but we also love the fun that The Monkees bring and the smiles the music brings to people’s faces … people singing along and that kind of thing.”
While you won’t see any Monkees trademark sartorial statements like a woolly blue hat or eight-button blue shirts, The Monkeephiles designed their own stylish nod to the singing and acting quartet comprising Americans Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork and British actor-singer Davy Jones that was originally created by TV gurus to capture the teen Beatlemaniac market.
“The Monkees wore matching shirts in the TV show; that was their iconic look, primarily blue and red shirts,” Kropp explained. “So we had T-shirts made with our logo on the back and on the front are (simulated) buttons, two across four down, that pay homage to that look.”
Kropp, who lives in Limerick and was already a selfdescribed “music nerd” and huge Monkees fan, as well as an avid record collector, when he was invited to join Roginski and Venturi, who founded The Monkeephiles in the Scranton area, through Fenton, a mutual friend.
“My only caution was that it’s about a two-hour drive but we came together really well,” recalled Kropp.
One of the first gigs the group landed was, by most Monkee maniac standards, fairly monumental: the 2014 Monkees convention held at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.
“It was really incredible,” Kropp said. “The year we were invited was the year they had actually persuaded Mike Nesmith to appear at the convention. Micky Dolenz was scheduled to come in, but Mike Nesmith was always the elusive one. The most exciting thing for us was that maybe 25 minutes before we were scheduled to actually go on stage to play, the promoter came and found us and we were ushered into the ballroom of this hotel to meet Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork. It was an incredibly surreal experience. We had this five- or 10-minute encounter with them; they posed for a picture with us and we gave them some of our matching shirts. We had a great time and it kind of snowballed from there.”
Now a mainstay of several local amphitheaters around the area, The Monkeephiles are essentially a summertime act, Kropp allowed.
“We just played West Goshen Park, our first show of the summer. We’re set to play Temple Ambler campus on July 30. We love the township amphitheater shows because they’re so much fun. They don’t usually want to bring the same bands back year after year because they like to mix it up a little, but we’ve been very fortunate to be asked to come back by some towns, like Norristown, a number of times,” Kropp noted, suggesting that fans check the band’s Facebook page for updates. “We played New Holland the last two summers. The nice thing is, no one has said, ‘We don’t want you back.’ They talked to us about coming back year after year, or skipping a year, and then coming back. We’re very fortunate and excited about it.”
During the show, crowds have come to expect a little background on some Monkees tunes, many of which were penned by the most prolific songwriters of the era, like Carole King, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, Neil Diamond and Harry Nilsson.
“When we’re about to do ‘Pleasant Valley Sunday’ and we tell the audience one of the co-writers was Carole King, they’re so surprised to find that out,” said Kropp.
If the Fire Chief’s Memorial Band Shell had a roof, there’s little doubt which Monkees tune will be bringing it down on July 16.
“Not to give the show away, but we always save ‘Daydream Believer’ for the end. That’s the one where we make it a point to turn the song over to the audience,” Kropp said. “We’ll just stop playing in the middle of it and the audience will continue singing the chorus. That’s usually the one that gets arms swaying and people standing up … the one that solidifies it for everybody.”
The Monkeephiles, from left, Ryan Fenton, Michael Kropp, Paul Venturi and John Roginski, play the Elmwood Park Fire Chief’s Memorial Band Shell in Norristown July 16.