Philly Loves Bowie Week comes to a close this Sunday with something for the kids, A Snowy Bowie Skate, at the Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest on Penn’s Landing. For the adults, however, the dressed-up, all-star large band gathering, January 11’s A Night of Stardust, is de rigeur.
Returning to Union Transfer again in 2020 (after Wilmington in 2016, World Cafe Live in Philly in 2017, and Union Transfer in 2018) with Dan Kauffman (Glim Dropper) as its music director and Lance Davis (Grady Hoss and the Sidewinders) as the vocal director, the Stardust showcase is mostly the work of another of Philly Loves Bowie Week co-founder’s other board member, Greg Shelton. A native of Delaware and an inhabitant of the famed Poplar Hall, the man who makes his money with marketing by trade put his love of David Bowie where his mouth was and began welcoming vocalists such as this year’s crop – Jeffrey Gaines, Ava Cherry, Ari from MINKA, Michael Baker from OOLALA, Alyssa Lee Lewis (Steal the Sky), Michael LeCompt, and Raquel Cion to the fold.
I spoke with Shelton from his Delaware digs in anticipation of A Night of Stardust.
A.D. Amorosi: Poplar Hall – you’re the man who bought the space in Delaware- yes? Are you looking to turn it into some sort of arts lab?
Greg Shelton: “Poplar Hall” is our 18th century home and farm listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, and it’s a place that was restored by my father and me. We currently create niche experiences there for such things as video and photoshoots, weddings and European inspired events, etc… I am a marketer by trade and we are currently creating a brand around Poplar Hall as the backdrop. It’s designed for people that have an affinity to celebrate heritage, style, architecture, history and the incredibly well-made things that people deserve. I like to say it’s: classic revival in a modern world.
A.D. Amorosi: How did you get involved with Philly Bowie Week and Patti Brett in the first place?
Greg Shelton: As a major Bowie fan, I was shocked to hear of his incredibly abrupt passing. That night, I immediately got on the phone with ex-band members to discuss it. We talked for hours on what made Bowie such an important person in our lives. Not just music, he was such an icon of fashion, style, fearlessness, art, and everything that is performance. That night of January 16, 2016, I drew a line in the sand and said, “I’m going to put on a huge celebration show at Delaware’s World Cafe at the Queen, in honor of Bowie.” The next day I began working to build it. The show launched May, 21st of 2016, just four months after his passing and it was a complete sell-out. I lost both my parents to cancer, and with Bowie also passing from the disease, I thought it was right to donate all the proceeds to help fight it.
A week or two prior to the show, I was online and saw an article written in the Esquire UK magazine about the “Sigma Kids” in Philly. I found that one of them had a bar there called Doobies and I sent Patti, the owner, a message inviting her and the rest of the Kids to attend as my personal guests. They came to the show/after party and we immediately created a bond that often happens with Bowie fans. But this was more… We had several talks in the coming weeks about actually doing something about it! I truly believe we were destined to create and produce a week-long set of events that would make Mr. Bowie proud. I feel like the show that night had an inspiration to help align the stars, and Philly Loves Bowie version-one was formed. I agreed to produce/direct and move my show, A Night of Stardust to a large venue in Philly as the closing concert and the rest of the team would focus on creating experiences throughout the week for Bowie fans here in the states and others that travel from other countries. Philly Loves Bowie became a festival that launched in 2017.
A.D. Amorosi: Is it fair to say that emotions ran high before your first Bowie night in May 2016?
Greg Shelton: I knew I needed to do it right. I created an experience in my head to put on a production that if David was secretly tucked away in the balcony, I would get a tipped cap from him. True experiences that last, come from seeing, feeling, hearing, etc, so I was adamant in everyone trying to channel Bowie style in attire, song selection, stage presence and design of the stage itself. Luckily I hired a great team of production, music director, vocalists, and band, that got things done in such a short timeframe and at a very high level. I would’ve done the show the day after he passed if I could. The show began with a large screen showing a homemade video with me walking with my 8-year-old son Alex in the fields of my parent’s farm. We stopped and he looked up at me and said, “Dad, what’s in the clouds?” I wanted the concert goer to experience that Bowie and loved ones that have passed will always be remembered. To me, it set the concert off the right way… Then a rock ‘n roll curveball, I opened with a 35 kid choir singing “Space Oddity.”
A.D. Amorosi: Were you always a big Bowie fan?
Greg Shelton: Yes, I am a large fan of his music, but I am truly inspired by him as a fearless creator. Life gives you nothing if you’re only willing to be the status quo. He never ever was. He pushed the boundaries in all that he did, in music, fashion, art, film, and I have always looked up to him for that exact reason. People forget he was the first large musician to truly embrace tech and the internet.
A.D. Amorosi: What has been the mission of each ‘Stardust’ edition?
Greg Shelton: My mission was and is to create a celebration show that our Philly Loves Bowie team can be proud of, and something that can end the week charging up Bowie fans to get ready for next year.
A.D. Amorosi: What changes are there in store for the 2020 iteration – not just acts, but vibe?
Greg Shelton: As far as vocalists, I keep them in a revolving door of a two-year window. It keeps them fresh and it keeps the fans wondering whos next. We’re having Ava Cherry, Jeffrey Gaines, Ari from Minka, Michael Baker and Alyssa Lee Lewis returning and we’ve added Philly favorite Michael LeCompt and Raquel Cion from Brooklyn. The background. We’ve moved our Bowie auction online, so the lobby at Union Transfer will flow even better, while fans can still get a beautifully done Bowie artwork painted on their faces. We have a great after-party and meet & greet scheduled immediately after the performance in the back bar. Surprise, nationally known chocolatier and friend Christopher Curtin of Eclat chocolate, has created an amazing confection called the “Astral Sphere, inspired by the golden circle on Ziggy’s forehead. Chris and team will be giving it to the first 100 people in the door at the show.
A.D. Amorosi: What’s the dream bill for Stardust? I know Patti Brett mentioned that at some point, she’d love to have the touring members of Celebrating Bowie such as Mike Garson come by.
Greg Shelton: I like the event to be a pairing of Philly’s great vocalists with nationally known Bowie members. Philly is easily one of the most supportive music towns in the US and we know they love David Bowie. They deserve the mix of the two, and since we’ve already performed the Stardust show with ex Bowie band members the likes of: Earl Slick, Mark Plati and Ava Cherry, we’re ready for more.
A.D. Amorosi: Anything you can about the future of your ‘Stardust’ nights to come, including any inroads/headway made into its fifth iteration?
Greg Shelton: I think the eventual goal as it grows, would be to have a celebration concert at the Tower Theater. This has the true Bowie history and lineage that would make the finale concert one for the ages and for future generations of Bowie fans. I can’t say enough how much Philly has supported me and I work hard every year to create an experience that gives it right back. This show on Saturday night sold out on Thursday and here’s to wonderful Saturday night.