15 Questions with Evan Kelly, owner and operator of Nelson Ledges Quarry Park

Today you can still feel the energy that has been captured by the Ledges over hundreds of years. It is still a meeting place, and it was once told to me that "People weave their individuality through the park, creating a beautiful tapestry of diversity, bound together with a common love.
By Micky Marotta

Micky Marotta: How did you get involved in this whole thing?

Evan Kelly:
I was a musician and working here as a life guard starting when I was 18 years old. I kept coming back every summer and became maintenance, then manager. Wen the opportunity came to buy the place out-right, I knew it was time. It had long been a dream of mine to incorporate music with the outdoors. I purchased the park in 1996 and we started having shows in 1997.

MM: What are you proudest of here at the park?

EK: I am most proud to see people leaving the camgrounds with huge smiles on their faces, blown away by the experience here. I see that alot from kids to adults. There is just so much to do here in addition to the music. Please encourage folks to check out the website: www.nlqp.com and see the photos. You can take nature walks at the state park accross the street and see the caves and ledges. You can walk through the park and see the spring fed quarry or swim in it or take scuba lessons. You can hang at the campfire, fly kites, dive off the cliff, listen to music or visit any of the vendors. The forest is especially beautiful as the leaves are starting to change and we have a lot of wildlife here.

MM: What is your favorite band to have here?

EK: All of them! I love the repeat performers like Dark Star Orchestra, The Recipe and Ekoostik Hookah, but I also really have enjoyed the folks that have only been here once. Those include Derek Trucks Band, The Meltones from Japan, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Phil Keaggy and Glass Harp, The Waifs, Wookie Foot and Rusted Root. We have some bands that have been a couple of times like Bernie Worrell and The Woo Warriors, Carlos Jones and the Plus Band, Sam Bush Band, David Grisman Quintet, Keller Williams, Tommy Chong, Mickey Hart, Sun Ra Arkestra and so many more. I am just such a huge fan of music that I enjoy them all. There are so many bands that we want to get out here that have not been here before, and every band that has played is certainly welcome back. There are many more bands that we haven't discussed that I really enjoyed also.

MM: What is the strangest rider you have had requested?

EK: Leftover Salmon wanted new socks and underwear. (Let's just leave it at that!)

MM: What is your favorite spot here in the park?

EK: I have a couple of special places...I enjoy sitting on the cliffs and relaxing and enjoying the beautiful view. I also love to put on the scuba gear and go into the quarry. I sit on the bottom, to meditate and just chill. I guess I'm getting my space together before the show!

MM: You seem like you live off the land when you can. Can you tell us what you've got going on in the garden and on the property?

EK: Well, we grow our own vegetables and use those a lot when feeding the bands. We also have a great flower and herb garden. I have honey bees and we eat a lot of honey. This spring we are going to start tapping the trees for syrup also. We'll probably sell that locally but mostly eat it and give it away!

MM: What do you think of Clear Channel?

EK: In a way, they are a sad representation of the Amercian business culture in general. What can I say, they do what they do because the can and a lot of people in the business let it happen. They can squash a lot of smaller clubs and venues...bands don't get taken care of as well as they should in terms of money and hospitality like we do here at the park. On the other hand, they are capable of putting on some great shows with huge acts and some good music. I guess it comes down to the fact that we all have to work together. They have not squashed me yet and I am not worried they will, because we are too good at what we do here.

MM: What do you think of Home Grown Music Network?

EK: It's a wonderful organization. It has proved to be very beneficial to Nelsons Ledges Quarry Park! It's great for musicians and fans alike. I love the updates I get on the scene and we are very proud to be a part of it. I have the link to Home Grown on our web site and we are grateful to be able to promote it. It's the perfect grass roots organization to offset the "clear channel factor".

MM: What was the best show you ever saw?

EK: In 1984, I got to go the see the Grateful Dead for three nights in a row in Hampton, Virginia. It was one of the first times I got to travel to see a show and then the first time I saw multiple shows in a row. The band was on fire all three nites and the crowd had an amazing amount of energy and love going. It was incredible.

What do you expect of folks who come to the park for a festival?

EK: I want them to respect the scen and what it is there for; the music, friendship, comradery, spirituality, love of god and life and the love of outdoors. Of course, I also want them to have a great time. The energy the individual brings helps make each event great. When it all clicks, it is just amazing....recently, The Grateful Fest we had was filled with that great energy and it was incredible.

MM: I know you and your wife have two beautiful daughters but one of them has some serious health issues. Can we discuss that?

EK: Yes, my daughter Jessica has Rett Syndrome, a neurological disorder. It can best be explained by calling it a pervasive development disorder. Jessica was born in April of 1995 and was perfectly normal for over a year. In 1996 she kept getting sick and was losing some of her abilities, like she couldn't hold her bottle any more or couldn't say words she had already mastered. We took her to Rainbow Babies and Childrens Hospital and she was diagnosed correctly there. It was heartbreaking for all of us, but the Rett Syndrome Foundation gave us support and really helped out a lot with information and ideas to keep Jessica as healthy as possible. She's 10 now and can stand by herself, walk with help, but can't really talk. She is very intelligent though and loves to be read to and interact with people. She has been puzzled about why she is different, and that is a tough thing for us. She needs help 24 hours a day, but she is also a great blessing and a beautiful spirit.

This experience with Rett Syndrome got you involved with fund raising, correct?

EK: Yes, it sure did. Jessica goes to Happy Day School for kids with special needs and we started by raising money for them. Donna the Buffalo was involved with the Herd and doing fundraising so it seemed logical we should so something too. At this point we have raised over $12,000.00 for a variety of things, mostly Rett Syndrome research and support or the Happy Day School. We are very proud of the fans for putting so much money into these fundraisers.

MM: It's almost Halloween and that means it's time for Gory at the Quarry. How'd you come up with that event?

EK: Well, I've always been a great party thrower and Halloween was always a big event. This is an outgrowth of the annual party I used to have. Next year will be the 10th anniversary of this event. This year we have a lot of stuff planned and we are really looking forward to it. Folks can always check out the web site for the latest information. We have one other cold weather event too, early next year we will play broom ball on the ice and camp out. Just bring the warm clothes and it will be a blast!!!

MM: What are your hopes for the future of the park?

EK: I want to continue to do a better show than the last one...as well as preserving the natural beauty and vibe of the park that makes this the special place that it is. Our fireworks on the fourth of July get better every year, we have more sky divers every year participating in the dusk beach landing and we keep getting more and more great bands in the park. It doesn't get any better.

What words of wisdom do you have for someone that would like to open up a festival spot?

EK: People think that we make tons of money and that this is easy. It's a constant struggle, we are just starting to turn a profit. There are many years were I have lost money and it's been a strain on me and my marriage. It's always a gamble when you do something like this...look at all the venues that have come and gone, same with festivals, they happen one time and that's it! The reason we've survived is not only that fact that we put on a wonderful show but that we are blessed with this great spot: the quarry, the lush woods, the amazing history of this spot; all this and the fans have brought us to what Nelson Ledges Quarry Park is today.