Susan Slawson & The Dell Music Center: The City-run Music Venue.
Susan Slawson was a police officer for 20 years before mayor Michael Nutter tapped her to become commissioner of the city’s Recreation Department in 2008. Now, she oversees all city rec centers and she runs the city-owned Dell Music Center in Fairmount Park. G.W. Miller III spoke with her about the Dell’s recent renovations and the purpose of the historic, 83-year-old venue.
What do you have planned at the Dell this year?
Another wonderful, exciting summer filled with some of the best music and artists in the country, local and national.
Who do you have lined up?
Our goal is to open with Chaka Khan. She’s celebrating 40 years in music. Ledisi is going to be opening for her. We have Jeffrey Osborne and Stephanie Mills. WDAS will be celebrating 40 years of Tony Brown on the radio and that show will be with the Whispers, Chi-Lites, Stylistics and Breakwater.
Do you work with promoters to bring acts?
Believe it or not, we’re doing it ourselves.
The city runs a music venue?
We are a venue and the venue is managed by me. I have a wonderful staff. Everything that is involved in running a venue is done right here by City of Philadelphia employees. We’re leading the charge from booking artists to transportation to lights, sound, stage production.
What’s the mission of the Dell?
To offer wonderful summer activities for not just Philadelphia, but for the tri-state region, at affordable prices right in Fairmount Park, at a 5,000-seat, open-air amphitheater venue where you can come and bring your family and just enjoy summer nights. We say it’s where the stars take center stage – you’re under the stars and you’re sitting there watching a bunch of stars. Music is transformational. It takes on a whole life of its own. We’re really able to become a part of people’s memories. We’ve met people who came to the Dell 30 years ago and they still come back every year. They’ll talk about their experiences with their moms and grandmoms, and now they return with their kids and grandkids. We want those memories to go on and on.
Was music transformational for you?
It was. We had a TV but I woke up every day to the radio blasting. I kid you not. My father played music all the time. You walk up the steps and you hear it blasting from outside. I grew up listening to Gil Scott-Heron, Herbie Hancock, Marvin Gaye, Butterball on the radio. Now, I listen to oldies and it takes me back to my youth.
What do you remember about the Dell as a child?
Gospel. I remember going and listening to gospel. I remember standing in the aisles, clapping and just having a good old time.
You’ve come a long way from being a cop.
When this reopened (after renovations) in 2010, I knew absolutely nothing about running a venue.
How did you learn?
I learned as I went. You know why? Because I believed that we could give great customer service. We could make people feel special coming to this venue.
Do you give opportunities to local artists?
Absolutely. That’s one of our goals. Carol Riddick is local. We’ve had her here and we’re hoping to have her back. Breakwater is local. We’ve honored Gamble & Huff. That show featured all The Sound of Philadelphia players.
How much of your time is devoted to running the Dell?
All year. It never stops.
See what the Dell has lined up for the summer here.