By Laurel Busby
When Keith Turner headed to law school, he sold his drum set.
“I thought it was over,” said Turner, who had played drums since sixth grade. “I did not play again for over ten years.”
However, a 1998 move to the Palisades and a wise playgroup mom brought the drums back into his life. Turner’s daughter Emma, now 20, was about four years old at the time, and his son, Max, now 16 and a PaliHi junior, was just a toddler when the playgroup was formed. One of the playgroup moms, Lisa Turcillo, took note of the interests of the group’s parents and had some ideas.
“She formed a book club for the women, and she somehow figured out that a bunch of the dads played instruments,” so in 2000 the guys picked up their instruments and started to jam again. Sixteen years later, “our core group is still together,” Turner said.
The musicians, who eventually named themselves The House Band, became the main attraction for the first annual Palisades Rocks the Fourth concert in 2008. Rob Weber, Turner’s Chicago-Kent College of Law buddy, had brought Turner into the fold of the Palisades Americanism Parade Association (PAPA) when he became president that same year, and Weber tasked Turner with creating a live, pre-fireworks show for the event.
Bill Bruns, now advisor for the Palisades News, suggested to Turner,“Why doesn’t your band play before the fireworks?” The idea took root, and The House Band entertained with a mix of original songs and covers.
“The first year was a success, and it keeps growing and growing and growing,” said Turner, who noted that about 7,000 people attended last year’s show, which featured two stages and a wide range of local acts, including PaliHi’s band program. In addition, last year, 12 food trucks fed the guests, who paid $10 to attend.
With the growth, the work has increased for Turner and a strong team of volunteers, who include Rich Wilken, PAPA President Daphne Gronich, Sanjay Bargota, Justin Escano, and of course Weber. Event coordinator Natalie McAdams now also takes charge of many aspects of the event as a paid provider.
“In the first years, I was lining garbage cans myself, doing whatever was needed,” said Turner, an attorney with his own firm that now includes music law as part of the practice. “We have a loyal, wonderful group of people who volunteer, but with this many people coming, you need profession- als involved too.”
The trash is now off Turner’s plate, but there is still plenty to do. “Every year insur- ance is a hassle,” he said, and some of the other things to be arranged are city permits, toilets, ticket takers, barriers, security, a sound company, vendors, including food trucks and Wi-Fi providers for credit card charges.
The concert and fireworks show, which costs about $85,000 to produce, is looking for a corporate sponsor to ease the fundraising for future years. “Some major brand could own the stadium that day,” Turner said. “I hate to commercialize it, but that would make it a lot easier.”
A fun aspect for Turner is choosing the bands to perform. Bands are required to have a Palisades connection, and this year Turner, whose wife Michelle grew up in the Palisades, has received more than 30 solicitations from acts, including a vibrant hip-hop band, garage bands and “some that are incredibly polished,” including “teenage girls with press kits like you wouldn’t believe.”
In previous years, Reggae artist Rocky Dawuni performed, as did Chris Shiflett of the Foo Fighters. Since the first year, “This Land Is Your Land” has been a mainstay, with guest stars coming onstage to lead the audience in a community-connecting rendition of the song that features the headlining band’s unique style.
“It is a great moment of the entire sta- dium singing along,” said Turner, who noted that Weber had the initial idea for the tradition. The entire concert “is a festival atmosphere” that is a delight for most bands to play. “It’s like having this mini-Woodstock/Coachella. It’s what the day needed. The race in the morning, the parade and this.”