The Susquehanna river embodies a profound story in the formation of Harrisburg. It’s known to locals for separating the East and West shore, hosting the annual Kipona at its riverfront, and for the islands that serve many events including notable baseball games on City Island. But there’s a new culture forming that could add to the story of the Susquehanna.
Passing under the Harvey Taylor Bridge this past Labor Day weekend, many kayakers were surprised to stumble upon a live concert with amplified sound in the middle of the water.
A new community of river-goers has begun monthly events named ‘Dock Rock’ where local bands such as The Yam Yams and AMFM (Andy Mowatt’s Frequency Movement) have pontooned on the river to play for an audience of kayakers, tubers, and other boats.
Nate Young, a native from Lemoyne, organized the last “Dock Rock” of the summer season.
A tradition that started this year on the fourth of July near the banks of City Island has moved upstream to a more intimate setting between speckled islands.
Soul Miners Union and The Tuck Ryan Trio alternated jam sessions throughout the day for a growing crowd of river listeners.
Kevin Koa, from Soul Minors Union, a band that formed in April 2019, had never played on a pontoon before. “I felt tense,” Koa said of his initial time balancing on the water. Eventually, it melted and a groove between the members flowed.
John Love, the occasional drummer for Soul Miners Union, compared watching an audience emerge on the water to pirates surrounding their vessel.
Young says he got the idea for these events after his dad built a portable dock after many years of trial and error. Growing up in the music scene, Young’s dad had said they should get him up on the dock and pull him around the river. However, it wasn’t until Young saw something similar happen at the beginning of the summer that he thought he “should finally do what his dad was saying he wanted to do.”
After borrowing a generator from his uncle, Young confirmed that this could be a successful event. So he bought his own, explored the channel route out to the spot, and reached out to his connections in the Harrisburg/Lancaster music scene.
Music on the river is not unheard of, according to Steve Oliphant, former owner of Susquehanna Outfitters and ‘Dock Rock’ attendee, there was a thriving scene in the ’40s and 50’s where nightlife on ‘dance barges’ floated along the riverbanks.
In Erik V. Fasick’s book, “Harrisburg and the Susquehanna River” Fasick details the relationship of the people to the river. From the early 1900’s first bridges, bathhouses, and beaches, to the irregular occurring Kipona where canoe-tilting, boat racing, and swimming were festival favorites.
In the early 2000s, ‘Camp out with the DJs’ was a yearly event on McCormick Island. Thousands coming from as far as California and Texas would venture out to the island over Labor Day weekend to camp and party. “It was like a Cathedral,” Oliphant mentions, “no cigarette butts or trash left behind even after thousands of people were there.”
It’s a factor that probably helped keep the event unknown to authorities until its tragic 7th annual event in 2007, where a young man drowned in the Susquehanna.
It’s also why Young mentions the importance of keeping this event as a private Facebook group or word of mouth event, to have people come who understand the importance of the fast-evolving river.
As the warm months ease-out, there is no anticipation to wait until next summer for concerts. Lily Waltman, a co-organizer and attendee, has said people have already been asking for land jams. “Like a Farm Rock or Harvest Rock.”
Perhaps these frequently occurring festivals will ramp up a new culture for the Susquehanna.
Find Soul Minors Union and their debut album “Back to Life” on Spotify
Find Tuck Ryan on Spotify