The Dying NEPA Picnic Scene


Growing up in NEPA,  summertime always meant picnic season.

If you want to know the ins and outs of what exactly it is and what picnics are still occurring check out my post from last summer, but in the meantime, here’s the abridged version:

NEPA has a long history of volunteer fire departments and various (mostly) Catholic churches holding picnics, or block parties, to gather up their revenue.  Think a carnival but without the carnies, with proceeds going to decent places, good food, good live music (depending on which you go to) and if it’s a real good one, a beer tent.

I was in Upper Browndale this past Thursday and Friday before going to the shore and spent both of those at the Corn and Clam Slam, arguably the  pinnacle of NEPA picnics due to its location, attendance, and sheer size of the beer tent involved.  Check it out for yourself:

Corn and Clam Slam
A perfect summer night in NEPA.

One of my friends posted on Facebook Thursday, that it’s the biggest beer tent in country and I can’t find anything online to back this up.  I also can’t find anything online to discredit him so we might just have to take his word on the matter.

The Clam Slam (named because they sell corn and clams) is fun because you’re drinking outside, buying 6 dollar pictures of Miller Light, snacking on Pierogies, running into a ton of people you know, and singing along as cover bands drone away to “American Girl”, “Thunder Road”, and various John Mellancamp hits.  We stayed till well past one singing and dancing and carrying on.  On an 80 plus degree night in the Lackawanna Valley, there’s no wear that I’d rather be.

Eric Church puts it best in last year’s hit “Springsteen”, singing, “Funny how the melody sounds like a memory,
Like a soundtrack to a July Saturday night.”  I couldn’t describe the feeling going to these picnics evokes in me better myself if I tried.  Everytime I hear “Margaritaville,” I’m back at St. Michael’s now defunct church picnic in Simpson listening to the Polka Jets rev up their accordions.  It’s the reason I have “Roll Out The Barrel” on my Ipod, just in case I ever need a quick jolt of nostalgia, I mean no one ever really wants to hear that. And, while Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry” (Don’t judge..or do) will always bring me back to the summer of 2007, it specifically makes me think of pre and post gaming Old Home Week, my hometown block party that probably isn’t happening anymore.

Growing up, these were a you went as a teenager to socialize and be seen and when we were older I have fond but embarrassing memories of sneaking a few drinks out behind someone’s car or in an alley and walking around thinking you were just the baddest and the coolest–stupid but the kind of stupid growing up is supposed to entail.  There’s still certain smells, certain foods, and certain music that instantly remind me of these outdoor parties that to me, are essentially summer fun personified.  And, they’re a throwback, a reminder that sometimes there’s something endearing about NEPA being just a little big behind the rest of the country.

Like a lot of the traditions I associate with the area in which I grew up, picnics are dying.  When I was younger it seemed like there was one every weekend around which to build your social calendar.  St. Mikes, where I went to church and were I got to run the Over/Under 7 (you could gamble since it was a church function) with my brother and friend  was discontinued after my 21st birthday and as I mentioned Old Home Week, which marked the beginning of the end of summer and for which I’d host pre-picnic bbq’s where friends from college would drive in, has ceased to exist.  Even at The Corn and Clam Slam this year my buddy and I commented that we didn’t run into as many people as we thought we’d know, and maybe part of it is the inevitable exodus of 20 somethings from NEPA because of lack of job opportunity.  I belong to that demographic.  Maybe part of it is just getting older and prioritizing differently.  I have friends who used to never miss these things simply getting caught up in other life demands.  Hell, I missed my first Old Home Week last year to go to Ireland.  And maybe part of it is that NEPA is a dying region.  St. Mike’s picnic stopped because the church closed.  That didn’t just kill my traditional 2nd weekend in July, but a beloved Christmas Even tradition as well.  A lot of the things that make NEPA, NEPA are going by the wayside.

But maybe part of it, and maybe this is just wishful thinking on my part for the motherland, might just be that slowly and surely NEPA is modernizing and catching up and not letting itself die and in the process sadly has to discard some of its defining characteristics.  I made it a point to go home for the Corn and Clam Slam this weekend because I’m not sure they’ll be another one or that life won’t get in the way of me attending it next year and ya know what?

I’m glad I did.

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