Peculiar Culinary Company owner Gene Philbin started his unique “pop-up restaurant” events in Jefferson Park in Pittston last year, so when the park fell into disrepair, it was only natural for the executive chef to whip up a solution that popped up just as quickly.
Combining his love of food and music, the award-winning cook formed the first-ever Peculiar Music Festival, a family-friendly fundraiser held in the park, for the park, that features 12 bands; food from Peculiar Culinary Company, Palazzo 53, AuRants, and Southwest Savory Grill Food Truck; caricature and temporary tattoo artists; face painters; children's events run by the YMCA of Pittston; and more.
The Weekender caught up with Philbin to find out exactly what is so peculiar about this event and why this is such a worthy cause.
THE WEEKENDER: What has the Peculiar Culinary Company been up to since our cover story on it last year?
GENE PHILBIN: Since our first, we have managed to sell out every pop-up, came in second place at The Battle of the Burger Challenge, got Runner-Up Best Chef in The Weekender Readers' Choice poll, and gained an unbelievable amount of catering from all of this.
W: What needs to be repaired in Jefferson Park?
GP: I plan on getting all new windows, fresh paint, and really work on building a solid kitchen we can get working so all local caterers can enjoy the spot. Also, maybe some new toys and slides in the park, and fresh paint on the pavilion.
It is in my neighborhood, which is a beautiful one with many families. It can be an amazing spot for them to celebrate all sorts of festivities and everyday play. It just needs a little TLC.
W: Why a music festival?
GP: My two greatest passions are food and music. I always dreamt of putting on a music festival, ever since my first concert at 14 years old. This seemed like a great opportunity, blending my two favorite things while also supporting a park, local businesses, and local music!
W: Is this the first time you've organized an event involving music like this?
GP: Every one of our pop-up dinners features a local live act. We have had everyone from John Smith to The Invisible Swordsmen and members of Kids on Bikes. We continue to build our music connections to keep the list growing.
Most of them came to us. It was very easy, and I handpicked some, knowing they are amazing local bands. Also, these bands love supporting good causes. The “peculiar” part comes with the diversity of the music. We have everything from blues to folk to hard rock to metal to rock and roll to bluegrass to party bands – something for everyone.
W: What might foodies enjoy about this festival?
GP: A few local restaurants are donating some of their food for the event, so we hope to raise some awareness about the great places in Pittston, like Palazzo 53. PCC will be keeping it pretty simple this time around, which is not our usual motive – burgers, dogs, some fun sides, some homemade sauces. We have a lot to prepare for, so we are going to do our best to make it as “peculiar” as possible.
W: What is so “peculiar” about this festival as compared to other music festivals?
GP: It's nothing we haven't seen before, but I don't know anyone doing a full-blown music and art festival that lasts 12 hours and only costs $10, giving away food, prizes, and of course raising money for a good cause!
W: What were the biggest challenges in organizing an event like this?
GP: With the help of NEPA local bands, and the amazing city of Pittston, there were not too many. We found volunteers pretty easy, too! These people have made it very easy for us to do this. We can't thank them enough.
Mayor Jason Klush and Councilman Michael Lombardo have been by our sides with this from day one. They are giving us use of their bandstand, police presence, and their total help and support. The Chamber (of Commerce) has been amazing, too, also making a monetary donation.
W: What are you most looking forward to about this event personally?
GP: Selfishly, some of my favorite local bands are playing; unselfishly, just spending 12 hours working on making this one of the best festivals NEPA has ever had. And on top of that, getting to work on remodeling the building and park!
W: Do you plan to organize other festivals in the future?
GP: Already working on the next one – you'll have to wait to see what we have planned! Follow us on facebook.com/peculiarmusicfest and facebook.com/peculiarculinarycompany for future plans and our next adventure!
W: If someone can't make it, how can they donate?
GP: Send a check to Pittston City Hall payable to Pittston Downtown Business Association, attn: Peculiar Music Festival, 35 Broad Street, Pittston, Pa., 18640.