Panacea, who performed what turned out to be an abbreviated reunion set during The Great Newtown Reunion last summer, has promised fans that this time they are not leaving the stage early.
The band — which formed when members were students at Newtown High School during the late 1960s and early 70s — will headline a concert at Dickinson Park on Sunday, August 31. Guests can expect plenty of the classics from the 60s and 70s that were covered by Panacea when they first formed, done with the focus on vocal harmonies that led the band to gain a large following four decades ago. A few original songs will also be part of the show.
Panacea will literally return to their starting point over Labor Day weekend to perform a show that will also include opening sets by Manny Pavone and Eclipse. The event, Panacea & Friends, will begin at 4 pm, and admission is free.
“The Dickinson Park pavilion is where we played our first show,” Rick Kuhn said on August 25.
“If you played Dickinson in those days, you were big,” Jon Dodson added with a laugh.
Rick and Jon were joining Corky Ballard, Leslie Ballard DaSilva, and Bruce Tibbits on Monday at “The Yurt,” which Leslie calls the recording studio at her brother’s home. The studio was hosting the full band for the first of five or six rehearsals leading up to this weekend’s big reunion show. Everyone was in a great mood, recalling stories of past shows and passing around old photos, many of them black and white, and most featuring someone in very dated costumes.
While Corky still lives in Newtown, Bruce and Leslie are nearby. Bruce and his wife live in Bethel; Leslie and her husband live in Danbury.
Jon is in town for the reunion from Lincoln, Neb., having driven the 1,400-mile trip in two days, arriving August 14. Rick, meanwhile, flew in from Idaho; his wife Mary is due later this week. This week has been not only a time for the bandmates to reconnect with each other, but also with the town where most grew up.
“I’ve been away for years,” Rick said Monday afternoon, “but I still feel at home, almost grounded here. I’ve been to all 50 states, and I’ve lived in the northwest for more than 30 years. But I still feel attached here.”
Jon agreed with his friend and bandmate’s feelings about being back.
“I love being back here,” he said. “We grew up here. Newtown is still home to me. It’s great to be back with these people.”
While Jon said he had taken a ride along Route 7 last week through Brookfield and New Milford and couldn’t get over the growth of the area (“I didn’t recognize anything,” he said), and Rick pointed out the greatly increased vehicle traffic in town, all agreed that Newtown is still a charming town to return to.
“Main Street is beautiful,” said Rick. “It still is.”
Leslie described Newtown as “still being a nice community.”
Thirteen months after their last public appearance, the members of Panacea were excited to begin rehearsing this week. Planning for Sunday’s show began months ago, but the connecting thread between these five has been there for decades. Jon Dodson recalled watching his friends perform over the years.
“We all saw each other playing in different bands, too, but we were all connected. It was kind of a genealogy that took place,” he said. “We managed to play in all these different bands and groups, but we all managed to play together.”
Rick pointed out that when Panacea formed, “when we started playing together, it was only a few years after the Beatles arrived. There was such a feeling in the air, an electricity.”
Bruce recalled “venues all over the place,” which encouraged a generation of young musicians to pursue their dreams and expand their talents.
Jon said there was “no shortage of talent, either. There were so many musicians, good musicians, too.”
Sunday’s concert is in response to requests from many friends and fans who were at that Great Newtown Reunion show last year and wanted to hear more. Others may have missed the July 2013 show but have committed to catch what may be the final Panacea show ever.
The band’s original lineup featured Corky Ballard on bass, younger sister Leslie on flute and tambourine, guitarist Matt Harris, and drummer Rick Kuhn. All four shared vocal duties.
Jon Dodson eventually replaced Harris, who in turn was later replaced by guitarist Bruce Tibbits.
Panacea today features Corky Ballard, Leslie Ballard DaSilva, Jon Dodson, Rick Kuhn, and Bruce Tibbits. All five graduated from Newtown High School, although not in the same class. By 1972 — once everyone had graduated NHS — the group had disbanded, but the friendships remains. Most members continued to perform in various bands, and all managed to keep in touch over the years.
Panacea reunited last year when The Great Newtown Reunion was announced, but was only able to perform six songs — a third of what they had planned on, due to the daily’s schedule running into the band’s set, and eventually the event’s curfew.
“We played six songs,” Corky told The Newtown Bee earlier this month. “We had planned to play for an hour, but only had 20 minutes.”
“We promised the crowd we would do this again this summer,” said his sister, now Leslie Ballard DaSilva.
Panacea & Friends will begin at 4 pm with a performance by Newtown resident Manny Pavone, performing solo blues on his handmade guitars. Eclipse, known for their vocal takes on Celtic and folk songs, will follow, performing for about 45 minutes.
Panacea expects to begin their show at 6 pm, and continue until sunset, right around 7:30 pm. Newtown resident Matt Spencer has been invited to join Panacea for some of the show, adding conga and hand percussion for at least part of the set. Mary Kuhn will also join her husband and the rest of Panacea for a song or two.
All ages are welcome. Bring seating and picnics. Alcohol is not permitted in the town parks.
In the event of rain, the concert will move from the bandshell to the pavilion.