Music Spotlight: Unionville’s Grassie find different ways to work during pandemic

By Denny Dyroff , Entertainment Editor, The Times 

Gillian Grassie

Unionville’s Gillian Grassie likes a lot of variety in her life.

After growing up in Chester County, the talented multi-media artist has lived, on the East Coast, in Europe and on the West Coast.

Grassie is an award-winning, internationally touring harpist/singer-songwriter who has performed in France, Germany, India, China, Canada, Russia, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and the United States.

Her innovative use of the harp, expressive vocals, and sophisticated-but-accessible songwriting have earned her grants from the Thomas J. Watson Foundation & the U.S. State Department along with a slew of awards. Her music has been featured on radio, film, and television. 

Like just about everyone else in the United States, Grassie’s plans for 2020 and 2021 have been seriously altered by COVID-19.

“I was living in L.A. for the past couple of years,” said Grassie, during a recent phone interview from her family home in southern Chester County. “But when COVID-19 hit in March, I moved back home to be with my family.”

In addition to her work as a harpist/singer-songwriter, Grassie is also a writer, editor, producer. She is a frequent collaborator of comedian Zach Anner, whose memoir “If At Birth You Don’t Succeed” (Henry Holt, 2016) she edited and co-wrote. Since then she has become Anner’s primary writing and producing partner.

She also recently composed music for a currently untitled independent documentary feature film about women competing in The Armored Combat League.

“When the pandemic started, anything that involved filming with a crew became tricky. We’ve pivoted to producing some stuff remotely on Zoom, but I miss working with people on set and performing,” said the Unionville High grad. “I feel extremely lucky to have a creative partner like Zach, even if we’re collaborating from different states for the moment.”

Zach Anner

Zach Anner is unique. Often used incorrectly, “unique” means “one of a kind.” Anner, without a doubt, is unique.

Anner is an American comedian, actor, and writer with cerebral palsy who gained worldwide attention with the submission of an audition video to Oprah Winfrey’s “Search for the Next TV Star” competition. He won his own TV show on OWN through Oprah’s Your OWN Show: Oprah’s Search for the Next TV Star. His travel series, “Rollin’ With Zach,” premiered in 2011. He is also known for his work as a writer and guest star for the ABC series “Speechless,” a sitcom about a special needs family staring Minnie Driver.

Together, Zach and Gillian have produced viral content for companies and organizations including Microsoft, Xbox, BraunAbility, Canine Companions for Independence, and the Cerebral Palsy Foundation.

“We had a great time working on a video for BraunAbility last year.” BraunAbility is an American manufacturer of wheelchair accessible vans and wheelchair lifts based in Winamac, Indiana. “We were thrilled to be able to take the assignment of making a handicap parking PSA and turn it into something really fun and shareable.”

Video for “What To Do When Someone Parks in the Access Aisle,” which was written by Zach Anner & Gillian Grassie and produced and directed by Gillian Grassie —

“Zach and I also did a video for Xbox that was a blast. We like to use what we call ‘meaningful silliness’ to deliver substantive messages with the laughs.”

Video “Zach Anner Tries the Xbox Adaptive Controller”

Grassie also collaborated with Anner on his book, “If at Birth You Don’t Succeed” (Henry Holt, 2016), a hilariously irreverent and heartfelt memoir about finding your passion and your path — even when it’s paved with epic misadventure.

Link to “If at Birth You Don’t Succeed”

Grassie graduated from Unionville High a decade-and-a-half ago and then graduated cum laude from Bryn Mawr College with a degree in Comparative Literature. She is an accomplished musician with several highly-acclaimed albums to her credit.

Grassie’s most recent release is the “The Woodlands Sessions” EP. It is a spellbinding combination of warm, engaging songs, brilliant harp playing, soothing vocals, standout musicianship from all the players and smart, insightful lyrics about one of songwriters’ favorite subjects — love.

From track to track, “The Woodland Sessions” chronicles a relationship from giddy inception to quiet breakdown to final acceptance.

Grassie recorded her latest EP with an all-star band of Philadelphia musicians.

Guitarist Ross Bellenoit has toured with Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello. Drummer Matt Scarano plays with Chris Brubeck, Time For Three and Johnny Neel. Bassist Ryan Kuhns teaches bass at the University of the Arts. Trombone player Ernest Stuart tours with Red Baraat and founded the Center City Jazz Festival in Philadelphia. Saxophonist Korey Riker is the recipient of the 2016 Kimmel Center Jazz Composer Residency Grant and has performed with The Roots, John Legend and Mary J. Blige.

“I wrote this batch of songs specifically for a band,” said Grassie. “It meant creating more space in the arrangements and that’s been really exciting. This band includes some of my oldest collaborators in Philly — some whom I’ve worked with since 2009. What sets these guys apart is that they are so accomplished with their instruments. And, what is harder to find, they are players who know when enough is enough — just enough. They appreciate the value of sparseness.”

The EP was recorded live at the historic Woodlands Mansion in West Philadelphia. It was engineered and mixed by Sam Nuttle in Philadelphia, and mastered by Al Creedon in Philadelphia.

“I wanted the recordings to be live. There is a different energy that comes out when you’re all in the same room together. I wanted that organic feeling. We did it in two sessions and that kept it really fresh.”

The Woodlands is a National Historic Landmark District on the west bank of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia. It includes a Federal-style mansion, a matching carriage house and stable, and a garden landscape that in 1840 was transformed into a Victorian rural cemetery with an arboretum of more than 1,000 trees.

“The room we used has a lot of atmosphere,” said Grassie. “There is history in the walls.”

Grassie’s international travels began more than a decade ago. In 2009, she was awarded a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, which offers college graduates of “unusual promise” a year of independent, purposeful exploration and travel — in international settings new to them — to enhance their capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness, and leadership and to foster their humane and effective participation in the world community. The stipend for the fellowship year is $25,000.

“There were very few rules,” said Grassie. “It’s completely independent. The main rule is that you can’t return to your home country for the twelve months.”

Grassie started in France and spent time in Paris and Normandy. In Germany, she lived for a while in Berlin, recorded in Freiburg and did a concert tour with Joseph Parsons. Then, it was off to Mumbai, India where she did musical collaborations with a number of top Indian musicians including Mithavan and Ranjit Barot.

A variety of adventures greeted Grassie when she was in Jakarta, Indonesia including having to deal with a broken harp and recovering from rabies shots after being bitten by a stray cat.

“After Indonesia, I went to Hong Kong,” said Grassie. “Then, I traveled to China and spent time in Shanghai and Beijing.”

Grassie completed her Watson Fellowship in Russia, traveling on the Trans-Siberian railroad and teaching kids English through traditional American folk music as a part of the ESL Folk Project.

The versatile musician/world traveler began playing Celtic harp when she was 12 and started as a singer-songwriter a few years later.

“Once I started, I knew that was the way I wanted to go. I found it much more fulfilling.”

Grassie released an EP titled “To an Unwitting Muse” in 2005 and followed two years later with her first album — “Serpentine”. Her song “Silken String” took second place in the 2008 New York Songwriters Circle Competition. Her third release was an album titled “The Hinterhaus,” which came out in 2013.

“I recorded ‘The Hinterhaus’ in Oakland (California),” said Grassie. “The Kickstarter campaign overfunded. I had planned on D.I.Y. but with the extra resources, I was able to dream bigger.”

“I really liked Todd Sickafoose’s work as a producer — especially the ‘Hadestown’ album by Anaïs Mitchell.” Hadestown is now a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical. “I asked him if he would produce my record and was thrilled when he agreed.”

More recently, Grassie has been delving back into the Great American Songbook, covering works by the likes of Irving Berlin.

Video: “What’ll I Do?”

“I’ve been feeling a little bit stuck with my own songwriting lately, so I’ve been revisiting the greats. ‘What’ll I Do?’ is just one of those rare, perfect songs. It was challenging to adapt to the harp, but so worth the trouble. I’d like to record a whole album of covers like these one day.”

To keep up with Gillian Grassie and hear about any upcoming livestreams, you can follow her on Instagram @gilliangrassie.

Live music is hard to find – especially at indoor venues. But live music can still be enjoyed via drive-in concerts. Fortunately, there are several drive-in series located around the area.

People’s Light (39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, is working in partnership with East Whiteland Township to offer a Drive-In Concert Series, following current PA regulations for outdoor events. These drive-in concerts, held in the theater’s back parking lot, are designed for small groups within the same “social bubble” to safely enjoy outdoor entertainment together. Tickets are limited and social distancing is enforced.

Colebrook Road

The concerts are being staged in conjunction with Point Entertainment which is known for its shows at the Colonial Theater in Phoenixville and the Ardmore Music Hall as well as at other key venues around the Delaware Valley.

The People’s Light Drive-In Concert Series will have its next shows on the next two weekends with Colebrook Road on August 14 and Greg Sover on August 21.

Colebrook Road is an Americana band featuring Jesse Eisenbise- Guitar, Vocals; Mark Rast- Banjo, Dobro, Vocals; Jeff Campbell – Bass, Vocals; Wade Yankey- Mandolin; and Joe McAnulty- Fiddle, Vocals.

Bridging the divide between straight-drive, traditional grass played by the Del McCoury Band and the Lonesome River Band and the genre-warping progressive grass done by the Punch Brothers and Front Country, Colebrook Road strives to find a common middle ground. Influences of the members of Colebrook Road range from ‘90s country to heavy metal to punk rock to traditional bluegrass.

The group’s third album, “On Time,” was released on May 3, 2019 on Mountain Fever Records.

Video link for Colebrook Road —

Here are the ground rules issued by People’s Light: 

These drive-in concerts are designed for small groups within the same “social bubble” to safely enjoy outdoor entertainment together. Tickets are limited and social distancing is enforced.  Each vehicle is limited to 5 people or less and assigned a parking spot and adjacent “Home Space” for setting up lawn chairs. We require concert attendees to remain in their designated area as much as possible and avoid mingling with other parties.

Face masks are required on our campus and may only be removed inside a vehicle or Home Space. People’s Light staff will be masked at all times and maintain a 6-foot distance from each other and our guests. We have protocols in place for disinfecting spaces, surfaces, and equipment used by musicians and staff.

We are working in partnership with East Whiteland Township and following current PA regulations for outdoor events. As we continue to monitor confirmed COVID-19 cases in the area, we are constantly evaluating the safety of our on-campus programming and will cancel events if necessary.

This socially distanced drive-in concert will take place in the rear parking lot of the People’s Light campus at 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern, PA. The concert will last 75 to 90 minutes in total, including both sets. Valentina Sounds will open, followed by Jeffrey Gaines. It is our goal to start and end on time. The musicians will perform on a raised stage at the back of the lot.

Tickets are $75 per car and limited to 5 passengers per car (not including children under 12). There are no physical tickets for these events. Attendees will receive a confirmation email receipt immediately following purchase, as well as a reminder email with more details a few days before a concert. The rain date for this event is Sunday, July 26.

Please plan to arrive between 5:30 and 6 p.m. so we can get everyone parked in time for the 6:30pm concert.

A masked attendant will greet you at a 6-foot distance when you arrive. Please be prepared to wear a mask and provide your name so we can check your ticket status. Your car will be assigned a number, which will be adhered to your back windshield by the attendant. This is to assist in food delivery for those who pre-ordered from our on-site restaurant and is also a helpful safety measure.

Parking attendants will guide you to a parking space. Cars will be parked based on the size of the vehicle. Lower cars in front, bigger vehicles in the back. You will not be allowed to move your vehicle once you’ve parked. Vehicles that don’t fit in a parking space (such as campers or oversized trucks) will not be allowed entry. Your view of the stage will be dependent on your location and the number of large vehicles in the lot, so we encourage you to bring your smallest vehicle!

Every vehicle will be assigned a “Home Space”, an adjacent parking spot where you can set up lawn chairs. This space will be on the DRIVER’S SIDE of your vehicle, assuming you parked facing the stage. This is not a space intended for mingling with those outside your party. Per current PA regulations, you need to either be in your vehicle or immediately adjacent to it. No walking around or visiting neighbors.

You can pre-order food and drinks from The Farmhouse at People’s Light (and yes, this includes alcoholic beverages!) Specific instructions will be emailed to concert ticket holders, along with a 10% discount code. Outside alcohol is prohibited.

Face masks are required on our campus and may only be removed in your car or Home Space. We ask that all concert attendees wear a mask and maintain a 6-foot distance when interacting with anyone outside your party. People’s Light staff will be masked at all times, and Farmhouse staff will be masked and gloved.

There will be one standard portable toilet, one ADA-compliant portable toilet, and one wash station located in the parking lot. We require face masks (and suggest gloves!) when walking to and using the facilities.

Please turn off your car when you park. We do not encourage people to sit in a car that is idling for more than ten minutes. (But don’t forget to turn your lights back on at the end of the night!)

In partnership with Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show Grounds, SALT Performing Arts ( is presenting “SALT Beyond the Walls,” a Drive-In live concert style summer series. The series final production — “Songs from the Silver Screen” – will be presented on August 14 and 15 at 7 p.m. each night.

The roster of performers for August 14 includes Gaby Robino, Sami Uggla, Daniel Isajiw, Hannah Cohen, Bailey Straub, Zach Reynolds, Gabe Rottman, Drew Kalkiewicz, Savi Bell, Elizabeth Quay, Heather Kalkiewicz, Elliot Colahan, Shelagh Kratz, Stephen Fisher, Grace Halsey and Liz Robertson.

Entertainers slated to take the stage on August 15 are Alicia Huppman, Brad DeLeone, Carolyn Nelson, Maggie Shevlin, Keyaira Tozer, Karly Thomas, Michael Meck, Molly Toner, Robert Rinaldo, AJ Tantala, Sandi Chadwick, Maya Huberty, Liana Henrie, Katy Engelman, Leslie Monaco and Avery Meier.

The drive-in theatre works as follows:

Admission is $25/vehicle. Reservations must be made online prior to the performance at —

Admission to the fairgrounds will start an hour before the event start time.

Each vehicle should print out their ticket and place it visibly on the front dashboard/window.

Upon entering the fairgrounds, attendants will guide vehicles for parking around the newly constructed fairgrounds stage

Audio is provided via 90.7 FM radio transmission.

On-site concessions will be available for delivery to your vehicle.

Binoculars are encouraged.

Attendance will be limited to 70 vehicles.

The show will last approximately 90 minutes. There are no bathrooms at the Fairgrounds.

Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show Grounds are located at 1326 Pottstown Pike in Glenmoore.

The Grand Opera’s “Concert by Cars” show featuring Montana Wildaxe ( is scheduled for August 15 in the parking lot of Frawley Stadium, the home of Wilmington’s minor league baseball team, the Blue Rocks. The show, which starts at 7 p.m., is being co-presented with PNC Arts Alive!, New Castle County, and The City of Wilmington.

Montana Wildaxe

There are a few Delaware “traditions” that have spanned decades – cheeseburgers at Charcoal Pit; tax-free shopping; ice cream cones under the stars at Woodside Creamery; spotting Dave Grohl on vacation in the Rehoboth area; eating Grotto Pizza; and enjoying a bar concert by Montana Wildaxe.

There are quite a few Delaware bands that have been playing the club circuit for years and years, but none can match Montana Wildaxe for longevity and devoted fanbase.

Montana Wildaxe has been performing at venues all over the First State for more than three decades – treating fans to a blend of psychedelic rock, jam band improv and covers of Grateful Dead and Allman Bros. tunes.

The veteran sextet features Chip Porter (lead vocal, rhythm guitar), Kurt Houff (Lead Guitar, Vocals) Dan Long (Keys, vocals) Tony Cappella (Bass, vocals), Glenn Walker (Drums, Vocals), and Tim Kelly (percussion).

Pricing for the concert is: car (with one occupant): $25; car (with two occupants): $50; car (with three occupants): $75; and car (with four occupants): $100. All tickets are general admission and spots cannot be reserved.

The concert will take place in the Main Parking Lot of Frawley Stadium and all traffic must enter from Justison Street. There will be no concessions served and alcohol is prohibited. Attendees will be able to hear the concerts via FM radio. No pets are allowed.

The Grand’s website posted this COVID-19 message —


Social distancing measures will operate in accordance with Delaware guidelines:

Vehicles will be spaced approximately 6’-8’ apart. Windows may remain open at this distance.

Cars will be parked in a manner to achieve at/or appropriate spacing and best visibility.

Patrons are encouraged to remain in their vehicles. However, you may leave your car and sit in your own chairs in the adjoining space beside your car.

Face masks must be worn anytime you are outside your vehicle.

There is no reentry once your vehicle leaves the grounds.

In accordance with state guidelines, patrons will be asked to leave if they do not adhere to the rules and regulations.

Tickets MUST be purchased in advance.  There are no walk-up sales allowed.

Passenger vehicles only. No buses, party buses, limousines, bicycles, or foot traffic allowed. ADA accessible vehicles will be permitted.

Video link for Montana Wildaxe — The most ambitious drive-in concert series will take place in the parking lot of the Philadelphia Phillies stadium (Broad Street and Pattison Avenue, Philadelphia). 

Live Nation Philadelphia, in partnership with the Philadelphia Phillies, is presenting a four-week local drive-in concert series in the parking lot of Citizens Bank Park, home of the Phillies. The “Live-In / Drive-In Concert Series” will get underway on August 16 with Bert Kreischer.

Live Nation Philadelphia is creating a unique live music experience by allowing fans to enjoy concerts from the comfort of their car in a drive-in setting with the audio simulcast on an FM frequency. All artists will be performing full live sets on stages set up in the parking lot of Citizens Bank Park. The events will also feature large-scale video LED screens so fans can enjoy a true live concert experience.

Fans can expect contactless ticket scanning through their vehicle window and then will be shown to their designated parking space where they will enjoy the show from inside their own vehicle. Guests can leave their cars, wearing a mask, to use one of the portable bathroom locations which will be continuously sanitized throughout each event.

There will be dedicated buffer space around each vehicle to ensure social distancing.

Tickets will be sold in the form of a group car pass. Each car will purchase just one ticket, good for a maximum of four (4) people per car. Car pass tickets are on sale at

The schedule is: August 16 – Bert Kreischer; August 18 – The Struts; August 19 – AJR; August 21- Pigeons Playing Ping Pong; August 23 – The Front Bottoms; August 25 – Mt. Joy; August 26 – Subtronics; September 3 – Smith & Meyers; September 4 – Lotus;  September 5 and 6 – Dark Star Orchestra; and September 7 – Michael Blackson & Friends with special guest DJ Jazzy Jeff.

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