An important figure in the bluegrass and traditional country music community in southeastern Pennsylvania has left us. Larry Waltman, longtime proprietor of the Sunset Music Park in Jennersville, died on October 29. He was 100 years old.
Sunset Park hosted outdoor performances of top radio artists starting in 1939 when Larry’s father, Roy Waltman, ran the facility. Long before the bluegrass festival scene appeared in the ’60s, music lovers flocked to the park on Sunday afternoons to see their favorite hillbilly and country performers. When Roy passed in 1957, Larry and his wife, Hazel, assumed management of the park.
Before its closing in 1995, Sunset Park had hosted multiple performances by Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, Jimmy Martin, The Stoneman, Reno & Smiley, Mac Wiseman, and more. Ola Belle Reed was something of a regular for over 20 years and always drew a sizable crowd.
The Sunday afternoon shows eventually became all day events, with families piling in with picnic lunches to watch the baseball games organized by the Waltmans for their enjoyment. In the early days, a carload was admitted for only a dollar, and people would drive in from all over the region to see friends and listen to music.
Country music stars like Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn, Tex Ritter, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton were also regular performers, often mixed on bills with bluegrass artists. Sunset Park was an important stop for touring acts traveling from Nashville up to the major cities along the eastern seaboard. It was on the way to and from Wilmington, Philadelphia, and New York, and bands knew they could count on a good turnout for a Sunday show heading either way.
Larry also owned and operated a dairy farm close by to the park before he retired. He had become a civic leader as well, serving on the local school board, and the boards of a regional hospital, and the planning commission.
Waltman lived to see the unveiling of a Pennsylvania historical marker in August, and was able to attend the ceremony where he was also presented with a citation of appreciation from the state senate.
The text of the marker reads:
One of the premier music venues outside of Nashville, the park featured many of the biggest stars of country and bluegrass. Operated by the Waltman family from 1940 to 1994, it supported the transition from pre-WWII “hillbilly music” to the nationally popular country music genre. Featured artists included Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Randy Travis and Bill Monroe. Live unreleased recordings of major performers have been preserved.
A masonic service will be held next Friday (11/9) at the Oxford Masonic Lodge in Oxford, PA at 11:00 a.m. The family will accept visitors at 10:00 at the Lodge, and from 6:00-9:00 p.m. at the Edward L. Collins, Jr. Funeral Home. Burial will be private.
The family asks that any memorial donations be made to:
Avon Grove Scholarship Foundation
PO Box 266
West Grove, PA 19390
R.I.P., Larry Waltman.