💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn email newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.
Tony “Tone” Royster and the Positive Movement Entertainment drumline (you know, the one with the Elmo) were driving to their first-ever gig in the Poconos on Wednesday afternoon. It was to be a surprise birthday party parade.
That’s a request PME has been getting more and more since social distancing began foiling traditional b-day plans. In fact, since the pandemic hit, the troupe is busier than ever.
But PME’s inaugural Poconos performance was special for more reasons than its novelty and distance from North Philly home base. The day prior, the group scored a sizable new drum set, donated by West Chester native Mike Windish and his entertainment production company.
“They’re like top of the line drums, Yamaha!” Royster told Billy Penn. “I’m like, oh man. It’s definitely and truly a blessing.”
The handoff of three large bass drums, two sets of quintuplet drums, a snare and “a pile” of other used drums was performed at a distance. It included conversations and smiles behind protective facemasks and some “strong air hugs,” from about 15-feet away, Royster said.
“We were joking about how we were laughing from a distance, but we’re both wearing a mask and we’re laughing at how you can see the smile on your face,” Windish recalled.
Windish saw a drumline he thinks was PME this past winter at Christmas Village in Center City, he said. He recognized the crew in a Billy Penn article highlighting a mini-documentary on Royster, which inspired him to reach out on Instagram.
“I just threw some love at them and said, ‘It’s amazing what you guys do. I’m a drummer, too…and I have these drums that I think you’re gonna make better use of,'” Windish said.
Located in West Chester, Windish Music and Productions trains and places artists at venues around the country and world. Its client base includes Dorney and Hershey parks in Pennsylvania, Ohio-based Cedar Fair amusement parks and Holland America Line cruises.
Last summer, per Windish, the five-person firm placed around 250 performers with different partners. And 2020, Windish said, was set to be a booming year.
Like many plans, the coronavirus pandemic put a wrench in that expansion. So Windish Music turned toward giving back.
Business ‘booming’ for drumline that does distancing
At the beginning of the lockdown, Windish launched what he calls the “P.I.V.O.T.” initiative. The acronym stands for produce, inspire, virtualize, outreach and teach.
The PME/Elmo crew falls perfectly under “inspire” and “outreach,” Windish said.
Royster said the high-quality drumset couldn’t have come at a better time, as his troupe is completely booked with pop-up parade performances around the city, out in the suburbs and in New Jersey. On Wednesday, PME had two gigs in two different parts of the state.
There’s calls from folks in Mt. Airy, Germantown, and South Philly, which Royster said he thinks is home to the crew’s biggest fans.
“We’re almost darn near booked up this whole month with different birthday parties and social distance birthday parades, so it’s definitely been booming,” he said.
The gift helped Royster kickstart a whole new drumline, he said.
He keeps a storage unit full of drum donations, some of which are in pieces and would cost thousands to fix. On Tuesday, he made room for the intact, professional-grade Yamaha set by donating some of his other equipment to help another troupe get off the ground.
“God just blessed me with something way better and it’s all about helping the next person,” Royster said.
The two men hope they can maintain some sort of partnership. Windish has taken his artists’ performances virtual, and plans to promote PME for an entire week on the Windish Music social media platforms.
Royster dreams of spreading PME’s “put down the guns, pick up some drums” message around the globe. “I really want to travel, go all over the world with it,” Tone said, “because, like I tell people, it’s not just bad in Philly with the gun violence. It’s all over.”
For now, he’ll dart back from the Poconos. It’s a Wednesday in the time of coronavirus, and the now in-demand PME has a Manayunk parade to play tonight.