A call for new lyrics to mark Allentown's 250th

Posted: July 30, 2012

ALLENTOWN - If you run into a pleasant Australian bloke around here this summer and he wants to chat, take a moment and do it.

What you say could help him put new words to an old song.

Not just any song, but "Allentown," the Billy Joel composition that gave the world a stubbornly persistent impression of the city as a fading Rust Belt afterthought.

The Australian, television actor and musician Barte Shadlow, is part of a creative team reworking the song to commemorate the city's 250th anniversary. The team wants to come up with lyrics that reflect Allentown's progress since the song hit the charts 30 years ago.

The reworked version is to be performed live Sept. 29 at a community festival on Hamilton Street during the city's 250th celebration weekend.

Shadlow moved to the United States from Australia 12 years ago and has lived in Upper Macungie Township for nine years. He hosted four seasons of Renovations, a home-improvement series on HGTV, and was a carpenter on Trading Spaces: Boys v. Girls on NBC and Discovery Kids.

He first heard "Allentown" in his sun-washed hometown of Sydney.

"It painted a kind of gloomy picture," he said.

Allentonians have a love-hate relationship with the song - a single off Joel's Nylon Curtain album. It's nice to have the name of your city playing on every radio in the country, but not so nice to have the city used as a symbol of America's crumbling industrial economy.

That the song and the city are marking anniversaries this year was not lost on Shadlow. He had already agreed to star in a series of Web videos in which he travels around Allentown, highlighting places and events and asking residents to share what they love about the city. Why not take it a step further?

"I just thought, the song is 30 years old, a lot has happened in 30 years, and it would be nice if we could rework the song to show what's changed," he said.

So don't be surprised if this new "Allentown" includes references to the IronPigs baseball team, Allentown Symphony Hall, the Lehigh Parkway, and other amenities that belie the sooty outlook of the original song.

Who will perform it? Shadlow, perhaps, or another local musician.

Or -.

"It would be a hope that Billy Joel decides to pay tribute and do it," said David Olson, a Lehigh Valley business consultant who was hired as the 250th celebration's project manager and who recruited his friend Shadlow for the videos.

But that's getting ahead of the story. Olson and Shadlow said they had reached out to Joel's representatives, but that's as far as it's gone.

Besides, the new version isn't even written yet.

"I've already started looking at the lyrics in a more generic sense," Shadlow said, adding that he expects to glean inspiration from the people he meets during the video project.

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