Chester native Robbie Collomore owned Chester’s local soda shop/general store. Located on Main Street in the center of Chester where the River Tavern is now, the soda fountain and the man behind its counter were often at the center of Chester life. You went there in the morning for your coffee and fresh gossip, and the Little League went there in the afternoon for celebratory ice cream cones.

Robbie was determined to help refresh another center of Chester life, the Old Meeting House, which dated back to the 1790s but had lost a lot of its fizz by the 1960s. He dreamed of restoring the building to its former glory days when chamber music concerts, barbershop quartets and even a visit from P.T. Barnum’s Tom Thumb brought refreshing entertainment to the town. Always upbeat, Robbie started drumming up plans to bring back musical events to the small building with the big acoustics. Robbie convinced Burton Cornwall, a New York City singer and noted voice teacher retired in Chester, to put on a concert to help raise funds to repair the Old Meeting House.

The proceeds of that 1961 concert featuring Burton Cornwall and friends was the cornerstone of a Chester Meeting House Cultural Series he and Robbie helped establish when they became founding members of the Chester Historical Society in 1970. The Cultural Series’ first musical concert in 1974 featured The Singing Editors.

Robbie Collomore’s dream for a refurbished Meeting House came true, and when he died in 1975, the Music Series was named in his honor. Burton Cornwall carried on Robbie’s dream, heading the series for five years, and endowing it as part of his estate when he died in 1980. Chester cultural stalwart Joan Matz carried on Robbie’s dream, leading the series for the next 20 years. More recently the series has been run by the Collomore Committee listed at the end of this write-up.

In 40-plus years we have never missed a concert, but there have been surprises. In 1986, jazz greats Dwike Mitchell and Willie Ruff were to present a joint concert with the folk singer legend, Odetta. As concert time came and went, no Odetta. Willie Ruff said, “Don’t worry, we’ll do the first half, and if necessary, the second half.” As we were closing the doors, in rushed Odetta, out of breath. “Sorry, I thought the concert was in Cheshire.”

There have been moments of magic and inspiration. When Sandman Sims, the world’s greatest soft-shoe tap dancer, performed, a junior high school youngster was so transformed, she ran home at intermission and returned with her tap-dancing shoes, which Sandman Sims graciously autographed at the end of the concert.

Since that initial conversation over the soda fountain counter, 40-plus seasons of Robbie Collomore Music Series concerts have been presented in Chester. For a list of the distinguished artists who have performed in Chester, go to this page.

The Collomore Music Series Committee:

Randy Allinson
Ray Archambault
Karin Badger
James Baker
Karli Gilbertson
Rick Holloway
Martin Nadel (Chairperson)
Jim Paisley
Sue Saltus
Michael Sanders
John Williams