When the Dorflinger-Suydam Wildlife Sanctuary first was chartered in 1980, classical music concerts were performed in front of small audiences on a temporary stage set besides a stonewall enclosure facing the lake.
In 1982, Hugh Wolff, then conductor of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic Orchestra, performed a special concert with a mid-sized chamber orchestra. Beneath the shade of the magnificent Sanctuary trees, the ensemble entertained scores with the music of Mozart, Mendelssohn and Schuman.
In 1983, the Wildflower Music Festival, the brainchild of Board Member Henry M. Skier, was officially launched when a generous gift from the Abram M. and Mabel B. Skier Foundation enabled the construction of the Wildflower Theater in its present location on the Sanctuary grounds. Brush and young trees were removed from a portion of the gently sloping hill, creating a terraced viewing area, carpeted with lush grass and sheltered by ages-old evergreens. Tall and stately, the trees conceal the outdoor amphitheater from the surrounding fields and forest.
At the first Wildflower concert in August of 1983, Mother Nature welcomed music lovers by providing a bright, pleasant Sunday evening as a backdrop for the musical performance, while several deer browsed in a nearby field.
Early leadership in development and management was provided by Sally Preate Bohlin, Harvey Fielder, Jack Mangan, and Mark Eggenberger with artistic direction by Ernie Ragogini and Jeth Mill.
In 1995, Judi Mortensen became the newest in a long line of volunteer directors of the Wildflower Music Festival. Along with her husband, Helge, who served as the Financial Director of the Music Festival, Judi continued the tradition of quality entertainment established by her predecessors. The Mortensen’s commitment raised attendance to record levels.
Judi passed the reins of artistic direction to Jane Zwillinger Ables in 1999 who worked with a dedicated music committee until her death in 2005. Kyler Brown became artistic director in 2006 and the 2007 season was his first full year of performer selections. Since 2008, the season has been presented through the work of Wildflower Executive Joan Gillner, with guidance from Music Chair Judi Mortensen and committee members Tom Dein and Hank Loftus.
Over the years the Saturday evening concerts have included such notable performers as Tom Chapin, Butch Thompson, Johnny Costa, Ethel Ennis, The Charlie Byrd Trio, Marian McPartland, Arlo Guthrie, The Kingston Trio, Linda Eder, Marcus Roberts, Judy Collins, Maureen McGovern and many other luminary talents too numerous to mention. Attracting as it does a wide audience of local supporters and weekend visitors, the Wildflower Music Festival has firmly established itself as the premier cultural event in the area.