Concerts in the Park back for summer nights

Tom Cook of Marlin James Band drums in front of a crowd of about 100 at Community Park on Wednesday evening. The concert was the opening show in the Concerts in the Park series

Nights are long, picnic blankets are fully stocked with finger food and music is flowing through Community Park. The Concerts in the Park series is back and in full swing.

The first of four concerts was held on Wednesday, July 6 as the twangy country sounds of Seattle’s Marlin James Band filled the park. There were plenty of kids running throughout the park grounds while the parents and older crowd relaxed on the grass to enjoy the music.

The concerts are held from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on alternating Wednesdays from now until the last concert on Aug. 17. Each show features a different genre of music, with the next concert on July 20 spotlighting the Danny Ward Quartet, described as “Jazz Saxophone” under the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District’s “special events” tab on its website. Moonlight Swing Orchestra will take the stage on Aug. 3 with their brand of swing music, and James Howard Band will close the series out with their bluesy rock tunes on Aug. 17.

The 2016 concert series is the first year the shows are held on the grassy hill east of the baseball diamond, near the jungle gym. South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District Program Coordinator Carrie Monforte said the previous location at the batting cage had to be relocated after the cage was removed. And while there are some cons to that decision, the new space offers a different experience that pleased the crowd.

“The new space doesn’t quite lend itself to a small intimate feel, but it gives kids a lot of space to rip around and play on the jungle gym if they please,” Monforte said. “The biggest plus for adults and the older crowd is they get to sit on the hill and can be sure of a good view.”

Those at the concert were fans of the new hillside location of the venue. Situated 15 or so feet from the start of the hill, there is room for dancing in front of the band and setting up lawn chairs. Visitors can watch baseball being played at the diamond adjacent to the venue, and the jungle gym stands at the top of the hill. Some were also impressed with the sound.

“The park is a great setting for a summer show, and I’m impressed with how good the acoustics are,” Shepard said.

The parks district has put on the event for more than a decade. Monforte says the event is a favorite with district commissioners and staff; making sure the event is free and goes on as planned is a high priority. While the district runs it alone, it brings in sponsors to help pay performing bands. The district coordinates with Goosefoot, the organizers of Sounds of Summer series at Bayview Hall, to prevent concert overlap. Under their current schedule, there is at least one concert per week at either Community Park or Bayview Hall until the end of August.

Gathering all ages of the spectrum is one of the goals for the summer concerts. Monforte says music is a good connector, and says the blend of children, teens, the older crowd and adults was testament to that.

“It’s crucial to build community and get people together with communal events like this,” Sunlight Beach resident John Shepard said. “The whole family can do their thing — kids can run on the jungle gym and roll down the hill while the parents can put up some lawn chairs and relax.”

Music for the Eyes co-owner Fred Lundahl says the sense of community the concerts builds is a large reason why he and his wife Sharon sponsor bands featured in the concert series. The concerts are a culmination of their passions: music, parks and their surrounding South Whidbey community.

“We’re great believers of everything the parks district does,” Lundahl said. “These things only really work if there are sponsors so we encourage our friends to be sponsors for the things they are passionate about. For my wife and I, we love music and we love Community Park.”