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Lounging and Listening
Strolling through Waterfront Park Wednesday evening, islander Frances Atherton was drawn toward the water by the soothing sounds of an electric guitar and bongo drums.
“I was walking the dog down here and I saw them setting up,” Atherton said. “I’m thrilled – I love the Buena Vista Social Club.”
Accompanied by Meg, a 15-year-old Labrador-Newfoundland dog, Atherton made her way to the Bainbridge Metro Park and Recreation’s summer concert to enjoy the stylings of Malo’s Combo, a Buena Vista Social Club-tribute band.
Malo’s Combo was the first in a series of seven Summer Concerts in the Park, which take place from 7-8:30 p.m. every Wednesday through Aug. 18.
Jim Arsenault of Opera Northwest founded the concerts in 1988.
“The initial series involved volunteers and volunteer bands,” said Sue Hylen, the park district’s arts and culture manager. “That’s when it started coming together. In 1990 we had a couple of Sunday afternoons thrown in.”
Hylen became involved with the project in 1989.
“In the very beginning there were just a few people – 20 on Sundays,” she said. “It started out at around maybe 75, 100, depending on the weather at Battle Point – there’s such a wind.”
The concerts have since moved from Battle Point Park to Waterfront Park, and draw roughly 250 people early in the series. The numbers often grow to 450, said Georgia Browne, the district’s public relations and cultural events coordinator.
Good weather has drawn islander Deb Rudnick and her 4-year-old daughter, Hannah Ast, for the last three years.
“It’s really nice for the kids,” Rudnick said. “Relaxing, hanging out with friends – it’s all those things.”
In case of inclement weather, the concerts move to Bainbridge Commons.
Performers have come from as far away as Arizona and Southern California, and vary in genre from indie pop to bluegrass.
“We try to provide a varied menu if we can,” Browne said. “I do try to bring in bands that people might not have a chance to see otherwise. If it’s someone who plays here a lot it’s not likely that they’ll be on the lineup. We try to bring in bands that are not too far away. We know that they can’t come too far. We cover their ferry ticket but that’s about all we can do.”
The city co-sponsored the event until last year, Browne said.
“We are fully responsible for the finances, and we do have a very good sound engineer, which is something that is necessary,” Hylen said. “We pay our musicians a fair fee out of respect to their music.”
The loss of funding did cause a reduction from eight concerts to seven last year, Browne said.
“We have considered sponsors and have had a couple over the years – the Chamber put in around $1,000 once – but we’ve found it hard to find,” she said.
While the district might consider putting in donation stations, the goal is to keep the concerts free, Browne said.
“We really feel that this is something the community really appreciates and really enjoys,” she said. “Who can afford concert tickets nowadays? We want the community to come out, have fun, relax and enjoy each other.”
Concertgoers such as Rudnick believe that the community would be eager to assist the concert series.
“In a day and age that services and cultural events and music are cut everywhere, it’s really nice to know that we still support stuff like this,” she said.
For Atherton, who moved to the island in February, the concert series will become a fixture in her summer schedule.
“I’ll come back every week,” she said. “I’m putting it on my calendar.”
Upcoming concerts in the park
July 14: Deadwood Revival, progressive, old-time jamgrass
July 21: Mon Cheri, indie pop
July 28: 85th Street Big Band, swing and more
Aug. 4: Cascade Mountain Boys, bluegrass
Aug. 11: Jo Miller and her Burly Roughnecks, rockabilly/swing/western swing
Aug. 18: Ian McFeron Band, roots/Americana