Setting the Stage for Summer
Catherine Russell headlines free concerts on Floods Hill
There is no shortage of great music here in our own backyard. Summer sounds will drift under the stars in the park and downtown at sundown. The summer music scene in South Orange is rich in its variety: Guitar heroes and fiddlers. Chart-topping vocalists. The Beatles! (well, nearly). The music is free, and the summer lineup sizzles. Here is a roundup of some of the highlights:
South Orange Concerts in the Park
Vocalist Catherine Russell is on the top of the charts for her latest CD and headlines the annual South Orange Concerts in the Park. The series features five free concerts on Wednesday nights beginning next month. These concerts – jazz, folk, and rock and roll -- bring families, neighbors, friends together for eclectic performances and dinner outdoors (homemade picnics or dinners provided by local caterers). In winter, Floods Hill is a favorite sledding hill. In summer, children race and roll on the slope and dance to the music on the giant stage. The concerts are presented by the Department of Recreation and Cultural Affairs.
The jazz concert, often the highlight of the series, is funded by the Giants of Jazz Concert held each fall at South Orange Middle School. This year, the summertime concert features Russell, a genuine jazz and blues singer, who will perform on July 21.
"She is one of the most dynamic, inspired vocalists I've ever had the good fortune to hear," said Diane Michael, one of the volunteers who scouted this summer's talent.
Russell's third album, "Inside this Heart of Mine," released this past spring, features a personal selection of gems from the 1920s through the present jazz. She has an enviable musical pedigree. Her father, the legendary Luis Russell was Louis Armstrong's long-time musical director. Her mother Carline Ray is an outstanding bassist and vocalist who has performed with Mary Lou Williams.
The singer-songwriter KJ Denhert, who characterizes herself as an "urban folk and jazz artist," leads off the series on July 7. Reviewers praise Denhert's live performances for showcasing her earthy, vibrant personality as much as her genre-transcending music.
On July 14, the Beatles come to South Orange -- or least in the guise of the Mahoney Brothers. This long-running tribute band takes great pleasure in recreating the look, sound, and timeless music of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. "Their shows are done with costumes and special lighting and they are really appealing for the whole family, young and old," Michael said. "They have several different acts, and the most recent is the 'Elvis meets the Beatles'."
The Searson sisters, a Celtic folk rock group, will offer a sizzling show on July 28 featuring vocals, raw fiddling and step dancing. Growing up learning the traditional Ottawa Valley style of music and dance, Searson has developed a contemporary style of high energy roots, Celtic, country and pop.
Guitar heroes will be strumming the hill when Rock the Hill takes the series' final bow on Aug. 4. The band is a collective of musicians who take satisfaction in bringing live rock 'roll music to the community.
"We try to balance our summer offerings so that there's something for everyone, some well-know artists in the industry and some on the way up," Michael said. The shows take place rain or shine: In rain, in the air-conditioned comfort of Jubilee Hall on the Seton Hall University campus; in shine, on Floods Hill in Meadowland Park. The concerts begin at 7:30 p.m. Bring lawn chairs or blankets.
Downtown at Sundown
Main Street South Orange is hosting a Downtown at Sundown concert series on Friday and Saturday nights until July 31. Live music will be performed from 8 to 10:30 p.m. at two locations, Spiotta Park (South Orange Ave. and Village Plaza) and the corner plaza on Sloan Street and South Orange Avenue.
Performers will include Ben Williams, Tricia Woods, Felt, Bill Tally and Ruthana Graves Morton, Holli Ross, Dave Braham, Dave Rimelis, Matt Mattheis, Dan Kinsley, Courtney Sappington, and No Name James & ButterBall. A complete list of performances and concert dates is available on Main Street South Orange's Web site.
Peace and Love at Maplewoodstock
Peace and love, sure, but also two days of community music and art. Maplewoodstock takes place July 10 and July 11 at Maplewood's Memorial Park. Songwriter Steve Forbert (solo and acoustic) and Ivan Neville (New Orleans funk) headline. http://maplewoodstock.com/
Coming in September: A cure for the summertime blues. The 2010 South Orange International Blues Festival is presenting Laura Chavez, Bill McClellan, Mike Griot and a dozen other acts on Sunday, Sept. 12, at a free daylong live celebration. http://southorangebluesfestival.com/index.html
Especially For the Kids
Kids rock musician Mr. Ray will play Turtle Back Zoo at 5 p.m. on July 7. Mr. Ray has played in the band of the rock star Meat Loaf.
Mr. Gray, meanwhile, joins his friend Ms. Marilyn at the South Orange Public Library. The free concert begins at 7 p.m. on July 12.
The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra heads outdoors for its annual summer parks concerts. On July 1 it will perform in Branch Brook Park, Newark.
Can't Get Enough of Summer?
Donna Summer -- and the Beach Boys -- are on the bill at the Community Theatre (Mayo Theatre of the Performing Arts) in Morristown.
Who's That on the Block?
And don't forget to eavesdrop on the music drifting on the gentle wind from a neighbor's backyard. South Orange has some terrific garage bands and musicians gigging at neighborhood block parties.