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Thursday, May 27, 2010 10:03 pm

Music out of doors

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Gene Haas longtime director of the Springfield Municipal Band. The season opens on June 8 in Douglas Park at 7:30pm
Some ancient and deep desire must come forth in the warm weather that forces humans outside to listen to music. Perhaps the old days of dancing around the fire and drumming across the hills linger on within our collective psyche. Maybe it’s an innate need to share a common heritage of melody and beat among a crowd of fellow people pushing us to music out of doors in the summer. Hey, that could be what’s behind those of us who feel compelled to drive around in our vehicles playing music loud enough for all to hear. We just want to share and be a part of the community.

Regardless of these consequences and dilemmas, the fact remains, music outside seems special and well suited to warmer weather and central Illinois plays host to many forms of outdoor summer concerts. One sad note to report concerns the demise of the Washington Street Jazz and Blues Festival. A staple of downtown summer entertainment since 1986, the event ran out of steam, funding and organizational help all at the same time. Let’s consider it a hiatus and not a halt and hope for a revival either later in the year or by next spring. Any excited entrepreneurs or determined developers wishing to aid in reinstallation of this fine event should contact the Springfield Area Arts Council and take action. Good luck from all the musicians who played and audiences who enjoyed the concerts over the last nearly 25 years.

Speaking of resurrections, the Springfield Municipal Band lives again, albeit in lesser configuration, but some is better than none in this case. Last year the city surreptitiously announced funding for the band withdrawn and left the group in the lurch. The 2010 allowance allows for less than half of the previous spending, but with enough warning to plan for the dastardly cuts. Once a week concerts for two months and a few less musicians allows for the music to continue. The first show begins at 7:30 p.m. June 8 and the band plays on every Tuesday through July with the July 4 concert downtown celebrating Independence Day in the USA. And speaking of independence, the Municipal Band, required by its bylaws to not accept fees for public performances, certainly and most happily will take donations and intends on setting up an organization to fund the group outside of our city government not known to be particularly friendly to the arts. (Who needs a library? Let’s tear down that theater and build a parking lot. Fill potholes not minds.). Is it still a municipal band with a considerable lack of municipal participation? Why sure it is, silly. Maybe we could pass a municipal bond to support the municipal band. Now who’s being silly?

In another move to bankrupt the local music scene, the Ameren-sponsored (previously CILCO) downtown summer concert series is no more. Spokespersons from the lethargic energy company claim to high heavens and with no visible fingers crossed that pulling the plug on the concerts was absolutely, unequivocally, without a doubt unrelated to the recently denied rate hike. Okay then. It sure was fun while it lasted. Makes me feel like we got away with something and somehow Ameren just realized what a dumb mistake and waste of customers’ money the shows have been all these years. Thanks, thanks a lot.

Other fun outdoor music happenings include the twice-a-week Artist on the Plaza concerts at noon on the south side of the Old Capitol Plaza, the once-a-month Music in the Parks at various municipal parks with area bands, big-time downtown festivals plus several small-town shindigs and the occasional, odd street performer. (More on this big-city idea of taking it to the streets known as “busking” to come in a later Now Playing column.)

In a special note, this Memorial Day, the Blue Monday jam at the Alamo features blues guitarist Frank Herrin, originally from the Buffalo-Dawson area. Herrin, a lifelong friend of the late bassist Jerry Turley, offers his night at the Illinois Central Blues Club weekly show as a special memorial tribute to the talented and deeply missed musician. Turley, the regular bass player in Herrin’s group Blues Power, played with many other groups, including Ragged Jack, White Lightnin’, Redd Skyy and Small Bongo Club, but this band specifically demonstrated his in depth knowledge of the blues.

Contact Tom Irwin at tirwin@illinoistimes.com.

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