All the More Season

All the More Season

August always carries a touch of melancholy as we confront the dwindling days of summer. But the way to beat it is to savor what seasonal pleasure remains, including from a local summer staple: the free—and freeing—outdoor concert.

A community concert, in a park or at the beach, is the perfect finish to a summer day. People bring lawn chairs and often picnic dinners, ready to enjoy an evening of jazz or rock or classical. But the star of the event is seldom the music or even the musicians; rather, it’s the event itself. Under a soft blue sky, with a pleasant breeze rising as the sun descends, everyone around you is gathered for the same purpose: to enjoy a couple of hours without a care.

Many local communities offer summer concerts, but one shoreline town offers three public summer concert series at three different venues, each of them extending through the end of August. That town is Madison.

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A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I attended one of the Summer Concerts on the Green, featuring a Bon Jovi tribute band called 1 Wild Night. More than 500 spectators spread out on the lawn: young families sitting on blankets, preteens dancing, jumping and flailing in front of the stage, groups of adults spread out around elaborate picnics and older patrons, some in wheelchairs, nodding to the music. Few among them, I imagine, were huge Bon Jovi fans, but they were enjoying, in particular, the infectious energy of lead singer Alex Barbieri, who left the stage several times to mingle with the audience while singing the hits. It was delightful.

During a break I asked other attendees for their opinion of outdoor summer concerts. “Love ’em across the board,” said one. “I think the idea is good. We’ve been coming for a long time,” said another. A third pointed to future plans: “In a couple of weeks we’re going to Guilford. We like that band. It’s good times.”

Such sentiments would come as no surprise to Carrie Gazda, Madison’s recreation supervisor and the producer of the concerts on the Green. She’s been on the job since 2008, and “I love it,” she says. Planning begins in the dark days of winter, when the Connecticut Recreation & Parks Association holds an annual showcase in Hartford. “Bands perform for 15 minutes ,” Gazda says, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The showcase gives local concert producers a good sampling of the available talent. Plus most of them have favorites they call back year after year.

Gazda says Madison is a favorite stop on the summer music circuit. “It’s such a nice place. It’s a beautiful green. And a lot of people come,” she says. “I get a lot of emails and phone calls from bands that want to come to Madison. So I have to juggle: Who do I want back and what new group can I get?”

Then there’s the issue of budgeting. “I get a lump sum and I divide it for eight concerts,” Gazda says. “So if I can find a band that performs for $400, which I can sometimes, I’ll be able to book a band that costs me $2,000.” The costs are covered in the Madison budget, and the return on investment is good summer vibes. “It’s something we like to do for the community,” she says. “It also brings people to Madison. We get people from the Hammonasset campground, and a woman told me last week she came from Massachusetts just for the concert. So it brings people here.” And together. “I’m amazed to watch the community develop. People start talking to each other, they become friends. Now they sit together, they dance together. It’s just amazing, that human connection.”

As of today, August 17, Madison still has three concerts remaining on the green, two more at Salt Meadow Park (off the Post Road near the Clinton border) and, picking up tonight, another three at the Madison Beach Hotel. It’s still summer, after all, and for the next few weeks, the town of Madison will be acting like it.

Written and photographed by Jim Murphy.

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