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Performing June 29th, 2013
Tuesday night, City Parks Foundation will kick off the 27th consecutive presenting season of SummerStage with its opening night Gala celebrating the music of Jimi Hendrix at Central Park. The evening will feature artists like The Roots, Wyclef Jean, G. Love & Special Sauce, Keller Williams, and more performing their favorite Hendrix songs, and sets the stage for the 110 other performances that will take place in parks all across New York City this summer as part of CPF's SummerStage series.
“At the City Parks Foundation, our mission is to provide free programming to New York City park goers,” said James Burke, the Director of Arts and Culture Programming at CPF in an interview with CHARGED.fm. “This summer is going to be comprised of over 100, about 110, free music, theatre, family, and comedy programs in both Central Park and in 18 other local neighborhood parks in all five boroughs. I think it’s one or two more [programs] than we’ve ever done before.”
These programs include concerts, theatre productions, comedy, dance, DJ sets, puppet shows, and much more. The CPF can offer this programming free with the help of sponsors (AT&T is the presenting sponsor this year and Union Beer Distributors is another big one), and fundraising concerts like the upcoming Gala. Proceeds from other shows this summer, like Foster the People, Norah Jones, Childish Gambino, and Beach House, will go towards the City Park Foundation's numerous efforts, but the Gala is the starting point.
“It is the official start of the SummerStage series,” Burke told CHARGED.fm. “That kicks off our 2012 season, so that’s our big opening night. It’s kind of a unique event; obviously this is an important way for us to raise funds as well. It’s interesting because it’s kind of a two-tiered fundraiser. So on the one hand, we have a sit-down dinner for the high-end donors that are supporting the SummerStage stuff citywide. But then we like to fill it in so there are general admission tickets too for bleacher seats that are more reasonably priced at $50.”
Another thing that sets this apart from the other shows this season is the consistent theme for these Gala shows. This season, they decided to go with the music of legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix.
“We actually worked closely with our partners and wine sponsors at City Winery to put together a lineup of artists honoring the music of Jimi Hendrix,” Burke said. “We’re always racking our brains. We sort of started this tribute songbook model for our SummerStage Gala in 2010 for our 25th anniversary. We did the songs of Simon and Garfunkel, and last year we did a 'songs of Motown' songbook. This year is the 70th anniversary of Jimi Hendrix’s birth, so that was kind of on our radar. We thought, 'Well, Hendrix has a pretty dynamic songbook,' and we knew we’d get some pretty interesting and kind of eclectic interest from performers.”
It's one thing to form the concept and theme for the event, but it's another thing completely getting artists to participate. While it seems like musicians would be eager to take part in a Gala like this with such an interesting theme, Burke said it's quite difficult to set up.
“It’s a lot of work because when we’re programming the rest of festival, it’s like a giant jigsaw puzzle. We’ve seen and scouted different bands, and we have a running short list of talent that we’ve always wanted to present. So we’re talking to management and agents and kind of moving things around so we can figure out how to squeeze everything in.
“But the Gala’s our kickoff and it has to be one particular theme. So we have to cast a pretty wide net in order to fill out the bill because musicians are busy folks. They aren’t all going to be able to come into New York on one specific day. We came up with the theme and then locked down The Roots and Soulive as the house band pretty early. That was kind of the backbone of it. And now we’ve been filling it out with some acts that are no-brainers that fit into the genre like Living Colour, and others that should give some interesting interpretations like Amel Larrieux and Keller Williams.”
The City Parks Foundation put together a terrific lineup of performers for their Gala, with the groups mentioned above and acts like G. Love & Special Sauce, John Scofield, and Bebel Gilberto set to play their interpretations of Hendrix Classics. Wyclef Jean will perform the “Star-Spangled Banner” to start things off, and then the rest of the groups will play a couple of their favorites. Burke said some special guests should also be making an appearance as well to help start the summer off right.
The SummerStage series has a rich tradition in New York City's parks throughout the years since it began in 1986. This is the 27th straight presenting season in Central Park and parks across the five boroughs, and the festival has grown since its inception.
“SummerStage itself was started in 1986,” Burke said. “We’ve grown over the past 26 years. This summer is going to be comprised of over 100, about 110, free music, theatre, family, and comedy programs in both Central Park and in 18 other local neighborhood parks in all five boroughs. I think it’s one or two more [programs] than we’ve ever done before.”
Not only has the series grown in scope, but it has also grown in terms of the type of programming that is offered.
“In the past couple of years, we’ve definitely made some specific strides to add on more family-oriented programming, especially in the city-wide parks series,” Burke said. “We’ve also been doing a lot of comedy. Most importantly, I’d say, we’ve been working on a lot of theatre commissions and dance commissions so that we’re not only presenters, but producers as well. We're getting involved in programming we can make from the ground up. Whether it’s reaching out to dance companies and hooking them up with musicians to work with, or reaching out to playwrights and directors and having them make works from scratch, that’s our big addition.
“In terms of the music element, music is always the largest discipline that we represent. We’re always looking for the new trends. We’ve always presented a large diversity of artists from across the country and around the world, especially global sounds; a lot of music from Africa and other continents. So that’s something we’ve continued to stick with.”
As far as what free shows to look out for this year, Burke has quite a few that are on his radar across all art forms.
“This is an exciting summer. With 110 acts, it’s kind of hard to narrow down. But that said, our first big free program in Central Park is the following Tuesday, June 12th, and that’s a special program with the New York Pops and Ozomatli. For the last four years we’ve worked with the Pops and helped them commission some new charts, put them in touch with some singers and songwriters, so this year we have Ozomatli. We’ve hosted Ozo three or four times before.
“They’re great. They are an LA-based, kind of alternative Latin band with a lot of hip-hop influences, super dynamic. So to put them in front of an orchestra should be really great.
“Then some more straight-up stuff later in the summer. One concert I’m really looking forward to is Alabama Shakes on the 24th of June. Love those guys, so we were happy to bring them into the fold.”
Other shows that stood out to me on the lineup are Gary Clark Jr. with GIVERS, Dawes with Kurt Vile and the Violators, and Das Racist, Action Bronson, and Trouble Andrew all performing on the same bill. Those will all be very unique live shows. There's also a lot to look forward to in terms of dance and theatre productions.
“We’re doing a Limón Dance Company program with special musical guest Paquito D’Rivera. This is actually something where we commissioned a work, so Paquito wrote a new track and Limón is choreographing a piece around that as we speak. We’re going to be presenting that on Saturday, June 30th in Central Park.”
Another production that looks interesting is “A King of Infinite Space,” which will combine the plays of Shakespeare with the music of Pearl Jam. That sounds like an incredible combination that could make for a highly entertaining show. A lot of laughs will be brought to the parks this summer as well.
“We’re doing comedy on the evening of June 20th. This will be our fourth year working with Comedy Central, so we’re doing a program with “The Daily Show’s” correspondents. Wyatt Cenac and John Oliver and Kristen Schaal, and that’s going to be awesome. That’s always a packed night in the park.”
Based on the fantastic acts lined up, there will be several packed nights in New York City's parks all summer long thanks to the City Parks Foundation and SummerStage. To learn more about the SummerStage lineup, visit their website here and follow them on Twitter @SummerStage for more updates.