Summer tunes keep us cool

The warmth and longer evenings of summertime bring the sound of music on breezes across the Mother Lode. Residents and tourists relax on lawn chairs with coolers, laughter and smiles before and after the many concerts staged at area parks that dot the landscape.

Summer concert series have become a staple in the Mother Lode, and from First Fridays in Murphys Community Park to Concerts in the Pines in Twain Harte, these summertime shows allow us to visit different parts of Amador, Calaveras and Tuolumne counties to dance under the evening sky.

Amador County residents and visitors are entertained by the TGIF Summer Music Series presented by AmadorArts. The 2019 season is the nonprofit’s 21st summer of fun, with shows planned for Jackson, Pioneer, Ione and Sutter Creek, to name just four. Fridays sound better during the summer as local and Northern California bands perform all over the county as listeners picnic while enjoying good times.

Calaveras County

By Sarah Lunsford

Arguably, the longest-running summer series in the Gold Country is Music in the Parks, presented by the Calaveras County Arts Council, which has presented concerts for 26 years.

Let the music play

Jill and the Giants at Copperopolis Town Square.

“The great thing about this concert series is that you don’t have to go out of Calaveras to hear great music,” said Kathy Mazzaferro, executive director of the arts council.

Traditionally, the series offered music on Wednesdays through much of the summer, but this year, Mazzaferro and company are mixing things up; you’ll be able to see bands on some Fridays.

“The board wanted to do something new for our fans,” said Mazzaferro of the change. “They said let’s not have all the concerts on Wednesday; let’s try Fridays.”

The first two and final pair of concerts will be held on Friday evenings, while the six in the middle of the slate are staged on Wednesdays.

The first concert is at someplace new for the series.

“We’re going to be out at the New Hogan overlook,” Mazzaferro said.

Much about the annual series remains the same, with concerts beginning at 6:30 p.m. and ending at about 8 p.m. Every week there’s another band at another location in the county. The music varies, too, giving listeners the chance to experience a selection of musical styles.

“We’re really trying to offer a variety,” Mazzaferro said. “We have reggae, country, rock, golden oldies and more.”

Let the music play

Murphys Community Park

When searching for musicians to perform, the arts council makes sure the acts are family friendly; ideas for new bands come from all sorts of people. The bands come from the Mother Lode, neighboring counties and the Central Valley.

The arts council also partners with nonprofits for their mutual benefit, like the Mountain Ranch Youth Alliance in Mountain Ranch, where the group will serve its Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner fundraiser the same day as the Music in the Parks concert (July 17).

“We all go to the same set of sponsors,” Mazzaferro said. “We all depend on the same community; it behooves us to find ways to work together.”

Because the series has continued for so long, it has become part of the summertime tourist draw to the area; people come for vacations, then come out and hear free music while they visit.

“We really do try to reach out and touch everyone we can so it’s a countywide celebration of music,” Mazzaferro said.

“We don’t lose money on it and, we don’t make any money on it either,” Mazzaferro said of the free series. “Everything goes back into the concerts, and we get no government funding for it.”

A fun way that attendees can donate to the series is to place donations into the hats or buckets that are passed among the audiences at the shows.

As the arts council shifts shows across Calaveras, some communities offer their own concerts. With its gazebo, plenty of seating, a playground for the kids and even Angels Creek gurgling past it, Murphys Community Park is home to a quartet of free concerts. Murphys First Fridays in the Park are presented by the Murphys Community Club.

“We’re hoping for a good season,” said Sue Friedman, who wears many hats in the local music scene. She spearheads the First Fridays shows and the emerging Forest Meadows on the Green series at the Forest Meadows Golf Course east of Murphys.

The Murphys Community Club has hosted First Fridays in the Park since 2007, bringing musicians to perform in the gazebo for a park filled with concertgoers. Restaurants and wineries provide dinner and wines for nominal charges for those who may not have packed a picnic dinner.

Let the music play

Plan B at Murphys Community Park.

One thing that attendees need to remember is that according to government regulations, food and nonalcoholic beverages can be brought to the park, but not alcoholic drinks.

“There’s no outside alcoholic beverages allowed,” said Friedman. “But there are wine, beer and other beverages available at the hut.”

For a second year music is heard on Friday nights at the Forest Meadows Golf Course. A peaceful spot nestled among the pines, the venue is proving popular among music lovers.

Let the music play

Forest Meadows Golf Course

“It’s the second year for the concert series,” said Friedman. “It was started by the Friends of Forest Meadows. We had six concerts last year, and we’re having 11 concerts this year.”

The season started in May with Jill and the Giants, led by the popular Calaveras resident, and attracted more than 300 people.

“They’re getting more and more popular because it’s such a beautiful setting,” Friedman said.

Listeners can bring chairs and even dinners, or purchase a meal at the venue.

“It’s a free concert, but we world really like you to buy the barbecue for $15,” Friedman said.

Farther up the hill along Highway 4 – where it’s a little cooler in the summertime – Arnold has been the home of free summertime concerts for years, and the choices have expanded with time.

At the Cameo Plaza, picnics, lawn chairs, blankets and dancing are the order of the day in the grassy park area in front of the shops where a popular concert series featuring a little something for everyone is staged. The concerts vary from Fridays to Saturdays, and they start at 5:30 p.m.

Down in Angels Camp, Friday evenings at Utica Park are popular, and that’s not just because of the Angels Camp Farmers Market staged there. Along with fresh produce and products, revelers get to hear music, courtesy of the Angels Camp Business Association.

“People can come down, sit down on the grass, have dinner and listen to music,” said Sarah Wiebe, manager of the farmers market.

The market runs from May to September, where there can be more than 24 vendors selling vegetables, fruits, soaps, crafts, baked goods and olive oil.

Let the music play

The Blues Box Bayou Band performs at Utica Park.

“Every market is going to have a theme that’s going to go along with the music,” Wiebe said. “Not only is the market growing in popularity, so is the music, which is an integral part of the market’s experience.

“On average we have 400 to 500 people on a Friday evening,” Wiebe said. “We have had 600 to 700; that’s a busy night.”

“We are very fortunate that we have a great lineup of local musicians,” Wiebe offered. “This year, we tried to give preference to local musicians at the market.”

More free shows are presented at Shutter Tree Park in Mokelumne Hill by the Mokelumne Hill Community Historical Trust (see the schedule for dates).

Tuolumne County

By Patricia Harrelson

The Second Saturday Art Night Committee organized the Coffill Park Concert Series in Sonora in 2015. The lovely creek-side park – brick paved and wisteria bowered – opens to the public at 7 p.m., when the beer and wine bar also opens. The music begins at 8 p.m.

According to Laurie Lehmann, the organizing committee was approached by more bands than it could book this year, which is a testament to the appeal of the series for performers as well as audiences.

“We narrowed the list to some new bands as well as a few favorites from years past,” Lehmann said.

Two new bands this year are Live Again and California Creedence.

“Their song lists are extensive, and we are excited to hear them in a live performance,” Lehmann added.

“From years past, we’ll feature the Jank Tones. The power of just three musicians with lights, sound and maybe even some smoke …” Lehmann didn’t finish, allowing her awe for the group to float on the indescribable.

Risky Biscuits is on tap with its always fresh take on songs, and there will be a reprise by Chains Required, which retired in 2018, “because everyone had so much fun last year at their final performance that they are getting back together to do it again,” Lehmann enthused.

Let the music play

Coffill Park

Summer is hot in Sonora, but as the sun descends, the fun begins on Second Saturdays, topped off by the Coffill Park concerts, where you can dance to bands that simply won’t allow you to sit still. The concerts are free.

Many Tuolumne County residents enjoy the “hump day” concerts presented by the Tuolumne Park and Recreation District at Westside Park in Tuolumne. Every Wednesday, people visit the farmers market before they spread blankets on the grass to enjoy the music – a winning combination for family fun.

“It’s convenient and festive,” declared Tony Kreig, finance manager for the district.

The weekly farmers market starts at 4 p.m. along the periphery of the park. While the bands begin to tune up near the gazebo, shoppers roam the stalls and children play on nearby structures or on the wide expanse of grass. Many local bands play this series, and their fan bases are delighted to enjoy the performances in a family friendly scene.

I have to admit that I’m likely to head from Jamestown to Tuolumne when Swing Gitane or the Rusty Rockers are playing. Swing Gitane’s music is danceable and melodic and sure to pull on the heartstrings. This band has long been a one of my favorites.

I recently talked with Steve Johnson, lead singer for the Rusty Rockers (see the sidebar). He is an upbeat, positive guy who clearly loves performing oldies but goodies for local audiences. He has high regard for his fellow bandmates and was so much fun to talk with that I imagine he’s equally enjoyable when onstage. I look forward to the show on July 3.

Kathleen Nielsen, the event coordinator for TRPD, said, “I’m looking forward to the Lack Family performance on June 12. We’ve had a lot of people ask for them, so they must be good.”

“I love all the bands,” Kreig enthused. “They are all No. 1.”

Make a point of visiting this community gathering, basically in the town square in Tuolume. The market and shows have an old-timey American feel. What could be better than visiting with friends while the kids cartwheel on the grass and your favorite musical neighbors provide entertainment?

The Twain Harte Area Chamber of Commerce presents Concerts in the Pines, with the first show on June 15, continuing through Aug. 31. This series is not only the coolest event in terms of summer temperatures in Tuolumne County, it has a reputation as a super cool dancing scene. Every Saturday, a new band takes the stage, and each is eager to get everyone on the dance floor.

Let the music play

Twain Harte

Billed on several websites as Latin soul or R&B, Dr. Tequila (aka Richie Barron) & the Mission Mob create an infectious sound that calls forth dancers. A video on Dr. Tequila’s web page from a July 4 Concert in the Pines a few years ago serves as testament to the moves and grooves seen at Eproson Park during these shows. When Barron kicks off the song, there is one woman on the dance floor; as the tempo and volume tick upward, more and more dancers make their way forward until the space teams with a fun-loving, foot-stomping crowd.

For 17 years, Jana and Friends has performed at the Concerts in the Pines. There’s no resisting the jazz and dance tunes turned out by Jana Bamgarner, Rod Harris, Clinton Day, Bob Lehmann and Leroy Bumgarner. You can enjoy this lively group on July 13.

In addition to wearing dance-appropriate footwear, bring your low-back chairs and food and wine you’ve purchased at the local market or restaurants. Popcorn and pies are normally sold at the concerts.

The Concerts in the Pines have entertained locals and visitors alike for many summers. Make sure to schedule at least one of these shows as part of your summer fun.

Across the Gold Country, good times are a downbeat away.

“To me, it’s like a slice of Norman Rockwell,” said Mazzaferro. “For two hours, you get to sit and relax and be with friends and the community and listen to music that’s live and right in front of you.”

That’s not a bad way to spend a summer evening.

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