Another season of Lawrence City Band concerts begins Wednesday night in South Park.
Ditch the opera glasses. Toss off the tux. And leave behind any formality you might associate with high-brow music, says Robert Foster.
"Bring your lawn chairs and your kids," said Foster, who will conduct this year's eight-week Lawrence City Band concert series.
The series begins at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the William L. Kelly Bandstand in South Park.
"It's one of the few places where kids can hear classical music in an environment that's friendly to kids where they can move around in," said Foster, who is Kansas University's band director.
"The informalness of it is really good," he said. "You can visit with your neighbors and still enjoy the concert and not really bother anybody too much."
The concert series is sponsored by the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department, with some funding supplied by the Rice Foundation. The concerts will be at 8 p.m. each Wednesday through July 24. Rained-out concerts will not be rescheduled.
"With the weather as good as it is, I would be surprised if there weren't 800 or more for the first concert," Foster said. "It's really nice to have something where everybody is doing something positive."
He said the 60 to 65 band members who will crowd onto the bandstand are a cross between amateurs and those who make their living in the area in music.
Wednesday night's season opener will include the Overture from the opera, "Nabucco," by Verdi; and music by Richard Rodgers, Leroy Anderson and John Philip Sousa.
One of the highlights of the series will be the July 3 concert, featuring Col. Arnald D. Gabriel, retired conductor of United States Air Force Band. That concert will feature traditional and patriotic music. Foster said about 2,500 people generally attend the concert the week of Independence Day.
Another highlight will be the July 24 traditional season finale, featuring real cannon fire during the "1812 Overture" and fireworks.
Lawrence's summer band concerts can be traced to the city's early days -- even before the sacking of the town on Aug. 21, 1863, by Confederate guerrillas.
"The first concert by a town band in Lawrence was given the night before Quantrill's Raid," Foster said. "The next day was not a good day for the band. Because all but one of the members of the band were killed."
However, the band concerts survived as a tradition over the years, he said.
Barbara Kelly, who now coordinates the band concerts, said that over the years there were school bands that played during the summer. About 30 years ago, Kenneth Bloomquist, then KU's band director, revived the idea of a city band.
After Bloomquist left, Mrs. Kelly's husband, William Kelly, who was then registrar at KU, took up the baton and conducted the city band for 22 years. He is now the city band's director emeritus and still plays in the band.
"My husband used to say the purpose is for people to come out and sit on their blankets and let music go in one ear and out the other and enjoy the beauty of the whole thing," Mrs. Kelly said. "It isn't one of those things where you have to be quiet the whole time."