It is another Lawrence City Band night at South Park, where musicians gather for a series of 8 p.m. Wednesday performances for an attentive, relaxed audience. City Band night is nostalgia wrapped up in a little apple pie, a scene you might witness on an old-time movie set or in smaller towns of yesteryear.
The event draws an all-ages audience - the older listeners tend to congregate on lawn chairs for a little face time with the band leader. The children play tag, randomly circle the flower beds or frolic in the Roosevelt fountain.
The band leader asks the audience if they ever tire of sounds from "The Sound Of Music." From under the shade of the huge pin oaks and sycamores all the way to the front row, the audience mulls over this query. The band starts in: "Sixteen Going on Seventeen ..."
The band sets up at the South Park gazebo, which was originally built in 1906; it is actually called the William Kelly Bandstand. Constructed of red bricks with red corbels and trim and a covering that closely resembles a silver Hershey's Kiss, it came many years after the city had acquired the park in mid-19th century.
"Lawrence's first and oldest park was established in 1854 and used to graze cattle," says Crystal Miles, horticulture manager for Lawrence Parks and Recreation. "The park also is known for being the initial staging area that William Clarke Quantrill organized his troops for the 1863 Lawrence massacre."
The original layout of the park covered eight city blocks equaling 12 acres and was sectioned off into four separate parks - Lafayette Park, Hamilton Park, Washington Park and Franklin Park, named after patriots of the American Revolution. In 1910 the Roosevelt Fountain was dedicated, and President Roosevelt himself attended the ceremony along with around 6,000 citizens and visitors. He chugged into town by train and arrived at the Santa Fe train station. The fountain was then situated at Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
Now, of course, that fountain is situated in a place of revelry as the band ensues with their montage of songs wafts through the summer air. The fountain has been restored twice, in 1965 and in 1982, by the Lawrence Flower Club and Countryside Garden Club. One of Lawrence's most prolific rose gardens flanks the fountain; the garden originally created by Robert Rankin is at its glorious height of color and aroma.
"Roses that have been planted in recent years are Zepherine Drouhim (a climber on the fence in deep rose colors with fragrant blooms), Pink Fairy, Red and Pink Knockouts, Starry Night, Country Dancer and Carefree Beauty," Miles says.
While listeners take in the musical rhythms of the band, a different world is humming along across Massachusetts Street. South Park is quite smartly divided into two distinct areas with vastly different appeals. The east side is more of an area of reflection, with a comfy bench that overlooks French country-style rose gardens, a lovely long path of redbud trees and the "The Hedgehog House" sculpture made of sweet gum timber.
The west side of the park is for runners and swimmers. A Frisbee game can almost always be joined on the west side, and the playground equipment and wading pool are generally bustling with activity. Bordering the playground area is a flourishing butterfly garden that is not only a joy to behold but a learning tool as well. Curious kids watch the winged beauties flutter and flit from milkweed, asters, Buddleja, echinaceas, Gaillardia, Liatris, Monarda and more.
As the performance draws to a close, the band is rejoicing in one last tune, "Climb Every Mountain:" and the thunderclouds are rolling in. The crowd seems thankful that the weather cooperated, and now we might all go home to have a slice of apple pie and appreciate what gifts the city of Lawrence has to offer.