I met Sweet Husband while we were both playing in our high school band. He was a smart-aleck trombone player who loved jazz; I had fairy-tale dreams of playing my flute on street corners for a living. We were band nerds, through and through, which is probably why — even though neither of us has touched an instrument for over 10 years — the Lawrence City Band’s summer concerts are one of our favorite parts of the season.
For those of you who haven’t yet discovered them, the concerts take place in the gazebo at South Park at 8 p.m. Wednesday nights in June and July. This season’s finale will be July 16.
The start time can be a little late for younger children, but we’ve always been able to make it work one way or another. When the Kid was really small, we used to pack his pajamas and change him into them before the stroller ride home, just in case he fell asleep on the way. Now that he’s older, we use the hour between dinner and the concert’s start to have a family ice cream date at Sylas and Maddy’s.
Then, strolling down Massachusetts Street, we lick our cones — hopefully before they drip — and make the short trip to the park.
We spread our blanket out and plop down next to the garden on the back side of the band. While kids are free to run and clap and squeal even in the front-of-the-stage, audience-proper, we’ve found that there’s much more room to really play in the back.
After a quick spritz-down with bug spray, the Kid runs around the gardens, kicks his shoes off to wiggle his toes in the grass, and splashes in the fountain.
Even with the fountain turned off this year for safety, there’s still always enough water for just a little fun, and, more importantly, to wash off the ice cream stickiness.
The opening strains of “The Star-Spangled Banner” bring everyone to their feet. As the colors go up, the nostalgia is palpable. According to the Band’s historians, some form of these concerts have been played since at least 1854.
Imagine pioneers, only able to bring the possessions they could carry or cart, somehow finding room to include a beloved musical instrument. Or remember that night in August 1863 when the band proudly played a concert with new instruments; one last summer evening of peace just hours before Quantrill’s Raid.
It’s almost enough to make me get teary-eyed, until the band launches into a robust march and I’m forced to laugh as the Kid tries to clap along. And then a grand overture or a Gershwin medley or a show tune. Or maybe even some Sousa, if I’m extra lucky. The selection of tunes is meant to be crowd-pleasing, and it always seems to precisely hit that note.
Sometimes we have to leave before the last song — because, for reals, it gets to be bedtime— but, as we walk home in the twilight, the strains of a lovely chorus are almost always playing in my head.
— Meryl Carver-Allmond lives in Lawrence and writes about chickens, babies, knitting, gardening, food, photography, and whatever else tickles her fancy on any given day at mybitofearth.net.