Lawrence City Band summer concert series canceled because of pandemic

photo by: John Young/Journal-World File Photo

A large crowd gathers around the South Park gazebo to listen to the final Lawrence City Band concert of the summer Wednesday, July 17, 2013.

The Lawrence City Band concerts that usually take place every summer in South Park have been canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The city band has played its weekly summer concert series since the early days of the city, and band leaders said it was a hard decision to cancel the concerts. Marion Roberts, chairman of the band’s board of directors and associate conductor, said the health of the band members and the audience was the primary concern.

“Our audience includes a lot retired people here in Lawrence,” Roberts said. “We were worried about them not even being able to come, but if they came, we were worried about putting them at risk and putting the general public at risk.”

The concerts are free and open to the public, and dozens of attendees typically surround the bandstand, sitting on folding chairs or blankets. The band typically begins a summer series at the end of May, playing every Wednesday through about mid-July. The concert series is a Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department program that is also supported by the Rice Foundation.

As far as the band itself, Roberts said it would not be possible for the 55-member band to follow social distancing recommendations, calling for people to maintain a six-foot distance, while playing from the bandstand in South Park. Roberts said the decision to cancel the concerts was especially hard given the band’s long history and knowing that many people look forward to the concerts every summer.

Roberts said the city band played its first concert on August 20, 1863, which was the night before Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence. Roberts, who has been with the band for more than 30 years, said he was not aware of a time in recent years when the concert series had been canceled. He said he knew of at least one interruption period that occurred in the World War II era.

“That’s what made me sad,” Roberts said. “We’ve been a part of the city and the summer celebration now for years and years and years.”

Apart from the concerns related to the virus itself, Roberts said the pandemic and related closings have also created logistical issues. Those include not having access to rehearsal space or an alternate concert venue for inclement weather, as both areas are on the University of Kansas campus.

Roberts said the hope is that the band will be able to provide recordings to fill its usual radio broadcast spot on KLWN, and potentially be able to play a concert later in the summer. He said that later plans would all depend on the course of the pandemic, and whether the band and the community feel it is safe.

“I hold out hope that maybe we can do something as the summer develops, but the big quandary for everyone is it’s still developing,” Roberts said.

City spokesman Porter Arneill said in an email to the Journal-World that at this point, the hope is that the city band might be able to play at Art in the Park and/or at the Fall Arts and Crafts Festival. The cancellation of the concert series is one of several summer traditions that have been affected by the pandemic. The city announced last week that the outdoor swimming pool won’t open, organizers have canceled the annual July 4 fireworks show, and large parts of the Douglas County Fair won’t take place this year, as the Journal-World has reported.


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