May 312013
 

 

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The Tar River Community Band

Picasa   The Tar River Community Band

By NATALIE SAYEWICH

Friday, May 31, 2013

Forty years ago, Stuart Aronson noticed a need for summertime entertainment in Greenville.

So the playwright and former ECU professor organized some bands, found a stage and Sunday in the Park was born in 1973. The concert series opens for the season on Sunday with the Tar River Community Band. Guests are invited to pack chairs or a blanket to sit on, pack a picnic and enjoy free live entertainment at the Town Common.

The event’s viability was questionable at its inception due to a small budget and skepticism from the community and the bands Aronson attempted to book.

“I didn’t know if it was going to work, he said. “People were poo-pooing it, saying it will never work. It was all done by the seat of our pants.”

But as he was setting up for that first concert, Aronson got a pleasant surprise.

“The orchestra conductor said, ‘Stuart, turn around,’ and I turned around and there was a thousand people out there,” Aronson said. “They loved it.”

This summer, as the event celebrates its 40th anniversary, Aronson will prepare to step away from his brainchild, leaving its legacy in the hands of the parks and recreation department’s Ronnie Harris.

For his final year, Aronson has lined up both old favorites and groups making their Sunday in the Park debut.

The Monitors are one of the former, having played the event every year. They will perform June 30.

“There were some other people I invited who didn’t come out — they didn’t take it seriously, they didn’t think it was going to happen — since they came out, I swore to them ‘As long as I’m doing Sunday in the Park, you guys will play.’ And they’ve been back every year.”

Most of the members of The Monitors are different from the band that performed that very first concert — only the group’s leader Bill Myers remains. Its sound, though, is still very similar and they carry on an important, even if not overtly historical, tradition.

“At the very end of the concert, they do The Electric Slide, and every walk of life, every ethnic group comes down and they do the electric slide side-by-side. Maybe in 2013 it’s no big deal — although it still brings tears to the eyes of Bill Myers, because he remembers when it started that there was segregation and that you never could dream of having a performance where you could have hundreds of African Americans out there just enjoying it and then coming down to do the electric slide with grandmas and grandpas and little children.”

Other crowd favorites that will make a return to the event this year include The Supergrit Cowboy Band (July 7), Panyelo (July 14), David Dyer and the Crooked Smile Band (July 21), Greenville Grass (July 28), The Donald Underwood Thompson Band (Aug. 11) and Molasses Creek (Aug. 18).

Newcomers to the concert series include the Pitt Community College Symphony Orchestra (June 16), The North Carolina Jazz and Blues Collaborative (June 23) and Spare Change (Aug. 4).

“Over the years, we’ve had all sorts of wonderful attractions,” Aronson said. “Every year I try to bring in two or three new groups, but I bring back, every year, mainstays who are so good that I could never replace them with anybody as good.”

Fittingly, Aronson’s swan song will be set to music. He penned a theme song for Sunday in the Park which he plans to debut this summer.

“I’m going to try and have it ready for the second of June,” said Aronson, who will sing the song himself. “I need to find an accompanist and somebody who will accompany me on keyboard and maybe do it at intermission, but definitely on Aug. 18 because that will be my bye-bye.”

Despite its shaky start, Sunday in the Park has become ingrained into the culture of this city, as much a part of summers here as noshing on a locally grown watermelon and enduring the oppressive heat and humidity.

“I had no idea (it would last 40 years),” Aronson said. “People, even after the first two or three years, said, ‘well, it isn’t going to last,’ but I’m very stubborn that way. I just was lucky early on to get the best entertainment I could get and I have stayed with that level of excellence and I’m hoping after I’m gone that they will continue the legacy that I will be leaving.”

Contact Natalie Sayewich at nsayewich@reflector.com or 252-329-9596.

via The Daily Reflector.

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