Thursday nights have never been so musical.
It's the perfect summer night: a warm breeze, the sounds of live music and your family relaxing on a picnic blanket with no other obligations or concerns. A night to just enjoy the summer. Around you, hundreds of neighbors take in the same soothing sights and sounds. And the best part? It's totally free – and happening all season long.
The annual Oak Park Summer Concert Series Presented by UnitedHealthcare is back for another year, expanding to seven free concerts this time around compared to last year's four. "They are all free and open to the community and surrounding communities. It's not just for residents," says Laurie Stasiak, director of recreation for the City of Oak Park. "It's really a nice, free night for the family to come on out and just enjoy great music."
The city was able to add performances this year thanks to the support of UnitedHealthcare, the presenting sponsor for the concert series. "One of the things we heard last year was, 'Can't you do this all summer long?'" Stasiak says. "It's a great addition to have three additional concerts this year. We couldn't do that without the help of UnitedHealthcare." The series of Thursday night concerts kicks off on June 21 with the Student Music Showcase, which will highlight local high school musicians from marching bands, drum lines, jazz and concert bands. All concerts are held from 7-8:30 p.m. at David H. Shepherd Park, located on the corner of Church and Northfield in Oak Park.
On June 28, visitors will enjoy a performance by Alise King, who was recently named Best R&B Female Artist at the Detroit Black Music Awards and has also sang the National Anthem for the Detroit Tigers. "It's really a diverse selection," Stasiak says of the types of bands featured in the concert series, which typically draws between 800 to 2,500 people per event. "We try to bring in different types of bands for people to appreciate."
Keyboardist Marvin Thompson Jr. will be on stage July 5. Mainstreet Soul will perform on July 12, playing hits made famous by artists like Stevie Wonder, Etta James, Aretha Franklin and Bruno Mars – and the Southfield Jazz Orchestra will bring its big-band music to the stage on July 19. The Paddlebots, a seven-piece progressive soul-pop band from Mount Pleasant, will play on July 26. Kimmie Horne, a vocalist and performer known for her charisma while interacting with the audience, will be featured on Aug. 2. The singer, a descendant of Lena Horne, drew a big crowd last year.
"A lot of the performers come out in the crowd. It's great," she says. "They interact with the crowd, whether they're talking or singing to them. There's dancing going on. There's a lot of youngsters getting up and dancing, too." Like other community events, the Summer Concert Series is about more than just offering a night of live music and fun to area residents. It's a chance to strengthen the community by bringing people together.
"You see a lot of families and people that come out from the community and you see people meeting friends and family out there," Stasiak says. That's something local residents have always valued, says Oak Park city manager Erik Tungate.
"The residents of Oak Park enjoy gathering together and socializing. Our community is diverse, respectful and love a wonderful evening in the park that is easily spent with family, friends and neighbors," he says. "With UnitedHealthcare's support, we are able to expand our Summer Concert Series from four to seven concerts."
Guests are encouraged to bring a blanket or lawn chairs and to arrive early to enjoy a picnic or purchase items from the rotating food trucks. The park also features play structures and restrooms, and a Kids Zone will be provided by UnitedHealthcare. "People bring their barbecues and picnic games to play before the concert," Stasiak adds. "It just adds to the evening and makes it a memorable night."