Published June 08. 2013 4:00AM
Walking down Bank Street in New London, with its e'er shifting streetscape and storefronts, it's always a pleasure to pass the Hygienic Art Park. It is indeed a lovely space — not just for its landscaping but also for the pan-arts events that take place therein.
It also stands as a rare Whaling City symbol that, with vision and perseverance, well-conceptualized projects can come to fruition in this town.
In that spirit, each summer, regional citizens are rewarded by the Hygienic folks through music programs that include the Summer Nights in the District concerts and a new Sunday night series called Serious Fun in the Global Village.
The Art Park also hosts three music festivals: Traditions (June 22), the I AM FEST (Sept. 7) and the New London Americana Festival (Sept. 20 and 21).
Summer Nights in the District kicks it all off on June 16 with Boston retro-soul singer Jesse Dee — a talented young artist who channels with his original material the stellar era of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding.
"We've been eyeing Jesse for a while now," says Rich Martin, managing director of Hygienic Arts, Inc. "Dave Freeburg (bassist for New London indie rock band Fatal Film) was actually roommates with Jesse years ago and had been suggesting him for the summer series. Jesse mines the great ores of songwriting that Amy Winehouse was tapping, but without the tragic, self-destructive bent that overwhelmed her work. I think this is one of those shows people will be bragging about for years."
A smorgasbord of acts follow into September, including The Bernie Worrell Orchestra, The Fleshtones, The Step Kids, The Rivergods, Hurray for the Riff Raff and the What Up Funk Band (see full schedule at right).
"We really like to keep things eclectic; in fact, we feel it's a responsibility that arises out of the roots and origins of our namesake art show each January," Martin says. "That said, it's all about who is making music and touring in any given year. And we definitely rely on the good ears of our patrons and partners to suss out artists that would make for an exciting and engaging season."
The Fleshtones, arguably the biggest rock act on the Hygienic schedule, is another artist that's been on Martin's radar. The iconic garage/punk outfit has shared bills many times over the years with New London's Reducers, and the reputation for their live show is incendiary. They play July 13 and the opening act on that bill is The Split Squad, which features members of The Plimsouls, Blondie and The Parallex Project.
The Aug. 13 show featuring Worrell — a founding member of Parliament/Funkadelic — fits in nicely with an appearance July 12 by The Stepkids and on Aug. 24 date by the What Up Funk Band.
"There's definitely been a resurgence at the funk end of the musical spectrum," Martin says. "People want to get their dance on and feel good on a Saturday night, and we're happy to give them that opportunity throughout the summer."
From the Global Village concept, the July 21 Mikata is a Latin jazz show; Aug. 11's C.J. Chenier brings zydeco, and Asian Sound Revolution, on Aug. 18, is a duo presenting contemporary interpretations of works reflecting Asian culture.
In addition to the Traditions and New London Americana festivals, plenty of fine roots acts will come through, including New Orleans' Hurray for the Riff Raff (Aug. 3) and North Carolina's utterly unique Lipbone Redding (Aug. 31).
Throughout, the fruitful local and regional scene will be represented by several artists including Full Moon Jamboree, The Rivergods, Jake and Jim Carpenter, John Fries, The Proud Flesh, The Ivory Bills and Dogbite.
It's summer. Follow your ears.