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A classic soul triple bill kicks off the Summer Nights at Harkness series

By Rick Koster

Publication: The Day

Published July 18. 2013 4:00AM
Day file photo
Picnics are always on the program at the Harkness concerts.

The Sun God promises glorious skies tonight for the season debut of Bring Our Music Back's Summer Nights at Harkness 2013 Concert Series.

The Sun God also promises to go down at a reasonable hour, cooling things off a bit and providing the perfect meteorological situation for a fine bill featuring '50s soul music icons the Coasters, the Marvelettes, and Larry Marshak's Tribute to the Platters.

Opening the show will be doo-wop act the Dubs.

Too, the Summer Nights series always features solid support acts including a local Youth Performer - part of the organization's support for up-and-coming local artists. Tonight, original band Madison Red - known in its cover group guise as Silver Hammer - performs.

Tonight's show kicks off five straight weeks of concerts in Harkness State Park in Waterford, ranging from rock and pop to jazz and opera.

Following tonight's presentation are, in order, folk legend Judy Collins (July 25), rock giant Leon Russell (July 31), the elegant jazz legacy of The Duke Ellington Orchestra (Aug. 8) and an "Opera Under the Stars" finale with tenor Carl Tanner and the Connecticut Lyric Opera Orchestra (Aug. 15).

"We're trying to broaden our audience through a diverse lineup," says Gail Stevens, executive director of the nonprofit organization that, last year, secured a five-year contract with the State of Connecticut to hold the Bring Our Music Back events in Harkness. "We have music that appeals across generations but in different ways. Maybe you have grandparents remembering Duke Ellington from their own childhood; newer generations were introduced to it through the grandparents' records. It's different types of nostagia, but it means something across the board."

Of course, while the music is the backbone purpose of the Harkness evenings, Stevens is also aware that the experience is multi-faceted.

"It's not just the music," she says. "It's the food and the shore and seeing family and friends and spending the evening together. There is definitely a nostaglic element where people want to relive the past - but we're also in the business of building new memories."

To that end, picnicking is once again encouraged. Bring your own, or picnic dinners will be available on-site or pre-ordered from Coffee's Country Market in Old Lyme.

It should be a good opening crowd tonight; advance ticket response to the new Summer Nights season has been brisk, Stevens says. "We've had very solid pre-sales, and we're getting there, ticket by ticket. We're taking a grassroots approach. We tell each ticket buyer, 'If you attend one of these and you enjoy it, please tell five or 10 of your friends.' And it's working."

The stylistic variety presented by Summer Nights at Harkness, which has expanded a bit over each of their initial three seasons, seems to be a solid formula.

"We want to be back next year bigger and stronger than ever," Stevens says. "We're building a foundation here - and it's as much about the audience as it is about us. There's a lot of passion in this little office, and we're feeding off the excitement we feel from the public."

Summer Nights
at Harkness
, 5 p.m. tonight, Harkness State Park, 275 Great Neck Road, Waterford; with the Platters, the Coasters and the Marvelettes; lawn seats $25 in advance, $35 gate, $125 VIP; (860) 434-1882, bringourmusicback.org.

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