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Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Two Concerts in the Park (More to Come)

The family and I have now attended the first two concerts in this summer's Concerts in the Park series in American Fork. They were both excellent. But if you see a guy wearing his baseball cap indoors at church or at city council sometime soon, please do me a favor: knock it off. And more to the point, confiscate his cell phone, in case he's the guy who was sitting behind me last night in the Amphitheater.


A week ago yesterday (Monday, June 1, if you're counting), my family and I attended the opening of this year's Concerts in the Park series in American Fork. The performers were the Utah Children's Choir and the Timpanogos Chorale. Each group performed some pieces separately, and they got together for excerpts from John Rutter's Mass of the Children, which they performed in its entirety in American Fork and Provo several weeks ago. The combined effort was joined, as before, by superb soloists Ryan Taylor and Venicia Wilson.

I mentioned the Provo performance here at the blog in April, noting that I particularly enjoyed a long Rutter work I hadn't heard before. This time I knew what to expect, and it was still sublime. This is despite both choirs being a bit short-handed, I think; in the face of a good breeze and the threat of rain; and with an electronic keyboard for accompaniment, instead of an organ, a piano, and/or a few strings and winds. Both groups shortened their separate parts of the program, which proved to be wise: the rain hit ten or fifteen minutes after concert ended early at 8:00 p.m.

The Amphitheater in American Fork is a beautiful venue for a concert -- even more so with a stormy sky, if you ask me (which you did, in a way, since you're reading). The weather is usually less challenging than it was that night, but even then it was good enough for a concert. I counted about 180 people in the audience, not including a few dozen performers. (The amphitheater's capacity is roughly 1000.) It was a pretty good-sized crowd for a Monday evening concert in the weather.


Last night's concert was Sam Payne, with warmup act Susan Morgan, and there was weather again. This time during the concert there was less wind but a little rain. It was not enough to daunt either the performers or the 130 or so people in the audience, many of whom brought umbrellas.

Morgan sang some solo country tunes with recorded backing, including standards from Hank Williams ("On the Bayou"), Trisha Yearwood ("The Song Remembers When"), and Anne Murray (I forgot which one, but it was nicely done). Unlike some warmup acts in past years, she inspired no complaints from me. She has a beautiful voice, which she used to good advantage, and she apparently understands that after 15 minutes or so, if the warmup act is still going, people (including the main act) start to ask themselves, "Wasn't this supposed to be a warmup act?"

For his part, Sam Payne bills his act as "jazz-inspired folk" with some storytelling. He is a fine musician, composer, showman, and storyteller. It was a thoroughly enjoyable performance. He and the rest of his three-piece ensemble -- he often appears with a larger retinue -- did a lot of original material and some absolutely superb Thelonius Monk. Among the originals were a piece about Mormon convert Archibald Gardner (an MFCC ancestor) escaping his Canadian persecutors; a somewhat autobiographical song about a boy's first church dance; and a ballad about Geneva Steel and steelworkers that prompted me to think of a lot of people I met in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a long time ago. A good sampling of his work is available at his web site.

Progress, Past and Future

The concert series has taken a step or two forward this year. There were some problems in the past with warmup acts going on far too long, including one I noted here a couple of years ago, but I'm hearing that this is something they've fixed this year. Looking at the schedule, I note that several groups which have appeared with warmup acts in the past may have found their own solution, in addition to the City's. ("We'll come, if there's no warmup act.") It's also possible that they're screening warmup acts for quality more effectively than before.

Apart from the weather, which probably kept some people home, but which (I believe) the City does not control, the candidate for improvement that is most noticeable to the audience so far this year may be the sound work. I noticed in the first concert that the microphones on the children's choir were poorly placed. Then, last night, the frequent instrumental solos (guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass) weren't highlighted effectively. That was relatively inconspicuous, perhaps, but when guest artist Brian Krzyznyk (I'm guessing at the spelling) came on to give Sam Payne a breather, suddenly the sound guy couldn't control the feedback. One or two additional souls went back to the sound booth and apparently helped to solve the problem, but not before an awkward delay.

Just a thought: If we want to continue to draw top local artists to these concerts, it's probably almost as important not to frustrate them with mediocre sound work as it is not to frustrate them with warmup acts that never end.

In short, the first two concerts of the season were quite enjoyable, but there is room for improvement in an least one technical area.

Third and Beyond

The concerts are every Monday evening through the summer at 7:00 p.m. at the American Fork Amphitheater (851 East 700 North). The music, the parking, and the view are all free. There is a supply of inflated seat cushions always on hand at some or all of the entrances, and the venue easily accommodates blankets and lawn chairs. (Mayor and Mrs. Thompson, who attend virtually every concert, typically sit in lawn chairs at the front.) Concessions are sold; last evening I enjoyed half of a large cookie. And there's a lot of park -- as in grass and trees, with at least one rather sociable rabbit -- to which to escape if a child gets too restless.

Next week's (June 15) warmup act is a fine soprano, Janilyn Anderson, whom I've heard several times before (one example and another) singing a classical repertoire, which she does superbly. I'm sure that her talent is broad enough to embrace other genres, however, so I'm not guaranteeing a classical repertoire next week -- just hoping for it.

Next week's main attraction is a fine local bluegrass band, Cold Creek. I am not a big bluegrass fan, but when it's done well, I enjoy it. Last time I heard Cold Creek . . . I enjoyed it, as did my whole family.

Headline acts later in the summer (to which I'm looking forward) include the American Fork High School Marching Band and the Wasatch Winds (June 29), the Paul Burnside Band (August 17), Venicia Wilson (August 24), and the Utah Premier Brass (September 14, the final concert of the series). There are ten other concerts I didn't mention, which may be more to your taste.

Here's the official scheduleMFCC's recent mention of the series, and this blog's Arts and Culture Archive, where you'll find several posts over the past few years about Concerts in the Park (among many other things).

Now I'm Rambling

Many of us in the audience last night were enjoying last night's concert while simultaneously trying to help our children practice reasonable concert manners in a comfortable and casual setting. It's a good place for that; small failures don't distract the audience very much, if at all. One man behind me (and somewhat beyond me in years) was not helping the effort. He let his cell phone ring loudly for four or five seconds during a song, then answered the call, then conversed with the caller at some length while sitting right there in his seat. I noticed that some others had good enough manners to conduct their telephone conversations a few steps away, outside the amphitheater and out of earshot. I figure that this guy with the bad manners probably wears his baseball cap indoors, too -- to church, to city council meetings, wherever -- without a second thought.

If nothing else worked to keep warmup acts within their allotted time, a city could put something into the contract saying, at 16 minutes we quietly call the police, and at 20 minutes they remove you, as the audience cheers. After all, what's the use of having a police force if you can't use it to enhance the arts in your city?

Speaking of the local police force, if I'd had emcee Ryan Taylor's cell phone number with me as I was leaving the park last night, I would have been sorely tempted to call him to have him announce to people who were still lingering after the concert that there was a speed trap at the bottom of the hill on 700 North. (I didn't get caught.) Ahem. What's the use of having a concert series if you can't use it to enhance City revenues?

Finally . . .

So go to the concerts Monday evening at 7 p.m. all summer. They're excellent. The price is right. Take the kids. Don't forget to silence your cell phone, and please obey all traffic regulations on the way home, hee, hee.

(If' you're wondering why I couldn't simply have said that 1400 words ago . . . Wow, are you at the wrong blog!)

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