BELFAST, Maine — Barefoot children, picnic fixings, beach chairs, young and old folks dancing together and great local musicians playing to a community that gathers every Thursday night in the summer is Belfast’s 15-year music tradition called Belfast Summer Nights.
Originator Ando Anderson described the philosophy of Belfast Summer Nights as “a way to open up a relationship between the Belfast community and the thriving musician population that we are blessed to have.”
When Anderson was a boy, he remembers going to a small town in Arkansas where “right there in the middle of the town there was a great bluegrass band performing, and it looked like the whole town was there listening, dancing and enjoying the music.”
This memory always stuck with Anderson. About 15 years ago he realized that Belfast’s young, growing professional music community could sustain a weekly outdoor performance series.
“I asked the musicians who were living here, like Bruce Boege, Linda Kelly, Lincoln Blake and many others, if they would be willing to perform for not too much money, on a non-gig night in the town. They all loved the idea,” he said.
Summer Nights is runs on a small budget with funds supplied by the city, downtown merchants, a letter-writing campaign and pass-the-hat donations. Cary Bradford, promoter of Summer Nights, said its success comes down to the local community and the musicians.
“Musicians like playing at Summer Nights because people are here to actually listen to them perform, as opposed to a bar where there is so many other things going on that the music kind of fades to the back,” he said.
This type of venue also opens up opportunities for young performers and bands to get their start.
“We have had a lot of high school bands play their first performance at Summer Nights, and that is the atmosphere that we try to foster,” Bradford said.
Many musicians who have got their start at Summer Nights have gone on to get record deals and prosper as full-time musicians. One of those is Chris Henderson who got his start in Ben Block’s Big Bad Blues Band. Henderson has since gone on to be signed to a record label for his band, Bronze Radio Return.
Lindsey Ray, who also got her start as a teenager in a local band, now is a successful songwriter and performer in Los Angeles.
“That’s the thing about Summer Nights. A lot of people in the community will come to every show — some performers they may like more than others — but they are there every week to show support and be a part of this great tradition of music and fun,” said Anderson.
Jon Cox of Morrill has been attending “pretty much from the beginning, and I try to make it a priority to come to every one throughout the summer. The atmosphere is hard to beat. It’s good people, good spirits and always at beautiful venues around town.”
Belfast is more than just a tourist destination; it is a community that is creative, supportive and outgoing and that is what really comes across at Summer Nights and what makes it such a success, said Anderson.
Summer Nights will be located on the corner of High and Main streets 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 7. The performer has yet to be announced. For the full schedule visit the Belfast Chamber of Commerce web page or look in the MidCoast Beacon calendar section.