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Preview: Artpark's summer season focusing on 'Great next thing'

by jmaloni
Sat, May 18th 2019 07:00 am

Artpark & Company's concert headliners represent ‘broad range of genres & eras’

By Joshua Maloni

Managing Editor

When the lights dim on the final Artpark Amphitheater show of the season, and the band is walking off stage, patrons take a moment to reflect; they savor the experience; and, about five minutes later, they ask, “Who’s coming next summer?”

Such comments, when coupled with the stacks of trophies presented to the award-winning venue, clearly demonstrate Artpark & Company has mastered the art of outdoor concerts. To a man, each musician returning to the Lewiston performing arts center and interviewed by NFP has lauded Artpark’s spectacular backdrop, praised the production team’s hospitality and, of course, applauded the enthusiastic crowds.

This winning formula has put Artpark & Company on the map around the world. (That’s not hyperbole: This writer has called acts in Brazil, England, France and Spain). The blueprint will continue this summer – which is good news for fans and for the bands booked to perform in the 12-week “Tuesdays in the Park” series and newer “Coors Light Concerts.”

But as crews set up lighting rigs and drumlines, and concertgoers fix their eyes on the likes of Sammy Hagar, Burton Cummings, Foreigner, Earth, Wind & Fire, and “Weird Al” Yankovic, Artpark & Company administration will be working on something else – something that will be like music to visitors’ ears when it comes to fruition.

A master plan is being developed to pave the path for the next generation of park patrons to utilize everything the space has to offer.

Though the concerts are world-class, administrators are bound and determined to prove, once and for all, that Artpark is more – far more – than just a place to hear rock ‘n’ roll.

Initially, the master plan will mostly be conceptual. Don’t expect to see any wild brushes of change or grand construction this summer. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be evidence of what could be, at least in terms or programming.

For starters, Executive Director Sonia Kozlova Clark and her team have scheduled three grandiose performances meant to partner the community with, yes, music, but also art, theater and dance.

DakhaBrakha

The Fairy House Festival on Sunday, June 9, will again feature, as Artpark describes it, “tiny fairy dwellings constructed by artists, community groups, schools, families and individuals.” As in years past, children will be entertained by roaming fairies in 3-D by Uta Bekaia; craft and potion-making; face-painting; “Dancing Bubbles”; a themed tea tent; and performances by Lewiston Dance.

New this year, Artpark & Company will look to appeal more to parents by presenting DakhaBrakha, a quartet from Kiev, Ukraine. A press release noted, “At the crossroads of Ukrainian folklore and theater, the group’s musical spectrum is intimate then riotous, plumbing the depths of contemporary roots and rhythms, designed to inspire cultural and artistic liberation.”

In addition, “Color Constellation,” a fabric installation by Virginia Melnyk, will feature brightly colored fabric stretching to form large star-like shapes. These interactive pieces allow guests to step inside and experience “color saturation.”

A Tribe Called Red (Photo provided by Artpark & Company)

On Saturday, June 22, Artpark & Company debuts The Strawberry Moon Festival. Organizers said this event, “celebrates the beginning of a new season and the unification of communities through music, dance and art.”

A “Coors Light Concerts” event, Strawberry Moon includes performances by Canada’s Sam Roberts Band, indigenous DJ collective A Tribe Called Red, singer-songwriter Alan Doyle (formerly of Great Big Sea), and Native American musician Thunderhead Joe & The Medicine Show.

With this event, Artpark & Company is collaborating with Kakekalanicks Indigenous Arts & Consultancy, Native American community leaders and elders Allan Jamieson Sr. of the Cayuga Nation and Neil Patterson Sr. of the Tuscarora Nation to create a Native American celebration. Organizers said, “The salute will include indigenous art, food, dance, storytelling, hands-on creative workshops, a smoke dance competition and experiences for all ages.

“Artpark first hosted indigenous powwows and performing arts programs some 40-plus years ago. Artpark & Company invites the Western New York and Southern Ontario communities to join together for a day of re-awakening and celebrating neighbors and the many people that share this land under the same sky.”

Another highlight of this day will be the inclusion of “Artpark Bridges” performers from Empower and People Inc.

A scene from "Big Bang"

Giant inflatable balloons will take to the sky above Artpark when French street theater group Plasticiens Volants returns to Lewiston with the U.S. premiere of “Pearl: Secrets of the Sea” on Aug. 22.

The company behind 2017’s “Big Bang” promises “a truly immersive performance. … This new show takes place above, next to, and in front of the audience, as the actors manipulate their puppets and inflatables through the crowd. Everyone is encouraged to interact and touch the inflatables.”

“Pearl: Secrets of the Sea” “follows a pearl that has escaped its shell. The audience is along for the ride as Artpark is transformed into an extraordinary underwater world. Encounters with jellyfish, seahorses and more surprise sea creatures unfold a lively and exhilarating adventure that is appropriate for all ages.”

Sarah McLachlan at Artpark.

On July 31, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra will perform to what will likely be a standing-room-only crowd when it serves as the band behind iconic Canadian singer Sarah McLachlan. The Oscar and Emmy awards performer, Lilith Fair founder and recent Juno awards show host performed on the Mainstage Theater in 2014, staging a spot-on show that was vocally brilliant and emotionally moving.

Artpark & Company Director of Marketing and Sales Dave Wedekindt said, “This is one of the more highly anticipated concerts of the season. Any concert by Sarah is special, but it will even be more special with her performing with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.”

“There’s something incredibly glorious about performing with a symphony,” McLachlan told NFP this week. “And it’s not just from an egotistical point of view. It is like you get to be in your own cinematic experience. It just feels like, ‘Oh, I’m in my own movie.’ This beautiful, huge wall of sound supporting the music that I’ve made. It’s just so much fun. It’s so beautiful, and powerful; I love it.”

The Sentinel asked Clark and Wedekindt to further define their expectations for 2019, and to provide audiences with more detail on how talent was selected. An edited Q&A follows.

Q: With the master plan forming in the background, and several high-concept events taking place at Artpark (Fairy House Festival, The Strawberry Moon Festival; Plasticiens Volants with “Pearl: Secrets of the Sea”), what do you expect the overall vibe to be? It seems like there might be more excitement about what Artpark is – and what it can be – than in recent seasons.

Sonia Kozlova Clark: We are very excited about the Fairy House Festival this year, where adults are encouraged to let their best fairy out, and allowed to bring their kids.

As you have noted, the DakhaBrakha is a unique music phenomenon one would not want to miss, so if the fairies are not your thing, please come at 4 p.m. and expect to get completely sucked in, swept off your feet and put back together in an uproarious ecstasy.

The Strawberry Moon has now grown to almost eight hours of music, games and festivities, in a most rewarding collaboration between Artpark, our local indigenous communities, participants of our new “Artpark Bridges” program. The night is headlined by acts like the Sam Roberts Band and A Tribe Called Red.

And, of course, our big event this year is Plasticiens Volants bringing their new inflatable spectacle “Pearl,” which will be something you will talk about for a long time after you see it, especially if you bring your whole family.

As you can tell, I am excited about every program we are bringing this season.

We hope that over time by consistently bringing great music, arts and theater, either well known or not, and focusing on creating events that are the attraction, rather than relying on the established act brands only – I am paraphrasing advice to me from a great promoter, Bill Bragin, here – we can bring a greater diversity of artists and build even a stronger trust from our audience in whatever great next thing we are offering, whether familiar or not.

I do hope everyone understands how much their presence matters in this process of growth and change necessary to ensure Artpark’s long-term future and success. The success is ultimately in your smiles, whenever you are with us – either one or 10,000 – it all matters.

Q: Presumably – as far as the public is concerned – this summer will be about idea sharing, and not necessarily any visible work toward the execution of the master plan?

Sonia Kozlova Clark: Correct, we begin with master planning as a design process well in advance of any construction. We want to make sure all the improvements are long-ranging and sustainable, and it is important to look at the full picture before digging in the shovel.

Our master plan will result in a document providing a strategy for long-term development for both the facilities and programming. The plan will include general design direction addressing the entire image and purpose of the park as a whole: our stages, our trails, our grounds and overall land. We will be asking the questions: “Do we like the stage at this location or should we put it elsewhere altogether? Do we need to accommodate 10,000 people here or just 4,000? Do we want to generate new art, and support artists’ residencies, rather than present only? Should we focus on theatrical and visual arts programs first or strengthen our existing classic rock program? How do we address the natural cycles and local environment in our programming? And what future ecological and technological changes can play a role in artistic and cultural programming? How do we attract more tourists coming to Niagara Falls and how do we connect better with the parks and communities in the surrounding area?”

This plan will take into account public and stakeholder input, of course focusing on public and creative experience, improved accommodations (such as sightlines, parking, acoustics, comfort of the trails, etc.), as well as the most optimal year-round programs and operations. Specific designs for each project down the road will be produced in phases and in parallel with cultural and organizational shifts that will be taking place over the next decade. In the process, we will be regularly re-checking and adjusting original assumptions as we launch new initiatives and improvements.

Earth, Wind & Fire (Photo provided by Artpark & Company)

Q: With an increasingly competitive field of booking, and perhaps less “famous” acts available this year, are you happy with the lineup of bands headed to Lewiston?

Sonia Kozlova Clark: Yes, I am happy with the variety and quality of all the acts we were able to bring this year. I think Sammy Hagar and Earth, Wind & Fire, and Burton Cummings are great, and so is Thievery Corporation, and Flaming Lips, and so is the Javanese Wayang Kulit shadow puppet concert with Buffalo Gamelan Club on July 14 or DakhaBrakha from Ukraine on June 9 on our Emerald Grove stage, or A Tribe Called Red on June 22.

This means we are reaching a wider audience and more people have a place and a voice here. Artpark has been very successful with classic rock and popular bands, but our strength in the future will rely on the diversity of our programs and the audiences. This summer, I would encourage anyone to explore at least one new act you never heard of before, or an activity you have never tried here. And I want to hear what you think, either in person or via social media. It is important for us to hear the good and the bad, especially the good, and especially with our small and new events.

Q: What do you like about the concert lineup? What makes it unique?

Dave Wedekindt: Looking at the season overall, I like that the concerts represent a pretty broad range of genres and eras. When you look at the collective lineups for “Tuesdays in the Park,” “Coors Light Concerts,” the three festivals, and “Music in the Woods,” we will offer: rock (classic, modern, progressive, jam, psychedelic), pop, Americana, disco, soul, funk, ‘80s, ‘90s, musical comedy, dub, trance, DJ/electronic, international, jazz, classical, and more. You would be hard-pressed to find another regional venue with such musical diversity.

In order to continue to grow our organization and its reach, we need to attract a wide variety of patrons. We understand that not every concert will appeal to everyone, and that’s OK. However, some of the greatest joys often come from discovering something new. Take a chance on a band or genre you haven’t heard before – you may just leave the concert as a new fan. Just because you haven’t heard of a band before doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t good or deserving of a spot on our stages. Remember, even the most well-known classic rock bands were not famous at some point in their careers!

Q: Though the announced acts aren’t necessarily as “famous” as the ones booked in 2018, it seems like their level of talent and musicianship might be higher than last year’s crop. Is that the case?

Dave Wedekindt: In my opinion, if you are a performer who has managed to have a career in music for 20, 30, 40 years or even more, you are doing something right. Careers certainly ebb and flow, as do the public’s musical tastes. But the common thread among these acts is that they have managed to write and perform music that still resonates with people today, even if their last official “hit” may have been decades ago.

A good song always holds up and crosses generations.

To see Artpark’s full schedule, purchase tickets or learn more about the mission, visit www.artpark.net.

•••••

Sonia Kozlova Clark on Master Plan Team Selection

“We feel very strongly about this team assembled for us by our Buffalo-based architectural design consultants Gekh Studio: Omar Khan and Jordan Geiger, who led our board of directors in an RFP process. The RFP was sent to nine major international architectural firms with backgrounds in parks design, performance and public spaces, as well as urban development. We also sought alignment in their work with Artpark’s vision of becoming a national destination for “Art Nature Culture.” In our selection we took into consideration the teams’ ideas about the relations between ecological processes, artistic production and cultural practices, their approach to phased development and financial sustainability, landscape and connections with surrounding communities and parks, as well as the types of audiences that Artpark has or could attract.

“The response to our RFP call was extraordinary, with firms from New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Paris, Turin, and Amsterdam submitting proposals. And I am personally thrilled with our final choice.

“SO – IL is an internationally recognized architecture and design firm based in Brooklyn, New York. Their strength is in encouraging the most positive human experience by developing spaces for creativity in all their projects. In their work they focus on reconnecting communities to their environments, and their forward-looking practice works well within pre-existing ecosystems to ensure that places will remain adaptable to a dynamic future.

“West 8 are well-known throughout the world for their extensive experience in large-scale urban master planning and design, landscape interventions, waterfront projects, parks, squares and gardens, most recently including Governor’s Island in New York City, which is a great model for us to consider.

“Charcoalblue is widely regarded as one of the most exciting and innovative theater and acoustic consultancies in the world. Their notable projects include The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Hudson Theater in NYC, St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, New York, the Dorfman at the National Theater in London, among many others around the world. With their background in both theater and technology, they are able to bring together artistic techniques and technological developments to produce new experiences for audiences and new possibilities for artists and creators, bridging from the theater environment to the public realm and back.”

Artpark will host a public forum to discuss the master plan at 6 p.m. Wednesday, June 5, inside the Mainstage Theater, 450 S. Fourth St., Lewiston. This free event will introduce early ideas and ask for feedback from residents and stakeholders. Those planning to attend should RSVP to [email protected].

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