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CityBlock Concert Series Will Rock Springfield’s Downtown

The Sounds of Summer

Stearns Square

Each summer concert in Stearns Square may attract between 1,000 and 5,000 attendees, depending on the artist.

Chris Russell says the performers at this year’s CityBlock Concert Series will appeal to a wide variety of musical tastes.

“The outdoor concerts have been a popular event for many years, and we worked hard last year to diversify the offerings,” said the executive director of the Springfield Business Improvement District, or BID, which stages the series. “But we think we’ve done an even better job this year.”

The summer lineup includes a range of genres and showcases well-known groups whose music ranges from pop, rock, and folk to country, Motown, and blues.

“We offer regional and national acts that most people have to pay to see,” Russell told BusinessWest, noting that performances are held on Thursday nights in Stearns Square in the heart of downtown.

They begin at approximately 7:30 p.m., and Russell said area restaurants definitely benefit from the events: they are filled before and after the concerts, which is particularly beneficial because the summer is a time when business usually slows down.

“The restaurants get very busy on the nights of the performances. The concerts are one of the driving economic forces for their weeknight summer business, and they are very important to them. They report a big uptick during the events,” he noted, adding that the concerts attract about 20,000 people each season, with attendance varying from 1,000 to 5,000 each night, depending on the weather and what group is playing.

Word has spread about the free attractions, and the BID begins receiving requests as early as December from groups that want to be part of the concert series in Springfield.

“We try to get national touring acts, so putting schedules together can be challenging,” Russell noted, adding that, although the BID stages the events — which includes hiring the acts, taking care of all operations, and producing the series — the sponsors provide critical funding.

This year, MassMutual Financial Group is CityBlock’s presenting sponsor, followed by other businesses that include Williams Distributing, Sheraton Springfield, the Eastern States Exposition, and United Personnel.

Diverse Talents

Although all of the concerts feature well-known groups, a few are expected to be especially popular. They include the Machine Performs Pink Floyd, which will appear July 21.

“We’re expecting a very large turnout that night,” Russell said.

The Machine is the most popular Pink Floyd show in the nation and has been playing for 25 years. They employ elaborate stage displays and dramatic lighting and have appeared in theaters, large clubs, and casinos across North and Central America, Europe, and Asia, along with playing at many renowned music festivals.

The American country-music group Natalie Stovall and the Drive, which will appear July 28, is also expected to attract a large crowd.

Stovall began playing the fiddle professionally at age 10 and made her Grand Old Opry debut at age 12. She puts on about 200 shows every year and has performed at the White House as well as on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and supported non-country acts like Switchfoot, the Doobie Brothers, Styx, and Safetysuit.

The Springfield BID staged the first CityBlock Concert Series 15 years ago, and the annual events have continued since that time, boosting business downtown and bringing people to the city who might not otherwise visit on a weeknight.

BID ambassadors are stationed on a number of streets, and the architectural details of many historic buildings are highlighted, thanks to special lighting installed by the BID, which runs from the MassMutual Center along Main Street to Lyman Street.

Extra police details patrol the area during the concerts, although Russell says Springfield is one of the safest cities of its size in the region.

And although many communities offer free summer music events, Springfield’s CityBlock series differs due to the local and nationally acclaimed acts, which are made possible by the support of local businesses.

“The concerts take place rain or shine and are a big undertaking,” Russell said, adding that vendors offer food and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages to concertgoers, although many choose to frequent downtown restaurants before and after the shows.

The first concert will take place June 30 and will feature FAT, a rock band from Springfield that toured as the opening act for the Allman Brothers after their first album was released, and has sold out the MassMutual Center Ballroom.

“They’re a local favorite and always draw a huge crowd,” Russell said.

Their performance will be held in Court Square instead of Stearns Square, but there will be no street closures, and parking will be available in the Civic Center and 91 South garages, as well as on the street.

In addition to FAT, the Machine Performs Pink Floyd, and Natalie Stovall and the Drive, other concerts include:

• Ricky Nelson Remembered on July 7;
• Forever Motown on July 14;
• Terry Sylvester on Aug. 4;
• Max Creek on Aug. 11;
• Blessid Union of Souls on Aug. 18; and
• The Shadowboxers on Aug. 25.

Russell said the American rock band Max Creek is expected to draw a large and diverse audience. The group has been playing for more than 40 years, and its music incorporates rock, country, reggae, soul, jazz, and calypso, as well as their own songs. Guitarist Scott Murawski, keyboardist Mark Mercier, and bassist John Rider have been with Max Creek since the mid-’70s, and are accompanied by the drums and percussion team of Bill Carbone and Jamemurrell Stanley.

A performance by the Shadowboxers, which will mark the end of the season and is being paid for by the Big E, is also expected to bring large numbers of people to Stearns Square. Their first full-length album, Red Room, produced by Brady Blade (Dave Matthews, Emmylou Harris) was featured in the New York Daily News “Top 10 Picks in Music,” and the band’s cover of Justin Timberlake’s “Pusher Love Girl” attracted nearly 200,000 YouTube views as well as recognition on Twitter from Timberlake and Pharrell Williams.

In addition to the main acts, the Eastern States Exposition is sponsoring a weekly opening-act performance. These acts will be finalists in the exposition’s Masters of Music Competition, and the overall winner will perform at the Big E and receive $1,000 and a trip to Nashville for two band members.

“The concerts provide a fun night in the city,” Russell said. “But we have to give a lot of credit and thanks to our sponsors, and we are very grateful for their support.”

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