Marbin, the progressive jazz-rock band based in Chicago that performed in Manhattan City Park on Friday, doesn’t need vocals. The electric guitar and saxophone that fought for the audience’s attention that night was more gratifying than the cool breeze that wafted over the outdoor venue every so often.
Despite recurring hot temperatures, about 300 community members have been attending the free Arts in the Park Friday concerts this summer, which run June 1 through July 27. Attendance is reportedly up from previous years, thanks to a new punch card strategy by Manhattan Parks and Recreation that will reward concert frequenters at the final performance.
Arts in the Park has been a part of the city for more than 40 years, according to its director, Daniel Myers-Bowman. Atop the stage branded with the program’s name, a handpicked variety of acts are scheduled to provide — usually — musical entertainment to the community.
Zachary Bayless, recreation supervisor for Manhattan Parks and Recreation, said he is learning how to do Myers-Bowman’s job because he is about to take over as director. He said the job includes making that decision of who to invite to perform in addition to the complex sound and tech side of throwing a concert.
Bayless said Arts in the Park is one of the biggest programs for Parks and Recreation, so they look for acts that can wow the crowd. Last Friday, Marbin put that concept on display with Dani Rabin’s intense electric guitar shredding and Danny Markovitch’s matching jovial saxophone. Bayless said in a couple weeks there will be a magician performing.
“We definitely want to look for variety, not have the same thing come out every time,” Bayless said. “A little something for everybody. You don’t want to have all jazz every single week you know, ‘cause next week they got, I think, a tribute band to Johnny Cash and last week they had a little bit of jazz. … [Bands should be] family friendly, ‘cause this is for families as well.”
Melissa Kirkwood, community relations officer for Parks and Recreation, said adding punch cards was an idea of her “really smart” interns, and it has boosted turnout. Those who stamp their punch card while attending either three, six or all nine of the Arts in the Park concerts will be entered into drawings for progressively bigger prizes provided by local sponsors. Winning entries will be drawn at the last performance.
Not all the prizes have been compiled or announced, but so far they include T-shirts and various gift cards of high values to area retailers and restaurants.
“We have some donors still coming up with prizes for us,” Kirkwood said. ”So the end of this next week we’ll have all those packages put together, and we’ll post them out on our social media pages so people can see and also so we can thank our donors.”
Kirkwood said one of her primary roles at the concerts is to provide outreach and information to Manhattanites who have questions about other summer programs or the about one of the 29 parks in the city. Bayless said that in the coming weeks, Parks and Recreation will have booths at the concerts representing the other organizations it encompasses.
“It’s a larger umbrella than just parks and recreation; the Sunset Zoo is under our umbrella, the Flint Hills Discovery Center, the T. Russell Animal Shelter and the cemetery is part of Parks and Rec.,” Kirkwood said. “We’re here to answer questions and share with the community all the different things we can do for the community.”
There are still four acts left to see this summer, so even someone who has never been out still has a chance to earn a prize by attending at least three Friday night shows. And even if they don’t win a gift card, they can still have free fruit, which is provided at every concert, and they might even get to see some magic happen.