Suzie’s ARTiculation

Music in the Park – the community’s favorite summer concert series says sayonara for the season Sunday

Story by SUZIE HARRISON

Photos by Scott Brashier

Last dance, last chance to enjoy Laguna’s best kept secret, the favorite Sunday summer ritual know as Music in the Park will end another sensational season this Sunday with SantanaWays, a Santana tribute band, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Bluebird Park.

For many locals, the popular community concert series is a highlight of the summer, a shared tradition for friends and family since 1983, established as a passion project by the late Doris Shields when she served on the City’s Arts Commission.

That first year, Shields had a month to put the inaugural concert together. To facilitate, she called on Leigh Unger, a harpsichordist and music professor at Fullerton College at the time. He was able to gather some of his students and fellow musicians to perform in the first concert.

A lot has changed from those days. Now, the community can thank the Arts commissioners, the Cultural Arts Department, and namely Siân Poeschl, the City Cultural Arts Manager, for making the popular series what it is today. 

“I feel incredibly fortunate to work and live in a community that appreciates the importance of music to our lives. But Music in the Park goes far beyond that, it’s an opportunity to see friends and neighbors, share food, stories, to dance and hang out as a community,” Poeschl said. “That’s very rare and should not be understated as to its importance.” 

music in the one

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Families and friends love to gather at Music in the Park, a local favorite summer tradition since 1983

In 1994, Music in the Park Inc. formed and entered into a public private partnership with the City in 1995 through 2005. The Arts Commission has funded the concerts through the Business Improvement District since 2005.

The concert series started with three concerts at Nita Carman Park. Only four bands played and 30 people came that first summer. Traffic noise was an issue, so the next year, Bluebird Park became its fitting home. 

After the new digs were found, a berm was built for performers. Poeschl kindly gave me a bit of music history, Music in the Park history:

--From 1984 – 1987 the number of concerts increased to four and were held from late June through September.

--In 1986, a sound system was introduced for amplified sound.

--Two years later concerts increased to five with an estimated 800 – 1,000 attendance.

--From 1989 – 1990 the concerts increased to six.

--The following three years the concerts were increased to seven and ran from late July through September.

--The following decade, from 1994 – 2004, eight concerts were held each summer.

--But in 2005, the number of concerts was reduced to seven.

“The concerts are a community orientated event, in a community park setting,” Poeschl said. “Since 2000 a professional audio company has been hired to do the sound. Decibel levels are recorded every 15 minutes throughout the concert.”

Both funded by the City, the beloved sculpture “Laguna Tortoise” was installed by Michele Taylor in 2003 and “Bluebird Park Gate” was installed by Jon Seeman. 

music in the tortoise

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Michele Taylor’s ‘Laguna Tortoise’ is a favorite public art piece adored by people of all ages at Bluebird Park

To find the best entertainment, the Arts Commission reviews hundreds of bands starting in January. Although some concerts are more popular than others, attendance has remained the same over the last five years around 800 to 1,000.

“We are very appreciative to the Bluebird Park neighbors and because of this we encourage audience members to be respectful of where they park,” Poeschl said.

The rules: No dogs are ever allowed at Bluebird Park; there is no smoking in any Laguna Beach park; no set up before 3 p.m.; no open alcohol is allowed outside the park; alcohol is allowed with a meal; no umbrellas are allowed up; and bring only low beach chairs, so that everyone can enjoy the concert. 

“Facilitating Music in the Park requires the collaboration of the Public Works, Police and Cultural Arts Departments,” Poeschl said. “Although the concerts look effortless, it takes months of planning and organization.”

Poeschl has been working with Rick Weirs from Public Works since she started running the series 20 years ago. Last year, Mike McGregor, Arts Program Coordinator, was added to the team.

music in the dancing

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Dancing, laughing, fun and merriment abound at Music in the Park

“Every concert is attended by a member of the Arts Commission, you will see them at the gate handing out the schedule, or hear them introduce the band,” Poeschl said.

Longtime Arts Commissioner Pat Kollenda lauds the series and what it brings to our community.

“MIP is a gift to our wonderful town. I’ve been involved for 25 years and been amazed at how it has grown and how much it is cherished by our ‘Lagunatics,’” Kollenda said. “I am also very proud of the collaboration between City Departments and the support of our City Council! and, of course, much gratitude to Sian Poeschl.” 

The concerts follow the rules of the City’s noise ordinance. To address the concerns of neighbors, the City guaranteed the concerts would be concluded by 7 p.m. with no exception. Although, at every concert, Poeschl or staff get guff from people wanting the bands to play longer. But that’s not an option if locals want the series to continue as they are.

“It is important to retain the community feel of the event, to have generations of family and friends spend two hours together enjoying a variety of live music,” Poeschl said.

music in the musician

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Catch the final Music in the Park Concert on Sunday to savor the sounds

The City funds and presents 16 free concerts – two World Music, seven Music in the Park, and seven Sunset Serenades, which kicks off for the fall with jazz vocalist Valerie Geason at Heisler Park Amphitheater on Friday, Sept 7 at 5:30 p.m.

Until next time…so many City concerts to enjoy, so little time!