Ten years ago my husband and I moved to a suburb on the west side of the city. After renting an apartment on the east side of town for a few years, then living in a townhouse for a few more, we were ready to take the plunge and own a single-family home – maintenance and all.
We chose to move to the opposite side of the city because my husband wanted to be closer to his friends, all of whom lived west. At the time we bought our home the housing market was ridiculously competitive: houses were being sold within hours of being listed, and usually for more than the owner’s asking price. After losing bidding contests on two different properties, my husband and I finally found a home that was within our desired price range, in good condition, and in a safe neighborhood. Happily, the sellers accepted our offer; 60 days later my sweetie and I loaded a moving van, said good-bye to our pleasant townhome, and headed west to our new (to us) house.
At the time, I had no idea that we were moving to one of the Best Cities in America. Yet just a few years later, CNN listed Plymouth, Minnesota as their top pick for the best place to live in the nation. While I was surprised that a major publication noticed our little city, I wasn’t overly surprised that the town secured a top spot on the “Best in America” list. Our city has a variety of great things going for it: proximity to Minneapolis, solid infrastructure, rational local government, responsive police and fire services, excellent medical facilities, good schools, a wonderful library, lots of trails and green spaces, ample community education offerings, a healthy balance between sports and the arts… the city places significant emphasis on many items that I believe are important, and I love that I get to live in a place whose philosophies and daily operations align with my values.
Yet I know that all things are subject to change, and the only way a city can remain healthy and positive is if its residents make consistent efforts to maintain it. While I deeply appreciate our government, schools, library, parks, community classes, and public arts, I know that if I don’t also take action to support each of these entities, I risk losing them.
So I do what I can to help keep my community strong. I vote in elections. I volunteer at the neighborhood school. I donate to the library. I support taxes for environmental care. I take community education classes. Yet one thing I haven’t done much of is show my support for the arts.
Which brings us to item number 20 on my 101 list. Every summer the city offers multiple outdoor concerts and events featuring local performers. I love that several times each week from June through August anyone can swing by a park and hear everything from jazz bands to bluegrass trios, and see anything from cloggers to jugglers – and do all of it for free. Instead of sitting indoors and staring at a television all night, a family of any size, from any socio-economic status, can get outside, enjoy an hour or two of fresh air, and see/hear/experience unique performances by their neighbors – at absolutely no cost. That is one of the hallmarks of a top US city. But these events will only occur if people actually go to them; performers need an audience, after all. And I have been guilty of choosing to stay home in front of a computer instead of getting out to support the many local artists that offer their skills for fun and for free – and I’m not proud of that. So it’s time to change. Enter item #20.
So this was how I found myself in front of an outdoor amphitheater on a summer evening in June. Earlier in the week the weather had been completely crummy: chilly, wet, and gray. Yet on this day the rain clouds cleared and the sun chose to shine – and the evening was completely gorgeous.
The concert was scheduled to begin at 7 pm, so I planned on taking a picnic dinner to the park and eating while the band warmed up. (Dining al fresco in beautiful weather is a real treat, particularly in a cold climate like Minnesota.) I arrived at the venue around 6:15 pm – and learned that I was the very first person on-site. (I even beat the band director.) For a split second I wondered if the concert was canceled for some reason; but then I saw fifty chairs arranged in a classic symphonic band semi-circle on the stage – so I trusted that the event was still a go, and picked a spot on the very open lawn to settle into.
I set a beach towel on a lush patch of grass about a hundred feet away from the stage, kicked off my shoes, and let my toes squeeze the earth while I munched on my dinner. As I felt the sun warming my back, I silently thanked the smart designer who advocated for the amphitheater to face west: the comfort of hundreds (i.e., the audience) should come before the comfort of tens (i.e., the performers).
Over the next twenty minutes, people slowly began to appear. First a tuba player, then a drummer. Next an older couple who set up folding chairs on the lawn, then a young couple with a toddler who situated a blanket next to a stroller. More music players and more audience members kept showing up; by 6:50 pm the full band completed their warm-up, and more than 50 observers relaxed amid the grass.
The city’s volunteer coordinator said a few words thanking sponsors for supporting Arts in the Park, thanking the band for being willing to share their talents, and thanking the audience for choosing to spend part of our evening at the event. As I half-listened to these obligatory introductions and thanks, my eyes casually panned the audience – and I saw that every person at the event was white (which, unfortunately, is pretty common in many of the local suburbs). However, apart from the obvious race issue, the audience was otherwise quite diverse: older people sat next to college age students, and younger parents with toddlers sat near older parents with teenagers; some people attended the event solo while other people came with a partner, and some groups were clearly all related to one another while other groups were comprised of acquaintances and friends; some individuals were quite poor, while others were very affluent…. it felt great to be amid people from a variety of stages and places in life, and I felt happy to contribute my presence to the crowd.
As the band played their first few numbers, their performance was in line with what I expected it to be: pretty average. The ensemble sounded like a volunteer, amateur group – which they are. Yet despite their shortcomings, I appreciate that these folks are willing to share their skills with the community – however “average” they may be.
The band played eight songs, took a ten-minute break, then played another eight pieces. The concert ended promptly at 8:30 pm; by then, the sun had set behind the trees and the entire audience area was in shadows. Then mosquitoes began to appear – so it was a good time to pack up and head home. Still, it felt really good to sit outside on a patch of grass, feel the sun on my back and the breeze on my face, passively receive music in my ears, and just RELAX. It felt really, really good. Aaahhh…
I’m so glad I finally got myself to go to a community concert – and I had such a lovely time, I will absolutely do it again. Indeed, I can see this becoming a regular part of my Thursday summertime routine…
P.S. For the musicians in my life (or for anyone who might be curious), below is the musical line-up that the band played:
- Triumphant Fanfare
- Thunderbirds March
- In The Mood
- Travelin’ Hat Rag
- The Witches Dance
- Night Train
- Don’t Get Around Much Anymore
- Symphonic Suite from Star Trek
- American Overture for Band
- William Tell Overture
- March of the Belgian Parachutists
- Hungarian Dance #5
- A Benny Goodman Medley
- An American Celebration (a medley of patriotic songs)
- ?? [I didn’t catch the name of the last number]
Nice concert! Those selections are really neat. When people talk about “America,” what is it, what’s it about, what’s democracy about — I think events like town meetings, local elections, and all kinds of concerts and gettogethers like this are a shorthand way of defining it.
“America” can be so many things – and times when people come together to share in community are some of my absolute favorite “American” moments.