The Show Still Goes On

By Beacon Staff

It’s been two decades since Kalispell began its Picnic in the Park concert series, and there are no indications that the popular program is losing any steam.

In fact, according to Jennifer Young, Kalispell’s recreation superintendent for its Parks and Recreation department, the series is looking to regain the momentum it lost in the past three years.

Running from June 28 to Aug. 23, Picnic in the Park takes place in Kalispell’s Depot Park on Tuesday evenings from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Wednesday afternoons from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Attendees can bring their own meals or enjoy the offerings from multiple vendors while they listen to local acts as well as musicians from out of state.

John Floridis rocks the crowd with a bluesy number during a weekly Picnic in the Park last year in Kalispell.

Before the recession hit, Picnic in the Park was entertaining lunch and dinner goers with 21 concerts a summer, Young said. But once budget cuts within city departments forced the series to get a little leaner, that number dropped to 15 acts.

Still, as Young points out, that’s considerably higher than the six concerts she started with in 1991.

“It’s been a long time,” Young said last week. “I can’t believe it’s been 20 years.”

This year’s concert series will have some special offerings for the 20th anniversary, Young said, including singer and songwriter LeRoy Bell and His Only Friends, who has performed with B.B. King, Van Morrison, Etta James and Al Green among others; country singer Chuck Pyle; steel drummer and vocalist Raymond Charles and the Caribbean Authentics; and Spokane’s Air National Guard Band of the Northwest.

“I’m excited about that, just to kind of add a little more excitement to the summer concert series,” Young said.

There will also be 10 vendors this year, she said.

Expanding Picnic in the Park is something Young has been doing since two local musicians wandered into her office with an idea 20 years ago. They pointed to Missoula’s already successful Out to Lunch program – where lunch vendors and musicians gathered downtown – as a mentor to emulate.

Kalispell’s city council backed the idea 100 percent, Young said, because it would get people outside, downtown and having a good time. It’s a positive promotional tool for the city, as well as a community-building experience for residents, she added.

“It’s because it’s for families and it’s free; I think free has been very helpful,” Young said. “People in the summertime, they’re just looking for something to do. It’s a safe environment and it’s fun.”

Young also said Picnic in the Park is a great place to meet people, and once again, she would know from experience. Six years ago while at one of the concerts, Young was asked out on a date, which led to her wedding about four years later.

While Young is proud to acknowledge the program’s past successes, she noted that there are significant goals for the concert series in the future.

One of her main goals as the recreation superintendent is to pursue grants to potentially build a band shell in Depot Park. A sturdier structure could support bigger events, Young said, and would likely benefit any activity held in the park.

Katie Farley, center, with Discovery Developmental Center, dances hand-in-hand with Edward Hasson, left, and Rawley Johnson to the music of John Floridis during the weekly Picnic in the Park last year at Depot Park in Kalispell.

With that and the grant’s early August deadline in mind, Young said she hopes to partner with agencies that could benefit from a band shell to raise more money. A band shell could cost anywhere between $60,000 and $100,000.

“If we built a band shell in Depot Park there would be a huge possibility of expanding not just Picnic in the Park but other concerts,” Young said.

The idea has been on the backburner for three years due to the recession, but Young now believes it would be a positive opportunity to expand its music scene.

But even as it stands now, Young said Picnic in the Park is a good place for local musicians to get exposure and support from the community. The potential to expand only heightens the possibilities.

“It’s exciting,” Young said.

For more information on Picnic in the Park and other activities from the Kalispell Parks and Recreation Department, visit www.kalispell.com/parks or call 406- 758-7717.

Concerts for 2011:

Tuesdays:

July 5 – Smokehouse Blues Band

July 12 – John Floridis

July 19 – Raymond Charles and the Caribbean Authentics

July 26 – LeRoy Bell and His Only Friends

August 2 – Erik “Fingers” Ray

August 9 – Smart Alex

August 16 – Leftover Biscuits

August 23 – Cocinando

Wednesdays:

June 29 – John Dunnigan

July 6 – Chuck Pyle

July 13 – La Nota

July 20 – Luke Dowler

July 27 – Air National Guard Band of the Northwest

August 3 – Larry Myer

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