On Aug. 26, the Portland Cello Project will headline the Summer Nights concert series in New London's Hygienic Art Park.
And why not?
A few years ago, as Hygienic manager Rich Martin started to think about filling the Art Park calendar for the annual summer concert season, he asked himself, "What musical style has historically been missing from these shows?"
His answer was "blues" - and he promptly rectified the omission by booking Sugar Ray Norcia in 2010 and Duke Robillard last year. Since the art park began hosting seasonal outdoor concerts - the series, as always, is a collaborative effort between Hygienic Art and the New London Music Festival - the array of artists and musical genres have reflected not just Martin's personal tastes or the indie rock and Americana acts that dominate the New London music scene. Artists ranging from free-jazz to Zydeco bands have performed, and national headliners such as Mose Allison, Robillard, Yarn, Terrance Simien & the Zydeco Express and Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles have shared the Art Park stage with local and regional artists.
This summer's season, which features a kickoff date Saturday with Latin-rock jam band the Cosmic Jibaros, blasts into full force over OpSail/Sailfest weekend. On that Friday, supergroup The Baseball Project - featuring members of REM, the Young Fresh Fellows and Dream Syndicate - headlines. On July 7, several of the area's most popular acts comprise a day-and-night-long bill, and on July 8 the Hygienic hosts the multi-artist Shoreline Acoustic Music Fest.
A heavy schedule of shows continues through August with an adventurous lineup. It includes Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo bringing his own band on July 31; Greg Piccolo and Heavy Juice with John Fries and the Heat on July 21; the annual Americana-happy TRADITIONS festival, featuring Kristin Hersh of Throwing Muses, on Aug. 11; a fine kid-centric night with Steve Songs and the Steve Elci Project on Aug. 23; and, yes, the Portland Cello Project.
"It was clear we were running short in the six- to nine-piece cello ensemble department, so we went out and took care of it," Martin laughs. "Actually, the Portland Cello Project just seemed ideal for the Art Park, given the unabashed intimate vibe of the space. It also plays into the idea of unabashed eclectic unpredictability. We really want to expose our audience to any and all modes of expression to help foster new art and creativity in our community."
Of course, any concert schedule should have a certain breadth of appeal but at the same time reflect the passions of the booking agent. It's how an arts organization helps form a unique identity. That Martin, a massive Sonic Youth fan, was able to book Ranaldo - whose poetry has been published by the Hygienic's Hozomeen imprint - is a nice touch.
"We're really excited to bring in Lee for this show," Martin says. "Obviously, he's entering a new phase of his career (Sonic Youth is on hiatus, following the romantic separation of founding members Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon). It's really exciting to host him as he begins exploring solo songwriter material with his excellent new band."
Martin says Ranaldo's new sound obviously contains elements of Sonic Youth but at the same time owes a great deal of inspirational debt to Wilco and REM.
"On first listen," Martin says, "I really felt the material would be a great fit, and we just worked at it until we made it a reality."
Confirmed headliners also include New York honky-tonkers the Jack Grace Band on July 14; blistering, proto-rocker Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montz on Aug. 4; and local heroes Jim Carpenter & the Hoolios on Aug. 18.
As always, a generous and expansive supply of area acts will pop up in support at these shows. This includes back-from-California shows from groove-jam faves Incognito Sofa Love as well as ex-Trans Siberian Orchestra vocalist Steve Broderick and his band Shamrock Eyes.
"There are so many incredible acts in our region of southern New England, and we do our best to tap into that, whether it's over a big weekend like Sailfest or just another beautiful night in New London," Martin says. "It's our hope that, throughout the summer, people will drop in for some cool shade and cool libations and enjoy all of the different acts that will be here."