If the bands have anything to say about it, the Music on the Steps series will be jumping this summer, and so will the audiences.
Now entering its 34th year, the Fredericksburg tradition, showcasing local bands on the downtown library’s steps, is set to go again on Mondays through Aug. 26.
Don Brown of Don Brown’s Soul Experience said he’ll take it personally if people don’t respond when he and his six-piece band play at Music on the Steps on July 29.
“It’s amazing, at the library every year, we could have 200 people out there in the audience and we’ll have them singing along to The Temptations and Stevie Wonder songs,” said Brown, a veteran of the concert series. “If they’re not singing, I feel like I didn’t do my job.”
Brown said he and his band, which plays a “bunch of old-school and R&B” has looked forward to playing at Music on the Steps for the last five or six years.
“People get there early and get their lawn chairs and coolers set up, and it’s just awesome,” Brown said. “It’s just a magical feeling. It’s a big concert vibe.”
Alisha Barnes, the adult services department head at the Fredericksburg branch of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library, said she’s seen “lot of dancing going on all around” during the concert series.
She’s seen people bring their picnics, and she’s seen people who have been drawn in as they walked by the library. Old and young come to the shows, she said.
“It is so popular that generations of families come and enjoy the music. People really love our Music on the Steps concert series,” Barnes said. “It is a free concert. You’re going to see Fredericksburg-area bands and all of the local talent that we’re lucky enough to have in this area.”
In an exception this year, Music on the Steps will kick off with a bonus concert tonight featuring Lafayette Station. Regular concerts will follow on Mondays, except for July 1.
Elton Schwemmer, the harmonica player for The Southern Explosion Band, said he attended Music on the Steps for several years before he decided to try and get his band in the lineup. They’re playing Aug. 12.
Last year was The Southern Explosion Band’s first appearance. It rained and the show had to be moved inside to the library’s theater, so the show still went on, Schwemmer said.
“I really hope the weather cooperates this year. I think people are more free-spirited when it’s outdoors. People can get up and dance,” Schwemmer said.
Barnes said the concert series goes on rain or shine, since the library’s theater can hold just short of 200 people.
If the weather is kind, Schwemmer said, he promises some audience participation with a cowbell or two to go along with the band’s mixture of classic rock, country, R&B and blues.
“If we see people dancing, we’ll hand out a couple of tambourines and shakers. People like it. It’s a win-win,” Schwemmer said.
“We’re going to mix it up with Merle Haggard, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Eagles. We do one or two traditional country songs. We always play the Rolling Stones’ songs. I would say when you come to hear us there’s something for everyone,” Schwemmer said.
Chris Fink, the drummer for The Dangerous Kitchen, said he hopes his band can bring a new appreciation for jazz to the Music on the Steps audience.
“First of all, we want them to have fun. Hopefully, we’d like to introduce new people to the world of jazz,” Fink said. “Everything we play was probably written in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. You don’t see much jazz around Fredericksburg, so that’s the extra special thing we’re bringing. They’re in for a treat.”
While the band has performed in and around Fredericksburg during Sounds of Summer, Bastille Day at Market Square, the Fredericksburg Multicultural Fair and Embrey Mill’s Music Box series, this year’s June 10 appearance at Music on the Steps will be a first for The Dangerous Kitchen, Fink said.
He’s seen a number of bands there over the years, and has enjoyed the concerts.
“I like the variety of different styles that the library brings to that event and I get to hang out with all of my musician friends,” he said.
Fink said he thinks his band, which will be performing standards by the likes of Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and Dave Brubeck, will like playing at Music on the Steps.
“We like playing outdoors generally on a nice sunny day with lots of people around. We like the informal nature of the event where people can come right in off the sidewalk and see us.”
Barnes said improving on the performances in the series that will include Americana, country, rock ’n’ roll, Dixieland music and more is darn near impossible.
“I think that it’s hard to make something that is already wonderful even more wonderful, but I believe the talent in our area is just phenomenal. It draws more people as people learn about it,” Barnes said.