Springfield Summer Arts Festival tunes up for season debut

Diverse lineup prepared to perform over a condensed schedule for event’s 55th season.

When the K-Tel All-Stars step onto the Veterans Park Amphitheater stage on Thursday evening, it won’t be just for a concert and it won’t just mark the return of the Summer Arts Festival for the first time in two years.

For the Springfield Arts Council (SAC), which presents the admission-free festival, it will be like reuniting the community in a setting and format that generations and families have looked forward to and even planned their summers around since 1967.

Though this 55th festival will be condensed into four weeks and maybe missing some of the acts audiences look forward to, SAC executive director Tim Rowe hopes when people set up their chairs and blankets, the music comes up and the sun sets, it won’t miss a beat in being in tune with the experience the audience expects.

“These are all very talented, entertaining acts, a diverse lineup,” he said. “You may not see familiar favorites, but some states have delayed their festivals and others have slightly different looks. We had three or four months to get the festival together. Normally, we start in September or October to book the acts.”

The lineup has tribute acts to popular performers and eras; various genres will be covered including jazz, soul, bluegrass and a cappella; local performers will return home; acrobats, Shakespeare and a local youth-performed musical will round things out. Recent weeks also saw a performer change: A ventriloquist act that was to perform on July 23 has been replaced by Heart of Rock & Roll – Tribute to Huey Lewis and the News.

Along with the challenge of finding acts out performing in a short timeframe, the SAC also had to deal with how to keep audiences safe and socially-distanced. Since the festival’s return was announced, most of the restrictions have been lifted or modified and it should feel similar to 2019, but Rowe asks for everyone’s cooperation to make it work.

“We know the public looks forward to and supports the festival and the Arts Council is confident that those attending will be respectful and kind of their fellow attendees who may want to socially-distance or wear a mask.”

One change is regarding pit seating. Limited pit seats in front of the stage will only be available the night of a show at 7 p.m. at the festival welcome center; there will be no early or online sales for these. The pit seats cost $20 each and are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Attendees can still set up their lawn chairs or blankets in Veterans Park starting at 6 a.m. the day of a show. All shows begin at 8 p.m., and there will be special events including a Parrothead Party in the Park at 5 p.m. on July 3, the Sip of Summer beer and wine tasting event at 5 p.m. July 16-17 and Chick’n & Brews at 5:30 p.m. July 24.

Although the festival is admission-free, SAC collects donations with its pass the hat offerings at each show’s intermission. The 2021 donations goal is $50,000, modified from the normal goal of $65,000, but any amount helps keep the festival admission-free.

While the Arts Council has faced numerous challenges over the past year and continues to, including two of its four full-time staff members on maternity leave for the festival, Rowe has a good feeling about 2021. Although the whole period of quarantines, lockdowns and such took a lot of patience to endure, he sees a silver lining.

“In the 1960s, we came together to start the Summer Arts Festival and just as we went through COVID together it almost brings us back full circle. Welcome back,” he said.

For the festival lineup and dates or other information, go to the Arts Council’s web page or social media pages.

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