Summer concerts are back, reviving 34-year tradition

Published 6:23 pm Tuesday, June 29, 2021

The Smithfield Summer Concert Series, a downtown tradition for 34 years, will return to the Gazebo Stage at 228 Main St. on Friday. Smithfield’s ever-popular jazz band, Forte, will kick off the season beginning at 7 p.m.

Nobody will be checking “vaccination cards,” but the sponsors are encouraging those who attend to be fully vaccinated for the protection of themselves and those around them.

The concerts routinely begin at 8 p.m., but this week’s performance is being staged early to allow patrons time to attend the town’s fireworks display at roughly 9 p.m.

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The concert series began rather humbly 34 years ago. At that time, Main Street looked pretty bedraggled. Broken and patched concrete sidewalks fronted stores that were all-too-often vacant. Utility poles, power lines and massive overhead telephone cables completed the appearance.

It would be several more years before a unique partnership between the town and private donors would bury the utilities, brick the sidewalks and plant trees along the street.

The businesses that occupied that crumbling downtown environment were desperate for activity, and one business owner came to the newspaper with an idea. Why not bring some entertainment to downtown? Maybe it would draw people to come to Main Street.

Anne and I had bought the newspaper the previous year and offered to host an event on the vacant lot between our office and Main Street. County Parks and Recreation Director Alan Nogiec had a flatbed trailer brought to the site. We borrowed some sound gear from Bill Colgan of Isle of Wight Music, and planned a Friday evening concert featuring local musicians.

There were only three concerts that summer. The first featured Darla Bray, a local music teacher and soloist, as well as the Nelson Edwards family bluegrass band. In subsequent events, a county gospel choir performed along with local folk singers.

For the first few years, we staged a concert every other week, but by 1992, they had become so popular, we began to offer them every Friday from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

The concert series was initially cosponsored by the newspaper, Historic Smithfield, which planned and helped the town execute the Downtown Revitalization Project, and the Smithfield Little Theatre, which helped coordinate the events and provided a musical revue each summer.

In 2005, the Isle of Wight Arts League became the cosponsor and continues in that role. The town of Smithfield purchased the Gazebo Stage in 2020 and is now a series partner.

The series continued without interruption until 2020, when the pandemic shut down all social activities. Performers had been scheduled for the full summer when the shutdown occurred, and sponsors canceled the season in increments as it became clear that the pandemic would continue.

COVID-19 remained a concern until this spring, and caused us to delay relaunching the series until July, when we were confident that the entire community will have had an opportunity to be vaccinated.

So, bring a lawn chair or blanket and join us for music on the Green beginning this Friday. It will be good to see familiar faces once again.

John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is