Having spent 21 years as a selectwoman in Ridgefield, Barbara Manners has done a great deal for the area and is beloved for her contributions to the community. One of her most popular initiatives was starting the Concert Happenings in Ridgefield’s Parks (CHIRP) program in 2002, and the music series returns for its 17th year, with 25 free concerts scheduled through Aug. 30 in Ballard Park.
The mission of the CHIRP concerts is to bring the community together in a relaxed atmosphere comfortable for people of every economic group, age bracket and ethnicity. Manners said the idea is to allow everyone an opportunity to hear and enjoy a variety of world and alternative music performed only infrequently in this area.
“I try to book a varied program, and won’t book anyone who I haven’t heard play live,” Manners said. “I usually bring back a third of bands that people really liked from the year before, and this year we have 12 bands new to Ridgefield.”
Manners first had the idea for the music series a few days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when she was looking for a way to bring people together in the park, to end the isolation people were feeling. That next summer, CHIRP was up and running and now regularly attracts up to 2,000 people a show, many dancing along with the music.
“A lot of people come not even knowing who’s playing. They come because it’s Tuesday night and it’s great to be out in the park with a picnic and your friends and neighbors,” she said. “I’m very excited about the bands I’ve booked.”
The Bumper Jacksons head to the stage on June 12, playing new sounds from forgotten 78s. The group began as a duo, a city-meets-country experiment between songstress Jess Eliot Myhre and banjo player Chris Ousley, and this will be the third time they have played CHIRP.
“We are a high-energy, danceable sextet. Powerhouse vocals are flanked by a New Orleans-style brass section on one side of the stage, and a country pedal steel on the other,” Myhre said. “Listeners can expect to hear a bunch of fun, upbeat numbers that genre-bend between swing, blues, country, zydeco, bluegrass, and rock and roll, and dancing is definitely encouraged.”
The D.C.-based band will be performing mostly originals, written by Myhre (sporting a Mohawk and cowboy boots) and Ousley (donned in his fanciest “show overalls” and bow tie), but will also be offering fresh takes on old songs from the early 20th Century, funking up Hank Williams and swankifying an old-time Appalachian ballad.
“I’m the luckiest woman in the world to get to play music with these guys on a regular basis — they are true masters of their instruments, and brilliant improvisers,” Myhre said. “When you have the chemistry that we do, and the strong communication, the music opens up and you can be so playful. We’re always making new harmonic choices, altering our arrangements on the fly or coming up with new silly jokes. The audience can really feel that; we’re making the evening’s experience together — the audience and the band — and it feels like community.”
On June 21, The Fairfield Counts, a talented group of musicians who play with a passion for and a love of the music from the dance band era, will perform an evening of swing music spanning the years from the 40s to the present.
“Our band is an exact replica of the legendary big bands. We have 17 musicians, a professional director and a fabulous vocalist,” said Dr. Harvey Tuckman, founder of The Fairfield Counts. “We will play the exact musical arrangements that were performed and recorded by the bands of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Les Brown, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and others. Our vocals will include songs made famous by Doris Day and Frank Sinatra.”
The Fairfield Counts have performed in the CHIRP series many times and appreciate how Manners provides the residents of Ridgefield the opportunity to see and hear great music.
“This music stirs memories and thoughts of high school dances, listening to records, wedding songs, music during the ‘war years,’ a prom, a first dance, an early romance,” Tuckman said. “We are inspired by seeing the smiles and looks on faces, the tapping feet, the swaying bodies, and the snapping fingers. The audience relives and reconnects with the music and merges with the band. On top of this, Mark Murray’s sound system makes us shine.”
CHIRP newbies, the Lowdown Brass Band will be heading to the stage on June 26.
“We are an eight-member brass band from Chicago. Our music is high-energy and infectious,” said the band’s founder, Lance Loiselle. “It has memories of New Orleans brass bands, but we flip the script fusing reggae, ska, hip-hop, funk, soul, jazz, and Latin music.”
In addition to having world-class jazz horn players and a collection of top musicians who all sing, Billa Camp serves as MC.
“Our sound is tight, tight, tight. We play a nice mix of original and cover songs, so there really is something for everyone in our music — and we’ve got smooth moves for days to enhance the visual,” Loiselle said. “Brass music is meant to be heard and played outside according to the traditions set up by our forefathers, and it’s always fun for us to play an outdoor music series.”
Those looking to celebrate Independence Day early may join Laura Cortese & the Dance Cards on July 3. The music is a blend of the lyrical rituals of folk music and pop music, born from the roots tradition.
“This music series is about as close as we’ll get to a Scandinavian midsummer party this year. Expect peer pressure to sing along and even shake your booty,” Cortese said. “I anticipate extreme picnic envy when we spot the group with the best spread. Maybe we’ll give a prize to the most lavish picnickers!”
Finishing things out on Aug. 30 will be CHIRP favorites C.J. Chenier & the Red Hot Louisiana Band, dubbed the “heir to the zydeco throne” by Billboard Magazine. This will be the ninth consecutive year they have played at Ballard Park.
“It’s been great because we get to see some kids grow up listening to our style of music,” Chenier said. “Concerts like this are good for both band and audience because you get a chance to interact with everyone. Anyone that comes to hear this red-hot Louisiana band can expect to hear a whole lot of foot stomping ‘happy feet’ music.”
For a complete schedule of concerts, visit chirpct.org/events/2018-concerts.