What began in the summer of 2002 as an event to build community after the 9/11 tragedy has blossomed into one of the area’s most highly-anticipated outdoor music events of the year. Concert Happenings in Ridgefield’s Parks (CHIRP), opened its 17th season of free outdoor music performances at Ballard Park on May 28 with British rocker James Maddock. The nearly 30 concerts feature styles that include Texas swing, “new grass” bluegrass, zydeco, Celtic, Klezmer, blues, rock, contemporary folk, and much more.
CHIRP is the brainchild of Barbara Manners, a music fan with eclectic tastes and a keen eye for booking live performers.
“After 9/11, I felt that so many of us were confused, scared and feeling alone,” explained Manners, who also serves as a selectwoman in Ridgefield. “I wanted to help build a community that could promote healing, provide comfort, relieve stress and also be just plain fun. Music gives life to everything. There is no culture in the world that doesn’t have its own music. Music still brings me comfort, healing and fun. It always did.”
Over the years, Manners has watched CHIRP grow not only in the size of the crowds, but also in the range of sounds that fill Ballard Park every summer.
“In our first couple of years, the series was more heavily weighted to folk music and to individual singer-songwriters,” she said. “As the popularity grew, as well as donations, we were able to book a greater variety of bands.”
CHIRP’s draw has a lot to do with community appeal and the band’s music needs to fit into that vibe. “The vast majority of the people who come to the concert now are there to hear enjoyable music, but also to picnic, to perhaps visit with friends and neighbors, to be outside and let their kids play with others in the park. Their chatter can overwhelm someone not so very forceful,” Manners said.
This year’s lineup includes a number of acts performing at the series for the first time, plus many returning crowd favorites. Zydeco superstars C.J. Chenier & his Red Hot Louisiana Band, return for their 10th time, on July 9. Some of the new faces include The Hillbenders, a progressive acoustic band, on July 18, and The Brother Brothers, identical twins Adam and David Moss, whose harmonies reflect their tightknit bond, on Aug. 1. Other returnees include Dust Bowl Revival, awarded ‘Best Live Band in L.A.,” on June 18; and Hot Club of Cowtown, western swing experts, on July 25.
“It feels wonderful to be able to help artists who are starting out as well as ones who may already have been around a long, long time stay on the road,” said Manners. “But the greatest satisfaction comes from seeing teenagers start showing up in the park on concert nights. Most of them won’t hang with their parents, but they get together in groups toward the rear of the park and socialize. When they hear a performer they really enjoy, they tend to move up closer and closer as the concert progresses. At the end, some of them even come up to meet the artists.”
Manners is very satisfied with what she’s built with CHIRP. “Some who are grieving recent personal losses come up and tell me that the concerts have helped them get through their days, not only because of the music, but because of the community they find in the park,” she said. “If you feel part of a community, you are bound to feel less alone. My good friend the singer/songwriter Martyn Joseph has said many times, ‘the purpose of music is to make you feel you are not alone in the world.’ What could be better than that?”
CHIRP shows take place on Tuesdays and most Thursdays from late May to early September, with indoor rain locations listed on the website. For CHIRP’s full schedule, visit chirpct.org.