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I• our part of the world, where the citizenry is known for a healthy and inquisitive aesthetic appetite, the summer-long spectrum of events in New London's Hygienic Art Park is always a tantalizing proposition.
No one knows this more than Rich Martin, the Hygienic's managing director - and the man responsible for shaping each summer's program. Does having to sign and sort out the routing for over 20 local and international touring acts of myriad styles - interspersed with a film series, music festivals, The Day's Live Lunch Break programs and sundry other events - give Martin the occasional headache? Probably - but he'd be the first to tell you it's all worth it.
Well, the calendar pages have flipped to June, and entertainment draweth nigh. Tonight, the art park hosts the fifth annual Whalie Awards ceremony, then the season officially launches Thursday with a particularly plum show featuring the immortal NRBQ. Over the next few months, a wide ranging array of artists will perform, a representative list of which includes R&B singer Jesse Dee (Aug. 9), the Baseball Project supergroup (July 22), home-state fave Mark Mulcahy (June 28), infectious soul band Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds (Aug. 23), and retro soul wunderkind Blood Orange (June 21).
"We always try to book from the eclectic model set by our annual Hygienic art show," Martin says. "We want to bring in as wide a range of musical styles as we can - while developing a consistent audience to make for events that are fun and exciting and make the art park the place to be during the summer. We want to keep things familiar but at the same time explore all that's out there."
Exploration is indeed the idea behind the Serious Fun series, which takes place each Sunday night. Booked for Serious Fun are jazz virtuosos The New West Guitar Group (June 22), the experimental percussion ensembles So Percussion and Man Forever (July 6), the Angkor Cambodian Dance Company (July 22) and the exultant rhythms of The Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars (Aug. 17).
Martin says one of the perhaps unexpected reasons the summer music programs have expanded in parameter so much is the increasing success of local bands. It's a cyclical situation that benefits everyone involved.
"Our first few seasons definitely focused on presenting our best regional acts," he says, "but as more venues have appeared and offered those bands gigs, we've had to focus more on bringing in national talent. In that context, the idea is to pair the best of our local artists with the national acts - and maybe that gives the area bands a leg up into the national scene, themselves."
The Art Park's Summer Flickers film series, which takes place every Wednesday, bows on June 18 with Elvis Presley's "King Creole" - and similarly reflects the idea of friendly eclecticism.
"We offer films from cult to comedy and family to fringe," Martin says, "and the idea is to offer something for everyone."
Something must be working because, Martin says, the attendance has steadily increased each summer. As happy as he is that the varied programming earns results, Martin also thinks the success reflects a larger picture.
"I think we've seen a steady increase of people traveling from across the state and the whole southern New England region showing up to participate in what we have going on in New London," Martin says. "The city is truly blossoming around us, and folks are noticing and trying us out and loving what they find here - not just the music but in our restaurants, the historic sites, or just strolling Waterfront Park and the city in general."
SUMMER LINEUP AT THE HYGIENIC ART PARK
Thursday, June 12: Season Kick-Off with NRBQ and The Whole Wheat Horns
Thursday, June 19 : TheDay.com Live Lunch Break evening show with John Fries & the Elements
Saturday, June 21: Blood Orange
Sunday, June 22: SERIOUS FUN with New West Guitar Group
Saturday, June 28: Mark Mulcahy with Violent Mae
Saturday, July 5: The Can Kickers & Paul Brockett Roadshow
Sunday, July 6: SERIOUS FUN with Man Forever with So Percussion
Friday, July 11: SailFest: I Am Fest presents … The Suicide Dolls, Elison Jackson and more TBA
Saturday, July 12: SailFest: SoulShot, John Fries & The Elements, Writer's Block Ink and more
Sunday, July 13: SailFest: Shoreline Acoustic Music Fest
Saturday, July 19: Traditions: Joe Fletcher, Ron Gallo, Andrew Coombs & the Hang Ten & a Half Band, Craig Edwards, Little Ugly and The Silks
Sunday, July 20: SERIOUS FUN with Angkor Cambodian Dance Group
Tuesday, July 22: An Evening with The Baseball Project
Saturday, August 2: The Duhks with Daphne Lee Martin
Saturday, August 9: Jesse Dee
Sunday, August 17: SERIOUS FUN with Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars
Saturday, August 23: Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds