Music by the River: Nine summers
of concerts on the Rappahannock
|by Renss Greene
SOMERSSummer officially begins Saturday, and the Music by the River season at Belle Isle State Park is in full swing.
“It’s such a beautiful place, and it’s such a wonderful event,” said vice president Susie Pierce.
The Friends of Belle Isle is a citizens advisory group supporting the park. They first put on the Music by the River program in 2005. This year, nine bands are performing evening concerts on the river-side stage.
“It’s a family evening, and once you get in there they always have a park ranger available to help with the kids, so the parents can enjoy the concert and the kids can run loose, and you don’t have to worry about them,” Pierce added.
That ranger is chief ranger of visitor experience Charlene Talcott.
“When we have our games, we have kids come over, and adults end up being out there too,” said Talcott. “We have tug of war, sack races, and we have a game called town ball, which is a precursor to baseball.”
While the kids throw flying discs or play games, the adults can enjoy the free popcorn and free music. Concerts are free to attend, and parking is only $4. Water and soda are on sale for 50 cents. Volunteers from the Friends of Belle Isle hand out the popcorn and sell the drinks.
“If you live in a city, to go to a free concert is unheard-of, and to pay $4 is not much,” Pierce said.
“It’s a lot closer than going to Richmond or Williamsburg or the Hampton Roads area to hear some music,” said music committee chairman Robert Mason Jr. He books the talent for the concert, and says he has three reasons for helping out.
“There aren’t very many places around here where you can go hear a couple hours of music,” said Mason. “I want to see that continue. If I want to see that continue, I need to get involved in it.”
He also wants to give local talent a place to be heard.
“We have a lot of local talent, and just like I don’t have a lot of venues to go hear music, they don’t have a lot of venues here in the community to perform,” said Mason.
Third, like all the Friends of Belle Isle, he wants to bring more visitors into the park.
“It definitely helps the park out,” said park manager Tim Shrader. “A lot of people who stay at the campground will come to the programs.”
He says the Music by the River series has brought visitors into the picnic area and campers into the campground. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in attendance to the park,” Shrader said. “I think that Navy band concert (by country-bluegrass ensemble Country Current) attendance was 568 people. I think the largest one we had was 800 people several years ago.”
Visitors hear a variety of music. Mason, who is also a board member of the Rappahannock Foundation for the Arts and an avid music fan, books a range of talent.
“We don’t want anybody to get burnt out on the local performers,” Mason said. “If everywhere you go, you hear the same bands, that’s not fun, so we want to mix it up some.”
Throughout the course of the series, concertgoers might hear bluegrass, reggae, gospel, blues, folk, classic rock, and more.
“Hopefully, during the season, we’ll have some kind of music that everybody will like,” Mason said.
Now, acts have developed followings, and there are more musicians jockeying for a booking than there are nights to fill.
“Once word got out that we have this continuing series, I started receiving CDs from different bands that are interested in playing,” Mason said. “I try to spread that out as well as I can to get the most bang for our buck.”
And bands that have played Belle Isle want to come back, according to Pierce. She recalled the Country Current performance on Memorial Day weekend.
“I think they do love coming here,” she said. “That was their second trip here, and they told us when they left they hope we request them back next year.”
After nine summers of concerts, the Music by the River series and the Friends of Belle Isle have deep community roots.
“We have a nucleus of folks that will come out no matter who’s playing, because they enjoy the music,” Mason said. “They bring a picnic. They enjoy the park. You usually get a little breeze off the Rappahannock. Bugs aren’t too bad. It’s just a pleasant experience.”
The Friends group also gets a lot of support from the park staff, added Mason.
Sponsorship committee chairman Linda Whittaker said the Friends have a “strong network with the community businesses and civic organizations.”
“They have sponsored us through the years and consistently have supported the music by the river,” Whittaker said. “We couldn’t do that without the businesses and the civic organizations in the community.”
She said community support for the series has been unflagging throughout her tenure.
“Even when things were kind of tight five years ago, we’ve just gotten continued support from those sponsors,” Whittaker said.
Current Music by the River sponsors include Bethel Emmanuel United Methodist Men; Chesapeake Bank: Dehnert, Clark & Co., PC; Eugene Duffer Foundation; EVB; Commonwealth Assisted Living at Farnham and Kilmarnock; Friends of Belle Isle State Park; Kilmarnock-Irvington-White Stone Rotary; Metrocast Communications; Neal, Nickel and Faulkner Wealth Management; Rappahannock Foundation for the Arts; Tri-Star Supermarket; Wealth Planning Solutions, Robert E. Walker, LUTCF; Bay Seafood Festival; Rappahannock Record; River Country 107.5; and 105.5 WRAR.
With that underpinning of community support, the Friends of Belle Isle and Belle Isle State Park put on another season of Music by the River.
“It’s definitely something we want to continue,” Shrader said.
“I’m thrilled by it, and I’m thrilled to be a member of the Friends of Belle Isle,” Pierce said. “I tell everybody, they haven’t lived until they come to the Northern Neck.”
To join or donate to the Friends of Belle Isle, contact Linda.D.Whittaker@verizon.net, or 472-4752.
2014 remaining shows
July 12, Mercy Creek
July 19, Blues Society
August 9, Northern Neck Big Band
August 16, Southern Grace
All concerts begin at 6 p.m.
Belle Isle State Park
1632 Belle Isle Road, Lancaster, VA 22503
From Kilmarnock: Take Mary Ball Road, west to Lively. Turn left on White Chapel Road, go three miles, then turn right onto River Road. Follow River Road for three miles and turn left onto Belle Isle Road.
From Warsaw: Take History Land Highway, west for 14 miles, then turn right onto River Road. Follow River Road for three miles and turn left onto Belle Isle Road.
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