By Kevin Redding
For 52 continuous summers, Huntington has been a gathering place for lovers of live music, theater and dance, all on full display for multiple weeks during the town’s jam-packed and family-friendly performing arts extravaganza, the Huntington Summer Festival. This year the series of free concerts is bigger and better than ever, bringing touring and local artists of every variety to the Chapin Rainbow Stage in Heckscher Park six nights a week now through Aug. 13.
As the festival has grown since the Huntington Arts Council first started it in 1965, so has its roster of performers, which changes from year to year in order to bring new experiences to returning concertgoers.
New acts include the Adam Ezra Group, an up-and-coming, Boston-based folk band; New York Voices, an internationally renowned vocal ensemble; Miles to Dayton, an Americana-and-folk group from Port Jefferson; and Jay Armstrong Johnson, a Broadway and television performer, to name just a few. Local performing groups like the Huntington Community Band, the Huntington Men’s Chorus and the Long Island Dance Consortium will also have their chance to shine on stage. Plaza Theatrical Productions, a Lynbrook-based company, will put on several musicals throughout the summer including “My Fair Lady.”
One of many brand new programs this year will be the Huntington Jazz Week, beginning July 18, which will feature big band jazz ensemble concerts put on by internationally recognized musicians, including harpist Brandee Younger and saxophonist Richie Cannata, of Billy Joel’s band, and nights dedicated to the music of composer George Gershwin and jazz legend John Coltrane.
The following weekend, on which the 12th Huntington Folk Festival takes place, will feature unplugged showcases with more than 40 different folk artists — everyone from Sarah Lee Guthrie, granddaughter of Woody and daughter of Arlo, to the Sweet Remains.
Every Tuesday evening is “family night” which offers kids music and live theater such as “Cinderella” on July 25 with fun-filled craft projects before the shows.
“It’s such a positive thing for the residents of the town as well as Long Island as a whole,” said Huntington Arts Council Performing Arts Director John Chicherio, who has served his position for eight summers and has been organizing concerts since the 1970s.
“Roughly 40 to 45 percent of the performances are really quality local group [and] roughly 55 percent of the program is made up of touring artists from all over the world and United States. These are all artists performing their own work and they’re new to Long Island in most cases. And the merchants enjoy it because we’re bringing people into the town and they go have dinner before or after the concerts. [The festival’s] just grown that way”.
He continued, “When the first Huntington [Summer Festival] was put together [in 1965], it didn’t have this many concerts, [but] because more groups wanted to perform over time, it grew and we’ve been building it into what it is today.”
Chicherio, who spearheaded the festival’s new, jazz-oriented week, said he’s excited for what’s in store for those who attend this summer. “It’s a very eclectic variety of performances in both the types of music and performing arts genres,” he said. “Plus, we’re doing workshops and master classes with a couple of groups. The whole week of jazz, one of the important things I’ve been trying to do, is [going to be] a very special week,” highlighting the Coltrane day, July 22, especially. “That evening I’ve got a terrific lineup with some very special guests, [like] the Kenny Garrett Quintet.”
According to Chicherio, the shows will go on rain or shine, unless “there’s lightning and thunder that can endanger the audience,” and attendees should feel free to bring lawn chairs and blankets, which they can place on the hill overlooking the stage for a great view.
Concession stands and vendors selling refreshments, such as ice cream and soda, will be set up inside the concert area and any outside food is welcomed. All shows begin at 8:30 p.m. with the exception of the children’s shows on Tuesdays, which begin at 7:30 p.m.
To see the full schedule of events, visit www.HuntingtonArts.org.