Ambiance and music: Concerts in the park draw fans

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Parks throughout McHenry County have their own theme music.

As the breeze blows and clouds swirl, drums keep rhythm on outdoor stages. Audiences settle in on blades of grass, lawn chairs, blankets or even boats, some with picnic dinners as they chew to the beat of the music.

For many, weekly concerts in the park are tradition.

They settle in for both the music – whether traditional Americana music from city bands, rock, country, reggae or R&B – and the atmosphere.

“There is nothing better than sitting under the stars on a summer night and listening to very enjoyable music,” said Mary Ann Landon of Crystal Lake, who travels weekly to McHenry to watch the McHenry City Band perform at Veterans Memorial Park.

The band takes to the gazebo stage on Thursday nights, playing songs based on themes, such as Audience Request, Patriotic and Summer Fun. With her husband, Michael Bazan, as director, Maureen Christine has accompanied the band in song since the 1970s.

Spectators either bring their own food or buy items from vendors as they’re treated to music for all ages.

“There’s a special energy that is actually palatable when you hear and feel 16 musicians playing music,” Christine said. “It’s a very Norman Rockwell version of Americana, and it’s a beautiful local version of Ravinia.”

The musicianship of the band draws in fans, such as Landon, but also the setting.

“They play wonderful tunes that bring back great memories of musicals and the big band era,” she said. “Meeting friends and watching little children dance to the music while enjoying coffee and ice cream is neat.”

While McHenry’s Veterans Memorial Park and the Woodstock Square – with its accompanying Ice Cream Socials on Wednesdays – host city bands, others bring in a variety of music, everything from pop to rock to country and soul.

At Main Beach in Crystal Lake on Tuesday nights this summer where spectators can watch leisurely from docked boats, bands will emulate the music of the Beatles, Lady Gaga, Jimmy Buffet and others.

The Crystal Lake Park District also will host the more traditional music of the Crystal Lake Community Band and Voices in Harmony, a concert paired with fireworks July 6.

A tradition for about 15 years, Cary’s concerts on Thursdays at Lions Park average 500 to 600 people, said Katie Hughes, director of marketing and communications for the Cary Park District.

This summer, the district is bringing in newer bands, such as a recent performance by the Shinehammer, a Teen Battle of the Band winner, which rocked the Rotary Bandshell as audience members lined a grassy hill.

“We have adults with children. Sometimes they bring their pets. You can see couples that maybe are on a date night or a night out away from children,” Hughes said. “They bring their picnic lunch or pick up a pizza or some take-out on the way over and just spread out their blankets and listen to music.”

As the fresh air enhances the music, it also seems to make the food taste better and the night somewhat lulling.

“Even hot dogs taste better in the park,” said Donna Reber of Crystal Lake, a McHenry City Band fan. “It’s just a nice little drive up there and a nice evening in the park, very relaxing.”

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