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Jacksonville Symphony Returns for Sunday Picnics and Pops Concert, With a Prayer to the Rain Gods

| April 25, 2014

The Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra returns under the tent, this time minus the rain, we hope. (c FlaglerLive)

The Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra returns under the tent, this time minus the rain, we hope. (c FlaglerLive)

The annual Picnic and Pops concert, the Palm Coast Arts Foundation’s signature event, is supposed to guarantee one of the city’s most lovely evenings of the year. Close to 1,000 people gather around tables and on lawns at Town Center’s Central Park. There’s usually enough food for a five-day caravan across the country. Drinks, too: wine, beer, cocktails. For an hour and a half, it’s all about eating, drinking, socializing, and saying how quickly the year went by. Around dusk, it’s time for the main event.

The Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra performs concert favorites ranging all over the repertoire–from Star Wars to Buckaroo Holiday–while listeners kick back, drink and murmur on, all under the stars.

Last year was supposed to have been the seventh of these annual events. But it was rained out, depriving Palm Coast audiences of its one big outdoor symphonic experience of the year.

For this year’s Picnic and Pops event, which takes place Sunday (April 27), attendees can expect what they were supposed to get last year, as the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra once again brings conductor Morihiko Nakahara, who also performed at 2010’s Picnic and Pops. They will perform mostly the same program as planned last year, with just a couple of different pieces.

The program features Calvin Custer, Leonard Bernstein, Jack Mason, Rafael Mendez, Charles Koff, George Gershwin, Robert Wendel, Aaron Copland, and a surprise or two.

Last year the day of the concert itself was bright, sunny, almost perfect. But the site was flooded, the grass field around the big tent as soggy as a marsh after days of rain. There was nothing organizers could do about it, like getting a tent to cover 800 people, Sam Perkovich, foundation president, said.

Weather remains a threat, though the National Weather Service pegs the chance of rain at 10 percent or less this weekend. “That’s why we need to get our facility,” Perkovich says, referring to the $5-to $7-million event center the Arts Foundation plans to build on the Town Center grounds. The foundation secured the parcel two years ago. If those concert hall walls were to go up, big events wouldn’t be limited to one night in late April.

“The symphony wants to continue our partnership, you know, if the facility got going they would like to have a season down here where they play a series of six to eight concerts or something,” Perkovich says. For symphony orchestras, it’s a matter of self-preservation: they’re having difficulties staying afloat, but that’s also forcing them to change their model–energizing their concert programs with non-traditional, non-classical works, and broadening their geographical reach through partnerships such as the one with the arts foundation.

“Looking ahead to the future, the work the Palm Coast Arts Foundation is doing to raise funds to bring a true performing arts center to Palm Coast truly excites me, the administration and the musicians,” Nakahara, the conductor, says.

“For me, these types of concerts are always the most fun to program. As a conductor. I get to choose the best of the light classical repertoire, like Gershwin’s ‘Cuban Overture’ or Copland’s iconic ‘Hoedown’ from his ballet ‘Rodeo’ and mix it in with the best of Broadway, like Bernstein’s ‘West Side Story.’ It’s a win-win for the audience and for the musicians of the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra.”

Like last year, the Arts Foundation is working with a group of professional fundraisers to get the financials in order. They’ve also been working with local politicians to get the right message across, and their capital campaign fund has grown, but there’s more work to be done.

“Do we have a gigantic donation? Not yet,” Perkovich says. There’re other positive developments for the Foundation, however. Foundation memberships have increased since the economic downturn, and they’re now up to 400-plus. They’ve also added a business and commercial type membership.

“It looks very possible that we may get two state grants,” though the state legislature is still in session, so they’ll have to wait to find out. The first is for $150,000 for a construction loan, the second is somewhere around $12,700 for office operations.”

Howard Holley, CEO of the Holley Group, is the foundation’s capital campaign chair. He is also on the chamber board and is also part of the Economic Advisory Council.

Holley found out about the arts foundation after attending a Picnic and Pops concert three years ago, and he volunteered his services. “I really feel that the vision they have could have a huge economic impact on our community,” Holley said. “I really believe art is one of the legs of this economic development tools and not many people see it that way. But, if you look at all the data, it certainly indicates that, particularly when you’re trying to attract businesses to the community. One of the things that they look at is culture and arts activities and events that a community offers.”

The foundation’s plan for its eventual facility will grow over time, starting with a event center and growing with a performing arts center. But the foundation has faced the same recurring challenges over the years. “We haven’t actually raised money. We haven’t actually gone out and talked to people, so obviously it’s going to be down the road,” Holley said. Holley expects that to start this year, if there aren’t too many other campaigns going on at the same time. Ironically, one of those campaigns is his: he’s a candidate for the Flagler County Commission in this year’s election (running against incumbent Frank Meeker).

The local Carrabba’s is catering the sponsored tables at this year’s concert.

Picnic and Pops 2014 is scheduled for Sunday, April 27, at Town Center’s Central Park, from 6:30 pm through 10pm. The price for a reserved table of 10 is $350. Individual member tickets are $35, and $40 for non-members, and $1,000 for a player level sponsorship table. For more information about the Palm Coast Arts Foundation, visit their website.

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