It’s Concert in the Park season, that time of year when families pack picnics, gather up the kids, the patio chairs and blankets and head to the center of town for an old-fashioned band concert. Think Norman Rockwell.
The Coronado Promenade Concerts have been cranking out great music for 44 years, and what began modestly in 1970 with a four-concert schedule has grown into a deeply beloved Coronado tradition of 17 Sunday afternoon concerts that start in May and stretch all summer long.
The first concerts were quite small. Organized by Gene Cech, the choir director at Coronado High School, they were held in a corner of the park, using low risers for the band.
It wasn’t until 1982 that a bandstand was dedicated, following a 10-year campaign that, like many attempts at civic improvement in Coronado where “change” is involved, was fraught with controversy. After several false starts, plans were presented to Coronado Beautiful in 1979 for the bandstand that graces the park today — a gazebo of 1,500 square feet with a 30-foot cupola, copper domed roof and eight arched columns of framed wrought iron.
Mary Carlin King-Ross, who worked for the city recreation department at the time, assisted Cech in publicizing the concerts and became president of the concert group in 1974. Mary was the daughter of Cdr. Thomas F. Carlin and Katherine E. Carlin, the latter a resident for 50 years who co-authored a book on the history of the community, Coronado, the Enchanted Island.
“Mary was always beseeching bands to play for free,” recalled Floyd Ross, who began working on the concert committee in 1984 and married Mary Carlin King in 1990. “I convinced Mary that instead of begging the bands to play for free, we should beg the public to pay the bands.”
That’s been the policy ever since. Today, all bands, except the two military bands, are paid; the concert committee pays for dinners for all military band members at the nearby VFW.
When King-Ross suffered a debilitating stroke in 2000, Ross took over as concert coordinator, working with his wife from her bedside. (King-Ross died in 2005.)
Today the concerts include jazz, rock, military and big band sounds. Concerts begin promptly at 6 p.m. and are usually over by 7:30. (Well, except for maybe Rockola, the perennial crowd-pleasing, tie-dyed nod to the past.)
Coronado Promenade Concerts is now a nonprofit organization governed by a 13-member board of directors that books the talent, arranges the staging and sound systems and fundraises. No money from the city is expended on the concerts, but the city does contribute through in-kind public and police services. “At 8 p.m., the people are gone and the park is so clean. You’d never guess there had just been a huge concert there,” said Promenade Concert President Cathy Brown in admiration of the city’s crews.
While the community feel of the concerts in the park is decidedly laid back, there is nothing old-fashioned about the sound system. This year a professional sound system was provided by John Volk and his team at J & S Sound. “We were receiving so many complaints about the system in recent years,” Brown groaned. “The system we had just couldn’t keep up with the advanced technology used by today’s bands.”
Brown said that each attendee is encouraged to donate $1 per concert, “We always ask the bands to make an announcement,” she noted, adding that the Red Bucket Brigade then fans out among the crowd to collect the bounty.
The committee estimates that more than 4,700 people attend each concert on average, and Ross noted that the Internet has spurred attendance. “Many of the bands have websites and huge followings,” he said.
Are the concerts getting too big?
“Too big?” scoffed Ross. “I quote Yogi Berra and say, ‘“It’s too big! Nobody goes there anymore!’”
July 4 Coronado Concert Band sponsored by Miss Match Apparel Company (4 p.m.)
July 6 Crown Town Music featuring Matt Heineke sponsored by Bill Subang, Diane Jolley, Linda & Rick Hascup, and Kory Kavanewsky/CMG Financial
July 13 ABBAFab sponosored by Coronado Real Estate Association (CREA)
July 20 PopVinyl sponsored by The Auen Foundation
July 27 Mighty Untouchables sponsored by Kennedy Publishing
Aug. 3 Iliana Rose Cuban Band sponsored by The Newman Foundation
Aug. 10 Rockola sponsored by Edye Denney and Dick Zoellner
Aug. 17 Navy Show Band Southwest sponsored by Rotary Club of Coronado
Aug. 24 Todo Mundo & Mariachi Estrellas de Chula Vista sponsored by Coronado Women’s & Coronado Junior Woman’s Clubs (5 p.m.)
Aug. 31 Velvet Café sponsored by Optimist Club of Coronado (5 p.m.)
Sep. 7 Ron’s Garage sponsored by Coronado Schools Foundation and Park Life Realty (5 p.m.)