A handy-dandy guide to seven newish summer arts festivals in the Boston area. They are all free of charge.
By Jason M. Rubin
Summer is the season for outdoor music and arts festivals, and in New England there is an embarrassment of riches. Too many of them to list in one convenient go-round. This guide ignores the well-known jazz and folk festivals in Newport as well as the well-established Lowell Folk Festival (now in its 29th year) — the goal is to spotlight younger events that have found sufficient support to come back in 2015. Each of these extravaganzas brings a combination of local and national flavor to neighborhoods throughout the Boston area – and all are free of charge.
Name: JP Porchfest
Dates: July 11, 12-6 p.m.
Location: Jamaica Plain (multiple)
At nearly double the size of last year’s inaugural event, the JP Porchfest will feature 128 bands playing on 72 porches. In addition, the Loring Greenough House will host a six-hour dance party, the Eliot School will present circus artists, and St. John’s Church will stage theater performances. Other highlights include spoken-word performances at Egleston Orchard and storytelling near the Green Street T. According to co-producer Mindy Fried, “We feel that the JP Porchfest is one antidote to the ongoing struggles in our nation with deeply-felt racial disharmony. This event allows people to come together in a very positive and powerful way across racial, cultural, and class divides through the power of the arts.”
Name: Outside the Box
Dates: July 14-19
Location: Boston Common
Returning after a one-year hiatus following its auspicious 2013 debut, Outside the Box is back with more than 100 performances over six days. The brainchild of local businessman, philanthropist, and musician Ted Cutler, the epic gathering offers music, dance, and theater performances; orchestras and indie bands; kid’s entertainment; and local and national acts. Big names include the Gin Blossoms, Guster, and Kacey Musgraves. In an interview on the event website, Cutler (the man for whom the Cutler Majestic Theatre is named) talks about his vision for the event: “There are a lot of people from our area who just don’t go to [local arts] institutions or know what is being created and presented in our city. They’ve never stepped inside a theater, but would engage if we can take the performances to them.”
Name: Roxbury Rocks Music Festival
Dates: July 18
Location: Roxbury Community College
Presented by Roxbury Community College, this family-friendly outdoor festival includes music, dance, food trucks, free ice cream, balloons, and face painting. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum will have a table where families can create mini-accordion books. On the list of performers: guitarist and singer Albino Mbie of Mozambique, jazz saxophonist Tony Chambers, spoken-word artist (and RCC student) Joseph Mosby, reggae band, King-I, and OrigiNation, a Boston-based dance company. Bonnie Johnson, producer and host of the WICN 90.5 FM radio program Colors of Jazz, hosts the festivities. The event will wrap up with an indoor concert featuring Wannetta Jackson, along with an awards ceremony honoring community leaders who have championed RCC and the Roxbury community.
Name: Boston Summer Arts Weekend
Dates: July 25-26
Location: Copley Square
Presented by the Boston Globe, WGBH, and Citizens Bank, the Boston Summer Arts Weekend features local and national performers on two stages set up in Copley Square. Given the key names slated to appear, the event promises to be be musically diverse: Handel + Haydn Society, Natalie MacMaster, Aaron Neville, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, and such family entertainers as Wayne Potash and the Remarkable Renaldo.
Name: Cambridge Jazz Festival
Dates: July 26
Location: University Park Commons, Cambridge
In its inaugural year, the Cambridge Jazz Festival drew more 2,500 jazz fans to hear world-class artists from near and far. The 2015 line-up includes: Cambridge native Nnenna Freelon and the Ron Savage Trio celebrating the music of Billie Holiday; pianist JoAnne Brackeen, who in 1969 became the first woman to join Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers; percussionist Eguie Castrillo and his Latin Jazz Connection; and local (by way of Budapest) piano favorite, Laszlo Gardony. Festival co-founder Savage is chair of the Ensemble department at Berklee College of Music; he notes that proceeds in excess of costs will go to the Johnny Hodges Scholarship Fund to support young musicians in Cambridge.
Name: PARMA Music Festival
Dates: August 14-16
Locations: Portsmouth, NH; Kittery, ME
PARMA is a New England-based music label, but the PARMA Music Festival brings in artists from near and far: some are on the record label and some are not. Offering seven concerts in six venues over three days, the event features acts varying from classical and jazz to electronic and rock to indie and folk. Performers include the Chris Klaxton Group (jazz), Qwill (DJ/electronic), Kingsley Flood (rock), Miss Fairchild (R&B), Portsmouth Symphony Orchestra (classical), and the Great Bay Academy of Dance. All events are free to the public with the exception of the “Main Event” on Sunday, August 16, which headlines the PSO (which also performs Peter and the Wolf for free earlier in the day).
Name: Salem Jazz and Soul Festival
Dates: August 15-16
Location: Salem Willows
According to organizers, the Salem Jazz and Soul Festival attracts more than 6,000 people to the Salem Willows each year for a free two-day concert. This year’s event features 10 local bands, DJ Radio Scotvoid, a kids tent, a music-education tent sponsored by Salem Five Bank, more than 40 artisan vendors, and an Ipswich Ale Brewery beer garden. Entertainment goes from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. both days. Saturday’s lineup includes a workshop as well as performance led by Ken Field of the Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, “a costumed funk/street beat improvisational brass band based in the Boston area performing a unique blend of original and traditional second line brass band music.” Sunday’s lineup is headlined by Barrence Whitfield and the Grits & Groceries Orchestra.
Jason M. Rubin has been a professional writer for 30 years, the last 15 of which has been as senior writer at Libretto, a Boston-based strategic communications agency. An award-winning copywriter, he holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, maintains a blog called Dove Nested Towers, and for four years served as communications director and board member of AIGA Boston, the local chapter of the national association for graphic arts. His first novel, The Grave & The Gay, based on a 17th-century English folk ballad, was published in September 2012. He regularly contributes feature articles and CD reviews to Progression magazine and for several years wrote for The Jewish Advocate.