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New setup and selected sounds save Summer on Southport

The Deliverance Singers
The Deliverance Singers
The Deliverance Singers

Summer on Southport

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Since 1988, the Southport Neighbors Association (SNA) has been hosting Summer on Southport for better or for worse. Fortunately the July 12-13, 2014 installment on Southport at Waveland was a definite improvement over the past 15 years.

What had started as an intimate children’s focused event had morphed into an oversized and underwhelming affair targeted to middle-aged imports howling to heavy metal music performed at the festival’s entrances and exits, causing claustrophobic bottlenecks of drunken crowds. But this year Summer on Southport introduced a smarter and more civilized setup with one stage at Grace and Southport. With its new location across from the children’s activities at Blaine School, the music and the kids were where they should be: literally at the center of the fest.

With one stage instead of two, the musical emphasis can be on quality over quantity. Instead of booking twice as many mediocre cover bands as in the past, planners can focus on a stronger lineup. With the Angel Melendez & the 911 Mambo Orchestra; Callaloo; Edgar Gabriel’s String Fusion; and Vital Organ Trio, SNA appears to be moving in the right direction.

Yet it was wise to retain past favorites such as Radio Disney. Like the performance by Gus Giordano Dance School, the Disney content is ideal for children. The Gospel Sunday Breakfast featuring the Deliverance Singers also returns. As the lineup’s finest talent, the soulful band was the weekend highlight.

Unfortunately with Star Events in charge, the festival continued to include tired old Top 40 bands. Perhaps if 16 Candles played ’80s music by The Smiths instead of Van Halen, it wouldn’t be such a painfully pedestrian band. Speaking of pain, Hey Jimmy, a wedding band from Rockford, sounded a lot like Headbanger’s Ball which served as the event’s unlikely and undesirable headliner in past years. Needless to say, exchanging one generic band for another is hardly an improvement.

On the bright side, Star Events hired a new headlining act for Saturday night. Only it’s too bad Too White Crew proved too inappropriate for a family neighborhood. This is not to say every act need be filled with Disney songs, but there are great genres that are in good taste which remain untapped, from classical to classic country with jazz, rockabilly, and swing in between.

In between the stage were vendors’ tents leading to the north and south outlets which enabled potential patrons to peaceably peruse the items for sale. Original paintings, photographs and sculptures were available as well as pretty one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces at attractive prices. Food for sale included some the city’s best ethnic dishes such as fish tacos, veggie pad thai, and gelato.

This year Summer on Southport has reconnected with its purpose to be a neighborhood-friendly event. As it nears its 20th anniversary, one can only hope the festival begins to age gracefully with a stage on Grace that offers music with character and class.