“Perhaps the most powerful statement of the arts center’s – and Newark’s – success can be glimpsed on warm summer nights, when thousands of people throng its outdoor plaza for a weekly series that has become Newark’s town social – Sounds of the City.”
– The New York Times
It’s easy to find out who will be on stage any given Thursday night during summer’s Horizon Foundation Sounds of the City, but almost impossible to define the audience. It encompasses babies in strollers, parked with their parents on the fringes of NJPAC’s Theater Square, to community elders congregating on their favorite benches well before the concert. College students with backpacks and executives in Brooks Brothers suits mingle with couples snuggled into stadium chairs and a nattily dressed regular who arrives by motorized wheelchair.
During a ramble through the crowd at the July 25 performance by the Bernie Worrell Orchestra, it was clear that the demographics couldn’t be neatly categorized, but there were commonalities: A love of music and a sense of ownership in the whole scene. It didn’t matter if a visitor were there for the first time or the twenty-fifth – many expressed a strong sense of belonging outdoors in Theater Square on Thursday nights.
About 50 to 60 teachers from Newark’s charter schools wandered in on their way to Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium, including fifth-grade math teacher Mark Joseph of Newark, who was experiencing Sounds of the City for the first time.
“This whole open space is amazing,” said Joseph. “Has this always been here, this park? My friend told me the Dalai Lama spoke here. … I would definitely come back. Anything outdoors in the summer that’s free, with great food and this area over here? It’s just a nice little place to hang out.”
Senior citizen Mary Westley of Orange rummaged through her purse to show a handbill that piqued her interest in the series. She described a performance by Naughty By Nature as “an awesome show,” even though she’s more used to sitting in Prudential Hall. “I was born and raised in Newark and if there’s anything here (at NJPAC) … it’s a good thing.”
One police officer on duty remarked that he wanted to bring his wife back on his night off. Another female officer was warmly hugged by retiree Mary Kornegay, who used to work in Newark City Hall and frequents Sounds of the City mostly because “I love the fashion show!”
She swept her arm toward the lawn area, where horn players of Milo Z, the funkalicious opening act, jumped off the stage to play and dance with revelers dressed festively in tie-dye sundresses, crisp linen suits and all styles of headgear and footwear.
“This is a unique event given each year and it’s a very helpful thing for the city itself in overview,” said Zaafair L. “There’s not many places in the city where you can go and enjoy good music.”
“Free music. What’s not to like?,” asked Max Atller of Clifton, a 21-year-old college student at Montclair State University, who was meeting friends.
Glenn Beard of Irvington, who estimates he’s been to about 15 concerts, observed, “I like the mix of the crowds. There’s all kinds of ethnicities here. It’s a nice atmosphere and on top of everything else, free. ”
“Newark is my town!,” exclaimed Kathy Bakes of Somerville, who worked in the city for many years.
Lillie Howard of Roselle had this to say about her first Sounds of the City: “So far, so good!”