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Playhouse in the Park concert series returns to Franklin Park

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Playhouse in the Park concert series returns to Franklin Park
The crowd enjoying the music at Playhouse in the Park, which returned to Franklin Park after pandemic shutdowns. PHOTO: COURTESY OF FRANKLIN PARK COALITION

For the eighteenth summer, the Franklin Park Coalition (FPC) presents the Playhouse in the Park summer concert series dedicated to Boston cultural icon Elma Lewis. This summer marks Lewis’s 100th birthday and the reopening of the concert series after the pandemic shutdowns, two very good reasons for a celebration.

Sympli Whitney on stage at Playhouse in the Park. PHOTO: COURTESY OF FRANKLIN PARK COALITION

Playhouse in the Park runs every Tuesday from July 20 to August 10. At 11 a.m., a children’s show plays for families and young people. FPC does outreach to summer camps and childcare programs to spread the word about this free entertainment. Upcoming shows feature OrigiNation Dance Troupe and Music by Monet. At 6 p.m., local performers and bands play classic R&B, Motown, jazz and reggae.

The performances are just the beginning of the fun in Franklin Park. Local favorite Amanda “Lady Emcee” Merricks hosts each concert and reels in audience members with stories of gatherings past. During intermissions, Mz. Rhythm and the Boston Rhythm Riders lead line dances, encouraging everyone to get on their feet. Food trucks provide picnics to concertgoers, and Black vendors like Prime Taste of Africa, A Nubian Notion and Elaine’s Catering showcase additional food options and artisan goods.

Shaumba-Yandje Dibinga, OrigiNation artistic director and founder gets the crowd moving. PHOTO: COURTESY OF FRANKLIN PARK COALITION

“This is a tradition that our community anticipates and looks forward to every summer, as they did during Elma Lewis’ time,” says Rickie Thompson, FPC Board President and Playhouse coordinator. “It offers a venue for local performers, Black vendors and small businesses, and people from all sides of the park to come together for music, dancing and socializing.”

Elma Lewis established the original Playhouse in the Park concert series in 1966. Artists like Duke Ellington, Odetta and the Boston Ballet performed. Now the revived community concerts stand as a tribute to the renowned arts leader. Throughout the series, stories about Lewis and her contributions to Boston’s cultural scene are told from the stage, a living history of her artistic legacy.

The evening of Aug. 6 is Caribbean Night, featuring Branches Steel Orchestra, Roots Alley Collective and Toussaint the Liberator. Tuesday, Aug. 10 will showcase E-Water Band, celebrating Eric Watson with Elan Trotman with other local musicians joining the band.

Christine Poff, former executive director of the FPC and the woman responsible for bringing back the concert series, estimates there were 800 to 1,000 people at the opening day of the series on July 20. After more than a year of pandemic shutdowns, free and accessible public performances serve as a healing balm for the community. “After this challenging pandemic year,” Thompson says, “our audience and musicians alike are excited to be back at the Playhouse.”

arts, Elma Lewis, Franklin Park, music, Playhouse in the Park