May 23, 2014
02:03 PM
Arts & Entertainment

Ives Concert Park’s 40th Anniversary: Peter Frampton, Moody Blues and More

Ives Concert Park’s 40th Anniversary: Peter Frampton, Moody Blues and More

All photos by Peggy Stewart

It was 2007 and Ives Concert Park in Danbury was struggling. The nonprofit organization that ran the large outdoor concert venue was in major debt and there was a real chance that the stage might go dark at the picturesque 40-acre music park on Western Connecticut State University’s Westside campus.

In an attempt to save the venue, the city of Danbury partnered with Western Connecticut and formed the Ives Authority for the Performing Arts. Steve Greenberg, a longtime Danbury businessman and supporter of the arts, was appointed as chairman of the authority and soon after Phyllis Cortese was hired as the park's new executive director. Together Cortese and Greenberg led efforts to resuscitate the flatlining arts destination.

"We had to beg, borrow and steal,” says Greenberg of that first year. “Thanks to the generosity of board members, sponsors and volunteers, we were able to have a first season.”

Seven years later, the venue is thriving. This summer it will celebrate its 40th anniversary in style with a diverse lineup of acts that would make Charles Ives—the classical composer and Danbury native who the venue is named after—proud.

The park will host multiple large rock concerts promoted by Live Nation Entertainment, including Peter Frampton (below) on July 5 and the Moody Blues on August 17.

In addition, the Ives season includes a variety of festivals such as the annual Westside Reggae Festival featuring Beres Hammond (above)August 9, the Danbury Fields Forever Beatles festival, July 26 and 27, the Ecuadorian Fest, August 10, Connecticut on Tap Fest--celebrating the state’s craft beer, September 13, and a bluegrass festival August 19. Ives will also host Western Connecticut’s Theater Arts production of the original play "Two Nights Near Doolin" July 10 to 13, and a performance by the Connecticut Ballet on July 25.

The diversity of events reflects the park's mission statement as well as Cortese's vision. 

“It’s not just a rock concert venue, we're very organic, it's an arts experience,” Cortese says.   

The Ives Concert Park was conceived in 1974. That year 7,000 people came to Danbury to hear Leonard Bernstein, Michael Tilson Thomas and the American Symphony Orchestra perform an all Ives program at the Danbury Fair Grounds. Ultimately the Ives Concert Park settled on its current home at Western Connecticut.

Today the venue’s unique pavilion stage is located on a pond and surrounded on all sides by water. The pond serves as a shimmering backdrop for performances and a small moat-like expanse of water separates the performers from the first row of audience members.

Over the years the venue has hosted acts such as Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, Tony Bennett (who performed their last year), BB King, Melissa Etheridge, Lyle Lovett, The Beach Boys, Hall & Oates, Frankie Vallie & the Four Seasons, Sheryl Crow and many others.  

Though it’s a large concert venue, Cortese and Greenberg say the park has a feel that is distinctly different than many other major concert locations. 

"When you come in the park we try to make it an experience where you’re one with nature,” Greenberg says. “I’m not sure where else you can go where you can bring your own chair and pop down and get a bottle of wine, or sit by a tree, or wonder around a beautiful pond before a show starts .You see more and more people coming earlier to do that. It’s more of an experience than just coming for the concert alone.” 

Contact me by email eofgang@connecticutmag.com and follow me on Twitter, and connect with Connecticut Magazine on Twitter, on Facebook and Google +

Ives Concert Park’s 40th Anniversary: Peter Frampton, Moody Blues and More

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