Musical instrument in a park
The Park Advisory Board hopes to bring back Music in the Park this summer. (Getty Images)

You might say it represents small-town living at its best.

Families sitting on blankets spread out on the grass, keeping an eye on toddlers playing nearby while mom and dad take in the tunes. An elderly couple getting out of the house for a few hours to enjoy the sounds and the surroundings.

Then there’s a local service organization willing to serve up hot dogs while knowing there won’t be much of a profit, just there to help out as a sort of community service. The bands themselves don’t even get paid, spreading the good vibes perhaps as a promotional opportunity but also to help raise a few bucks for the schools’ performing arts programs.

Of course, we’re talking about Music in the Park and if everything works out, the Philomath Park Advisory Board hopes to bring it back this summer after needing to cancel the 2020 performances.

An inquiry from a performer about possibly getting on the summer schedule prompted the park board to talk about whether or not it should try to organize the event.

“I don’t think there’s a reason to cancel it yet but just playing it by ear for now,” board member Caleb Unema said when chair Dale Collins asked for input. “It is outside and it is one of the things where social distancing could be practiced a lot easier than other things, so it’s something to think about.”

Board member Sandy Heath agreed and added, “I think that we could very well be in a better place in May than we are today.”

The Music in the Park series made its debut in 2016 as an early project of the Park Advisory Board. The free concerts usually run on the third Thursday of the month for a couple of hours in the early evening in the Randy Kugler Community Hall and gazebo areas of Philomath City Park.

The attendance has varied through the first four years. Jazz band students have been the traditional first concert of the summer and draws the biggest crowds with parents, grandparents and other family members listening.

City Manager Chris Workman estimated crowds are usually within the range of 80 to 120 people. A collection jar is passed around with donations going to the Philomath Performing Arts Benefit Fund, a nonprofit foundation created a few years ago to fill the needs of all band and music programs in the local school district.

Finding bands to play for free can be a challenge, especially during the summer months when many of them have several options for paying gigs.

“I think in our best year, we had five or six bands we were considering,” Workman told the board. “I think we turned a couple of bands away in preference of others just for variety more than anything. But most of the time, we’re struggling to find good bands that somebody’s heard at least once before that’s willing to come and play for free.”

Workman encouraged the park board members to begin looking for bands that might be interested with the goal of bringing back names for the board’s February meeting.

“We keep it kind of informal as far as who we like,” Workman said. “We try to have some variety — a brass band one month, and the next month maybe do something a little different.

“If we can have all our bands lined up by February or March at the latest, I think that puts us in good shape still,” he added.

Collins planned to respond to the performer’s questions that he had received and to also reach out to the Lion’s Club to see if the organization would want to again be involved with concessions. Pandemic restrictions could be a factor in whether or not the club would be able to cook up burgers and dogs with food prep possibly still not allowed on site this summer.

“It’s worth talking to the Lion’s Club to see what their comfort level is,” Workman said. “They may want to do some prepackaged items and they’d still be getting their name out there.”

Another board member, Lindy Young, will reach out to the school district to determine if band students might be available. And all board members will work on coming up with possible bands to fill the four concert dates.

Following is a rundown of bands that have performed in Philomath’s Music in the Park summer series since its inception in 2016:
2016: PHS-PMS Jazz Band, Parish Gap, Magic Mama, The Flow
2017: PHS-PMS Jazz Band, Hilltop Big Band, Chintimini Brass/Corvallis Community Band’s Sax Trax, Albany Summer Festival Orchestra
2018: PHS-PMS Jazz Band, Chintimini Brass, J.D. Miller and the Riveredge Boys, Swamp Grass
2019: PHS-PMS Jazz Band, Jeanne Greggs Band, Double Play, Ludicrous Speed
2020: Canceled