The Sparta Summer Concert Series will kick off its 2020 season on Aug. 8 at Dykstra Park.
“I really didn’t think it would happen this year,” said Stewart Liebman, who has been coordinating the series with the the Sparta Township Cultural Affairs Committee for the past 15 years. “But the committee was gung-ho, and the township was very helpful. This is the 175th anniversary of Sparta, and there were supposed to have been all kinds of celebration events that had to be canceled, so we’re particularly glad the series can go on.”
Attendees will be asked to wear masks and socially distance.
“We had a sit-down with the police and the town manager,” Liebman said. “Before each concert begins, I will go up on stage and remind people to not wander around, to wear masks and stay within their various groups to socially distance. During the shows, committee members will help to monitor this.”
The series will kick off with a performance by King Solomon Hicks on Saturday, Aug. 8. Cassidy Catanzaro will perform on Friday, Aug. 14, and Peter Karp and the Roadshow will appear on Friday, Aug. 21. Danielia will hit the stage on Friday, Aug. 28, Big Funk will play on Friday, Sept. 4, and the series will conclude with the John Byrne Band on Friday, Sept. 11.
“Stew Liebman and the Sparta Arts Council have been bringing world class musicians to Sparta to play free of charge to those who want to attend for Friday night concerts for over 15 summers now,” said Greg Lewis, a frequent concert attendee. “It is always a highlight for me. Stew is as knowledgeable as it gets when it comes to music. He has consistently brought in top-notch performers from across the country and overseas. All of them are well respected by their peers but not necessarily very well-known by the commercial music community. Stew has done a terrific eclectic radio show for 15 years on our once-beloved WNTI in Hackettstown before that station was sold to a Philadelphia based radio station.”
Lewis said Jersey blues legend Billy Hector has been a constant over the years, but otherwise the acts are always different each year and have included Frank Bang, Peter Karp, Ian Parker, Laura Rain, Danielia Cotton, Murali Coryell, Arthur Neilson (guitarist for Cyndi Laupner and Shemekia Copeland), and Albert Castiglia (Junior Wells), among many others.
“He works year round reaching out and building relationships with the acts he books,” Lewis said. “None of these artists were very well-known to the northwestern New Jersey audience before Stew brought them to town and promoted them on our once-wonderful local radio station WNTI.”
Another change to this year’s series is rain dates.
“In the past, one of the reasons we’ve been able to draw the bands we have from far away is because we had a guaranteed concert on a specific date with the option to move into the Mohawk Avenue School if need be,” Liebman said. “This year we’re hosting artists who are within a two-hour drive so they can do a rain date if need be. It’s almost a relief as it gets pretty tight in the school. The artists have been very cooperative about this as so much has been canceled and no one really has many gigs set up.”
The exception to this is Peter Karp, who lives in Tennessee but has family in the Sparta area with whom he’ll be staying. Karp is a storyteller who spins narratives through his music.
“This is home, this is where I got my start,” Karp said. “These are my roots, and it’s great to play with my original band when I’m back here. Except for a brief kidnapping to southern Alabama, I was born and raised in North Jersey. My music career really took off because of a great college radio station in Hackettstown (WNTI) 25 years ago, and 12 records later, after touring all over the world, I am thrilled to return to Sparta. We may need to perform respecting social distance, but we will play with love, intimacy, and fire -- like we always do.”
For further information, visit spartaarts.org.
“This is home, this is where I got my start. These are my roots, and it’s great to play with my original band when I’m back here. Except for a brief kidnapping to southern Alabama, I was born and raised in North Jersey. After touring all over the world, I am thrilled to return to Sparta. We may need to perform respecting social distance, but we will play with love, intimacy, and fire -- like we always do.” --Peter Karp