For 33 years, Gloucester’s own music man — David Benjamin — has been bringing music to the waterfront every summer through the Antonio Gentile Bandstand series at Stage Fort Park.
The 2019 season kicks off Sunday, July 7, at 7 p.m. with The Continentals, a pop-rock show band.
The series’ eight free outdoor concerts are sponsored by area businesses and individual donors.
Benjamin, the series producer, said that this season features the return of Grupo Fantasia, with its Latin dance party theme, on July 14. Bandstand favorites Martin & Kelly, a fresh and dynamic country act, is also returning and will take the stage on Aug. 4.
As a special treat, the Cape Ann Community Band will deliver a Celtic show, joined by the North Shore Pipe Band, on Aug. 18.
Benjamin said that he seeks to showcase varied musical styles performed by top professionals on the bandstand within Stage Fort Park, which was the site of settlers back in 1623.
Designated an Essex National Heritage Area Visitor Center, the park is also home to two beaches, a playground and other attractions.
“The park is one of the most beautiful concert venues in New England, and it’s hard to beat,” Benjamin said.
He encourages guests to bring chairs or blankets and picnic meals and enjoy the setting along with the music.
“I personally get a real sense of comfort when I’m at the bandstand during a concert,” Benjamin said. “When the sun has set and the band is well into its act, the audience seems so at ease that it feels just as it should be.
“There is a real sense of community during these shows with friends and couples conversing, singing along, as well as the occasional dancers,” he said. “It’s just a perfect Cape Ann setting, and I’m really glad to help make that happen.”
The performers are fond of the venue, too.
“We absolutely love the setting and backdrop of Stage Fort Park. We have many family friends in the North Shore area that we love to see at that show,” said Jilly Martin and Ryan Kelly of Martin & Kelly. “Plus, it’s smack-dab in the middle of a busy summer season, so it’s nice to be able to be at the shore during that time.”
Known for their harmonies, Martin & Kelly will be joined by a full band for their Aug. 4 show. The singer-songwriters, who perform from New England to Nashville, have been featured as support acts for many traditional and mainstream country artists. They also serve up original music in their shows.
The musicians from Grupo Fantasia are also eager to return to Stage Fort Park.
“The band loves it there,” group spokeswoman Karen Wagner said. “The crowd is always very enthusiastic, energetic and responsive to the Latin music.”
Wagner’s husband, Angel Wagner, formed Grupo Fantasia in 1993 with fellow musicians from the Dominican Republic. He serves as band leader and lead vocalist.
“To date, the band has performed somewhere in the range of 6,000 shows all over New England, up and down the East Coast, with some members performing all over the world,” Karen Wagner said. “The band focuses these days on city festivals and summer concerts, schools, universities, senior centers, among other venues, and monthly (shows) at Stonewood Tavern in Peabody.”
In another long-standing tradition, Benjamin invites players to perform with the Cape Ann Community Band at its Aug. 18 concert.
The band, whose appearance is sponsored by Bank Gloucester, will rehearse for six weeks beginning on Monday, July 8, at 7 p.m. at the Rose Baker Senior Center in Gloucester. Interested musicians should commit to at least four of the six rehearsals, including the final two sessions on Aug. 5 and 12.
The performance program is geared toward both young and experienced players, with pieces of varying ability level planned to accommodate all musicians. Families are encouraged to participate, as are former school band members.
Performers need their own instruments and should each bring a music stand, as well. Percussion equipment and some stands are provided.
“We’ve always had a lot of fun preparing our concerts,” Benjamin said. “It’s a supportive mood at our rehearsals. Everyone is learning and enjoying the company of fellow musicians.”
IF YOU GO
What: Antonio Gentile Bandstand series
When: Sundays, July 7 through Aug. 25, 7 p.m. Rain dates the following Wednesdays, 7 p.m.
Where: Stage Fort Park, Hough Avenue, Gloucester
How much: Free admission and parking
July 7: The Continentals, pop-rock show band
July 14: Grupo Fantasia, Latin dance party
July 21: Compaq Big Band, jazz
July 28: Old Cold Tater and Down Home Swing, acoustic bluegrass
Aug. 4: Martin & Kelly, country
Aug. 11: 4Ever Fab, Beatles tribute band
Aug. 18: Cape Ann Community Band, concert band
Aug. 25: Cape Ann Big Band, jazz