It only takes one groovy dancer to get the party started in front of the gazebo at Sopris Park. Photo by Raleigh Burleigh

As crisp fall air comes to the Valley and the trees begin their shift to reds and golds, audiences can enjoy some of the last outdoor music of the season this coming Sunday, Sept. 24 from 4pm until 7:30pm. The fifth of 2023’s five free Sopris Park concerts will feature The Circuss (“A musical trip thru some of your favorite rock and roll tunes”) followed by Mitt Spicy and the Blues Bandits to close the evening. Everyone is welcome — the only rules are no pets, no glass and no booze.

The free concert series in Sopris Park has existed in its current iteration for about 10 years. In the 2000s, the gazebo used to see concerts every Thursday evening put on by what was then the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities (now Carbondale Arts). After a several years’ hiatus, then-mayor Stacy Bernot, along with two other Carbondale Trustees Pam Zentmyer and Elizabeth Murphy, approached Marty Silverstein to help bring the park concerts back.

They asked if Silverstein — then on the Parks and Rec Commission and now a town trustee — would be interested in working with Steve Standiford of Steve’s Guitars, and a partnership was born. Though town leadership was only expecting two concerts the first year, Silverstein and Standiford delivered three. The concerts were a big hit, and Silverstein says the music “makes people feel good and it brings the community together … and that’s a joyous thing.”

With over 30 years of booking experience, Standiford brings in quality acts and Silverstein does most of the fundraising and marketing. The first year of concerts had a budget of about $6,000 with an additional $1,000 or so from fundraising efforts. Since then, the Town has increased the budget for the park concerts and Silverstein’s fundraising efforts have increased donations almost seven-fold in recent years.

Community is the main focus of the concerts in Sopris Park: “For me, one of the most rewarding things, besides having free music, is seeing three generations – grandchildren, parents and parents – all enjoying the music together in the park,” Silverstein reflected.

The Town partners with The Sopris Sun and KDNK as media partners, thereby keeping ad revenue in the community, and Standiford’s booking always features local and returning talent as part of the lineup. The series aims to showcase a variety of genres, from bluegrass and Americana to Lantinx rock. “We try to mix it up,” Silverstein said. Recent favorites include Jackson Emmer, Cruz Contreras and Los Mocochetes.

The concerts in the park have “grown into quite an event,” Silverstein said, with attendance often between two and three hundred. He noted, however, that it is a typical Carbondale crowd, and concert-goers don’t all show up at once. There may only be 20 or so people there right at 4pm. He tells the musicians not to worry: “the Carbondale people, especially during the summer, are out biking, hiking or riding on the river, but then they get back, and then, ‘Oh yeah, there’s music in the park, let’s go!’” By 6pm, the park is teeming with folks dancing and enjoying the music.

Silverstein mentioned that keeping the concerts alive was a challenge during the height of the pandemic, but Steve’s Guitars kept the music going by broadcasting shows through their partnership with GrassRoots TV. KDNK simulcasts the music for people who can’t make it in-person, and Silverstein pointed out that the local station “gets to tape the shows so they have a library they can use when they need some programming.”

The Sopris Park concerts wouldn’t be possible without Ralph Pitt, who runs sound for the concerts, and Mountain Maes, a local high school student who runs lighting and helps Pitt with sound. Jeff Jackel and Eric Brendlinger of Parks and Rec have also been instrumental in the success of these concerts, as well as the many sponsors of the series including Alpine Bank, Sopris Liquor and Wine, Umbrella Roofing and others.

“Those that come here love the environment and they’ll come back and play, even though it may [pay] less than a neighboring town,” Silverstein said. “Everyone wants to show ‘em love and everyone wants an encore, they don’t want the music to end.”