Some people visit Schenectady’s Central Park for the roses.
Others come for the giant swimming pool. Tennis, anyone?
People like Mona Golub and Betsy Sandberg come for the music. Golub has been organizing shows for the park’s Music Haven Concert Series since 1990, and is now preparing for the series’ 25th anniversary season. Sandberg is volunteer coordinator and is also the series’ unofficial historian.
This year’s six-show schedule on the Agnes Macdonald Music Haven stage begins Sunday with African group Mokoomba. The shows are all held on summer Sundays, all begin at 7 p.m. and all are free. This year, the series has a rain site — if thunder, lightning and rain are issues, performers and audience members will gather at Proctors in Schenectady.
Central Park has been around since the early 1900s. People were probably throwing baseballs, opening picnic baskets and listening to horns and drums during those early days.
According to a Schenectady Gazette article from 1962, Music Haven started in 1950. For years, the city sponsored symphony concerts, barbershop quartet shows and “record hops.” Golub approached then-Mayor Karen B. Johnson in 1989, and inquired about a regular series of performers. City officials gave their approval; five shows were held during the 1990 inaugural season.
“World music” has always been in the mix for Music Haven shows. Amsterdam’s Latin Kings — with Alex Torres — first appeared in 1991. Kanda Bongo Man became the first African artist to perform at Music Haven in 1992. Rockers NRBQ were in the park in 1993.
The Rebirth Brass Band hit town the same year. Golub said the musicians arrived right at show time, in a stretch limo, the tuba sticking through the sun roof. “Once they started playing, nobody cared about the time,” she said.
Music Haven’s new $735,000 stage was constructed and dedicated in 1999.
The 2014 concert series also includes Irish musician Eileen Ivers on July 13; Cuban dance music stylists Conjunton Chappottin y Sus Estrellas on July 20; blues man James Cotton on July 27; zydeco enthusiasts Jeffrey Broussard and the Creole Cowboys on Aug. 3; and swing-jazz aficionados Ghost Train Orchestra on Aug. 10.
“My favorite summer memories often are around these concerts,” said Sandberg, who believes people keep coming for the variety. “Central Park is the jewel of Schenectady. There’s so much you can do in Central Park. People bring their lawn chairs. . . . It’s an outdoor concert hall.”