The Woodstock Arts Lantern Series shines a light on performers who give listeners a butterfly-in-the-gut feeling of experiencing an artist for the first time, performers who deliver music from other regions and even other countries.
When you walk down Main Street in downtown Woodstock, a mingling of sounds may enter your ears–some blues or maybe a bit of country streaming from Reformation Brewery’s elm tree stage, some jazzy notes from Rootstock’s Listening Room, or a little bit of rock and roll from MadLife Stage & Studios. No matter your musical tastes and preferences, you can catch a live show any weekend featuring some of the area’s most skilled performers.
Our community’s connection to live music is evident. We share a love of experiencing our favorite artists time and again. Importing new talent to Cherokee, however, is where the Woodstock Arts Lantern Series shines.
AN AMALGAM OF CULTURES, BACKGROUNDS, AND IDEOLOGIES
Woodstock Arts, the nonprofit formerly known as Elm Street Cultural Arts, dedicates itself to engaging the community with relevant art experiences every day. It began as a local nonprofit theater program in 2002. Since then the organization has grown to offer live theater, visual arts, a thriving education program, and the Lantern Series: a sequence of outdoor concerts that bring world-renowned artists to our community.
The Woodstock Arts team artfully crafted the Lantern Series to immerse guests in various genres, backgrounds, and ideologies to unite the community and find a literal and figurative common ground.
LIGHTING THE WAY
The idea for the Lantern Series name came from Christopher Brazelton, executive director for Woodstock Arts. He shares, “I thought the Lantern Series would be a great name, as many cultures have different lanterns as a part of their identity, and music would be a great vehicle for our local community to learn about those cultures more deeply. Plus I liked the idea of guests being able to place lanterns on their table during the concert under the night sky.”
In the early years of planning the Lantern Series, many obstacles made putting on even four concerts a year challenging. Logistically and financially the series halted until a generous posthumous gift from former patron and dear friend Margaret Jenkins alleviated many of the obstacles. Margaret had a fierce passion for travel, learning about different cultures, and sharing those cultures with friends and family. Her generosity allowed the organization to continue her legacy of shared cultures through a new program designed to bring worldly experiences to downtown Woodstock.
THE SERIES TAKES SHAPE
On June 2, 2018, Woodstock Arts held its first Lantern Series concert with The Barefoot Movement, an Americana group that performs traditional Appalachian bluegrass. By the third show, which featured Louisiana native Marc Broussard whose “Bayou soul” set became wildly popular, the Lantern Series team knew it had something special.
The Woodstock Arts staff and board of directors work hard to extend the horizons of what can be done with the Lantern Series. What started as a “small experiment” for Christopher and his team has become an annual twelve-concert series built to enrich the community. “What we need is a place for different cultures, backgrounds, and ideologies to come together and find common ground. If the arts cannot do this, what can?” he notes.
Dan White, lead saxophonist of Brooklyn-based band Huntertones, shares memories from his group’s first concert during the first year of the series:
“What you guys are doing is crucial for a venue. There are no limitations for the artist to come and play or the audience to experience; this venue is pure celebration. You don’t see it often, but no matter the music, you celebrate it hard. We need more venues doing what you are doing.”
The Woodstock Arts team has seen some inspiring moments from the series. Since the first time Huntertones graced the local stage, the group has gained significant fame, as has Sammy Rae & The Friends, a seven-piece funk-infused rock and roll band that performed here in 2020. Other popular concerts include The Lone Bellow and singer-songwriter A.J. Croce, the son of folk singer-songwriter Jim Croce. A.J., who typically performs his own original music, commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of his father’s You Don’t Mess Around with Jim album by performing a special show—Croce Plays Croce—during which he played some of his father’s music in front of an audience for the very first time.
For the fifth year, the Woodstock Arts Lantern Series brings new experiences and opportunities for connection this spring with a new lineup of artists at the Woodstock Arts Event Green. Save the dates for the newest artists to be welcomed to downtown Woodstock’s starry night sky. Individual tickets and tables are available now at WoodstockArts.org.
This article was originally featured in the March/April 2023 issue of Enjoy Cherokee Magazine. Read it online here.