Tunes at Twilight ends on crescendo

Friday, September 17, 2004

By Kathryn Alfisi ~ Southeast Missourian

Now with its fourth season almost over, it appears the Old Town Cape music series Tunes at Twilight has caught on with the residents of Cape Girardeau and become a part of the city's summer landscape. Its season ends tonight.

In 2001, the series started with performances by local musicians on the lawn of First Presbyterian Church. Three years later, Tunes at Twilight is able to bring in a seasonal audience of 2,700 for the 12 performances by a blend of local and national musicians at the Common Pleas Courthouse gazebo.

Tunes at Twilight got off to a good start this year with over 300 attending the opening show May 21 that featured the Nashville, Tenn.-based folk duo Bailey Jester. Since then, crowds have averaged 220.

"We've had a lot of interest this year. I think the crowds are getting a little bigger," said Larry Underberg, who, along with his wife, Jean, is in charge of booking acts. The shows are sponsored by the downtown development group Old Town Cape.

Attendance was affected by the weather on two occasions, when rain prevented the concerts from being held at the gazebo and were instead moved to Grace Cafe.

Despite the rain, Underberg said Grace Cafe was packed during the performances of Saxy Jazz on June 19 and Amelia Royko on Aug. 20, and that spirits were not dampened even if the ground was.

"It's a lot of fun in there," Underberg said of the Grace Cafe rain performances.

In addition to having the weather disrupt her outside performance, Royko was almost late to her own concert when she got caught in traffic during her drive from Chicago. When Underberg got a call from Royko about the situation, he pulled in local musician Mike Renick to perform until Royko arrived.

As it turned out, Royko arrived on time. But Renick still performed some songs before Royko took the stage.

One Tunes at Twilight moment that stands out in Underberg's mind is the Aug. 13 Chris Rosser show. Rosser is a singer-songwriter from North Carolina who blends folk music with traditional music from India.

"We knew how talented he was, but until you see him, you don't appreciate how diverse his music is. It was just something that people hadn't heard before," Underberg said.

It has been professional musicians like Rosser who have helped Tunes at Twilight appeal to a broader and larger audience.

According to Underberg, who became involved in the series after its first season, the turning point for Tunes at Twilight came in September 2002 when Indiana-based folk singer Robert Hoyt performed, becoming the first professional musician to perform at the series.

Underberg booked Hoyt since he was going to performing at Southeast Missouri State University the same week as Tunes at Twilight was taking place.

This prompted the Underbergs to start giving musicians tips about other venues in the area where they could play shows. The relationship the Underbergs started with the owners of clubs and bars like Cousin Andy's in Carbondale, Ill., and the organizers of a few house concerts in Louisville, Ky., helped create a referral network for musicians seeking places to play.

The networking has created a ripple effect for Tunes at Twilight.

"The number of people that want to play has increased dramatically, the number of people coming has increased and the addition of sponsors has helped us tremendously," Underberg said. "Just like any other project, the more it's out there, the more word gets out."

Not only has the size of the crowds increased, but the crowds' behavior has changed.

"I think they also seem more relaxed and interactive." Underberg said. "They're getting more familiar with the format of Tunes at Twilight."

People were regularly bringing picnic baskets and some got in the habit of arriving earlier and staying longer to talk with the musicians after the performance.

Although it is a year away, the line-up for the 2005 Tunes at Twilight is mostly in place, but Underberg is waiting to formally book acts until Old Town Cape's budget is set. Underberg said he has more musicians who want to play next season than the number of shows available.

As for the format, next year's Tunes at Twilight will closely resemble this year's series.

Underberg said there has been some talk about starting the series earlier in May and adding some extra dates, as well as the possibility of having two acts perform at each concert.

335-6611, extension 182

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