The last 18 months have been a real drag for people who love live music. COVID protocols have kept us away from each other and from gathering for live music events. In the early months of COVID, and the lock-downs that followed, many musicians shared their craft virtually with their fans. But, for music lovers, virtual shows will never take the place of being there. The essence of a crowd, the pulse of the music in your bones, the summer night air, and the acoustics of the music all around you.
There’s really no comparison. Live music is where it’s at!
As restrictions on gatherings and concerts ease up, The Athens Performing Arts Corporation, better known as APAC, welcomes us all back this month to the Athens Riverfront Park for some of the hottest, world class musicians to grace the banks of the Hudson River.
“My good friend R.J. Hummer and I came up with the idea of having concerts at the Athens Riverfront Park while I was still the mayor. One of our biggest commitments that we made to ourselves was that it would be free to the public. We would sit outside of his studio at the end of Water Street some nights after my band practice and talk about doing something like that for the community,” said Rick Surrano, a founding figure with APAC for 18 years.
Music was a common denominator between the two men, spending many nights discussing and dreaming up ideas that would bring music to not just their community, but to surrounding communities as well. They wanted it to be special, they wanted it to be different, and they wanted it to be something that Athens, and their community neighbors could enjoy for years to come.
“We knew we needed a stage for live music, and it had to be a large, covered structure with minimal obstructions so people could see the bands perform.” Rick said.
And, in a ‘if you build it and they will come’ sort of way, they did. With the help and support of many friends, and donations from local contractors, they built a stage. A stage that this year, will be dedicated to paying tribute to a longtime musical fixture to the area and lifelong friend of Surrano, Johnny Moon (Pieruzzi), who passed away on January 1, 2021. Moon was a founding member of the APAC, and a former chairman.
Surrano says the APAC has been very fortunate to have the Athens Community Benefit Trust Fund grant award opportunity each year which is open to different Athens groups, programs, and nonprofits, and says they have also been blessed with wonderful sponsors over the years, commenting that some contributions come hand delivered throughout the season.
Rick’s Giving Tuesday fundraiser on social media, which is held in December, and his Birthday fundraiser every April also bring generous donations every year.
“None of what we have done or will continue to do would have been possible without the combination of all the wonderful hearts of the people that appreciate what happens every summer in Athens! There is so much positive energy involved in this program of ours it makes you want to keep it going for years to come.”
Surrano goes on to mention that everyone working these events like security, cleanup crews, and sales vendors are all non-paid volunteers.
Most of the bands hired are national and international touring acts, and APAC negotiates, reviews, revises, and signs contracts, hospitality, and technical riders to make sure that everything runs smoothly, professionally, and with the best interest of the community in mind. However, there are situations where unforeseen events happen and a band might have to cancel due to accident, illness, or even something more tragic.
“You adapt, overcome and improvise. Most of the local bands, myself included, perform all over our general area at most of the outdoor concert series and clubs. Our main goal from day one was to bring something different and to keep it free. We wanted national touring acts, although we started with all of my friend’s bands for years, we knew what our goal was.”
And, after almost two decades of music on the Athens Waterfront, it is safe to say that the dream that was, became. Those of us who have enjoyed the music, the heartfelt moments that have taken place on stage, and the friendships born in the crowd, we areso excited to have the music back. This year’s lineup looks and sounds amazing, and I hope to see you there.
I personally thank Rick Surrano for his years of hard work and dedication to live music and the Athens community, for being my friend, and for allowing me to take so many awesome pictures of him over the years while playing his harmonica.
And of course, Rest in Peace RJ Hummer; Rest in Peace Johnny Moon.