Art outside: Montclair offer music and film under summer skies
By GWEN OREL
Shades of orange and pink fill the sky. People lounge in chairs, or on blankets, sipping a drink, chatting quietly. Fireflies switch on and off.
A movie begins.
A singer’s voice wafts over the sound of people eating. Guitar chords fill the spaces between conversation.
The cello’s suave, deep tones turn Fairfield Street into a concert hall. People sit in chairs, or in the backs of their SUVs.
It’s summer in Montclair, and outdoor music and events are everywhere.
Even if you can’t get away on a weekend, the outdooor events bring a vacation vibe to town. July 4 activities include a parade and a picnic at Edgemont Memorial Park. The 10th anniversary of the free Montclair Jazz Festival, is on Saturday, Aug. 10, at Nishuane Park.
The Montclair Farmers’ Market, on Walnut Street on Saturdays, from 8 a.m.- to 2 p.m. through mid-November, offers a chance to browse in the open air, and taste the fruits of summer — and hear music. Some of the upcoming acts include Mackenzie Johnson on July 20, and Outpost in the Burbs on Sept. 7. Youth Orchestra of Essex County is scheduled for Oct. 5.
“People love to be outside in the warmer months,” said Jennifer Brown, executive director of Montclair Center BID (Business Improvement District), which hosts Montclair Center Stage at Church Street on Saturdays through Sept. 14.
“It’s really buzzing on Saturday night already. [Center Stage] ads a vibe to the street,” Brown said. Many of the musicians are local, and bring their own fans. Montclair is a very creative town, she added. Every week offers different music, sometimes in different styles. Blues is always popular. For details, visit montclaircenter.com. Center Stage begins at 6 p.m. on Saturdays. Upcoming acts include The Fabulous Flemtones on July 27, and Jazz House Kids on Aug. 3, a week before the Jazz Festival.
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Watchung Booksellers, 54 Fairfield St., has been offering music for five or six years:; owner Margot Sage-EL isn’t quite sure which. Here, too, the musicians that play on Friday nights are mostly local. Music begins at 5:30 p.m. on Fridays through July (except for July 4th weekend). People can bring food, and Watchung Booksellers is working with Da Pepo, the restaurant next door. Perhaps because the set-up, with chairs outside the shop, is a little quieter than that of Church Street, where performers play over the sounds of local restaurants, Watchung Booksellers offers an acoustic variety of styles, including classical, jazz, and Irish. Upcoming acts include jazz guitarist Julian Keenan on July 12, and “new folk” acoustic quartet ABCD on July 19.
“It’s a great way to end the week,” Sage-EL said. “We begin the weekend with a social hour. We get to visit with people and chat, listen to the musicians. The musicians are amazing.” For details, visit watchungbooksellers.com.
This is the second year that Alan Smith, of Montclair rock band The Porchistas, has organized the Friday Music Series outside Montclair Bread Company. He books musicians from all over New Jersey, as well as some from New York. It’s free to those eating. Why people love to hear music outside is “a question as old as music itself,” Smith said. The music, which begins at 6:30 p.m., will continue through October, because when it gets cooler, there’s a space across the street for it. The space will also be used on rain dates, he said.
Filling a producer’s role is new for the musician. “It’s nice to be able to provide local music to the community,” he said. The music is acoustic; no drums, to avoid complaints. For musicians, playing in the heat can be uncomfortable, and they have to realize that diners aren’t paying attention in the same way they would at a club.
“But it doesn’t mean they are not enjoying the atmosphere,” Smith said. “The audience might be listening, even though their mouths are moving. It doesn’t bother me. I am just part of the atmosphere.”
Jackson Pines will play on July 26, and Accidental Seabirds on Aug. 2. For athe Montclair Bread Company schedule, visit the Facebook page.
Montclair Film has been showing movies outside even before there was a Montclair Film Festival. 2019 was the eighth year of the festival, but it will be the 10th year of showing movies outside.
“It was one of the first things they decided to do in terms of launching the organization,” said Executive Director Tom Hall. Showing free films outside gave Montclair Film the opportunity to partner with venues and organizations they wouldn’t ordinarily, and reach people they wouldn’t reach, he said. It’s also a chance to show big Hollywood blockbusters Montclair Film would’n’t normally show, such as “Spider Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” at Nishuane Park on June 10, or “Aquaman,” which closes the series on Church Street on Aug. 16.
The next movie is “Gnomeo and Juliet,” a partnership with Montclair Public Library, on Friday, July 26. Screenings begin at 7 p.m.
“I’m a child of the drive-in era,” said Hall. “Outdoor films seem to have usurped that. We put them out, and take them down. Being outside adds to the film experience.”
At some screenings they’ve had food trucks. At “Gnomeo,” they’ll have a band before the film starts.
“Being outdoors under the stars, al fresco, bringing a picnic, setting up a chair, is a great way to watch movies,” he said. “It’s not a pristine environment. You’re aware of your neighbors and the world around you in different ways.”