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Commentary: Concerts in the park

Old trees, old tunes and old memories all played into the summertime atmosphere Thursday at the kick-off of the Concerts in the Parks series at Brainerd’s venerable Gregory Park.

An audience of mostly old folks tapped the arm rests of their lawn chairs to the Vagabonds’ versions of old chestnuts such as “In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town,” “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love,” and “Sioux City Sue.” The band even threw in “This Land is Your Land” and a few Hank Williams tunes for good measure.

The Vagabonds, featuring harmony vocals backed up by guitars, keyboard and saxophone, knew their audience and they hit the target dead-on. The oldsters who socialized after the show beamed with satisfaction, enjoying the fact that they not only knew every song, but they knew the words to every song. And those words of the 1930s and 1940s brought the audience back to a different musical era. Lyrics were sentimental, romantic and gently humorous.

The band played in the grand old park’s elevated 1914 bandstand and the main vocalist wasn’t above pulling the legs of the audience. He told the Brainerd audience he was from Motley and lived in an old farm house where his wife swept the dirt floors to keep the dust down.

The weather was picture perfect for a concert in the park. The night was still. Thin, high clouds contrasted with a blue sky. Bugs were few and even the distractions were pleasant diversions. A wailing BNSF freight train prompted the Vagabonds’ vocalist to consider playing “Folsom Prison Blues.” A few young mothers strolled through the park with their babies. Little leashed dogs acted tough as they spotted bigger dogs in the park. Tennis players swayed to the music in between volleys. A boy shot baskets at a nearby court.

The band members were in their 70s and there was a generational link between musicians and the audience — one that only shared experiences can bring about. When the vocalist said that a song was written during the early years of the war, only a few baby boomers had to ask themselves “which war?” The seniors with memories of World War II and its aftermath knew which war he was talking about.

Concerts in the Park, a cooperative offering of the Brainerd Parks and Recreation Department and the Lake Area Senior Activity Center, is free and open to all ages. The concerts are at 7 p.m. and will be conducted every Thursday through Sept. 6. The rain site is the senior center at 803 Kingwood St.

MIKE O’ROURKE, associate editor, may be reached at 855-5860 or He may be followed at

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
(218) 855-5860