Friday night sights

I started going to the Friday night Concerts in the Park sometime in the early to mid-’90s. I’m not sure of the exact year, but I remember some of those early shows well. In particular was one when Cake headlined a packed Cesar Chavez Plaza and I first heard John McCrea break out his rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”

It was, perhaps, very shortly before or after the band’s first major label record came out and I was impressed to watch the band get big during that ’90s alt-rock gold rush, especially since I’d grown up listening to then-drummer Todd Roper practicing every weekday afternoon in the house his family owned across the street from mine.

As I listened to the music, however, I found myself watching the crowd more than the musicians. A cadre of interpretative dancers had gathered near the front of stage and, decked out in varying degrees of shirtlessness, patchwork skirts and patchouli oil, endlessly swayed and writhed—although not always in time to the music.

Meanwhile, local promoter Jerry Perry passed out fliers for upcoming shows as he made his way through throngs of people. There were clusters of punk teens, adorned with mohawks and various piercings; there were gaggles of harried moms pushing strollers; and there were plenty of bros, hoisting Bud Light-filled plastic cups as they high-fived and kept an eye out for the honeys.

Now, some 15-plus years later, much is different in Sacramento and the area surrounding Cesar Chavez Plaza, and yet the more things change on a Friday evening in Sacramento, the more they stay the same.

Last week, I started my Concert in the Park experience across the street at Grange, downstairs in the swank Citizen Hotel. As I sipped on a $10 martini and listened to the sounds of Sea of Bees’ singer Julie Ann Baenzinger’s voice float over the crowd and into the bar, I contemplated the oddness of watching the show from a front window while drinking fancy vodka drinks. An older woman wearing all white, including a flopping, big-brimmed hat, sat nearby with her granddaughters as they lazily picked through an $8 bowl of marinated olives. It all seemed nice, yes, but wrong somehow, too—all that air conditioning and top-shelf booze coalescing to create a hermetic bubble of cultural safety.

Finally, I finished my cocktail and stepped out into air, which hours before sunset shimmered with heat and city smog. Sister Crayon was now playing, and as I made my way through the crowd—certainly not as many who’d come out the week before for perennial park favorites Mumbo Gumbo, but a decent turnout nonetheless—I almost felt as though I’d stepped into a time warp.

The usual interpretative dance crew was stationed near the front of the stage, dressed in flowing skirts, tanned muscles gleaming, patchouli oil penetrating through the heat. Pierced and mohawked teens too cool to dance bobbed their heads in just the tiniest, barely perceptible degrees of motion. Soccer moms fussed with their babies while bros, hoisting their usual Bud Light-filled plastic cups, high-fived as they scouted the crowd for the honeys.

Finally, Jerry Perry—who’s long since graduated to CIP show booker and is now often accompanied by his teenaged son—took to the stage to announce upcoming shows he’d booked at Cesar Chavez Plaza and around town.

And, as the running soundtrack in my head cued up Cake’s “I Will Survive,” I’m not sure if I’d ever felt more Sacramento—or more at home.