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VOL. 127 | NO. 184 | Thursday, September 20, 2012

‘Go-To Hangout Spot’

Court Square Concert Series latest boon for Downtown park’s growth

By Sarah Baker

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Court Square has made impressive strides from the quality of life issues that plagued it just a few years ago.

Local bluegrass group 2 Mule Plow return to this year’s Court Square Concert Series, one of many improvements to the Downtown park. The group will play Oct. 7.

(Photo Courtesy of the Downtown Memphis Commission)

Thanks to landscape and surrounding commercial property enhancements, more police placed patrolling the area on bikes and a more aggressive approach to panhandling, the Downtown Memphis public park is now seen by many as more of an amenity than a spot to avoid.

On any given day, Court Square is bustling with food trucks, field trips, casual business meetings and even spontaneous opera performances.

“We renovated it several years ago and that’s been one of the target spots, not only for panhandling, but other quality of life stuff, too,” said Dawn Vinson, director of marketing and special events for the Downtown Memphis Commission. “We enhanced with the rose gardens there, just doing all kinds of little things to make it people’s go-to hangout spot. We really do want that to be something for the community and something for everyone to enjoy pretty much any time of the day, seven days a week.”

That’s why the DMC targets Court Square for many of its events, “just to remind people that it’s there and what a beautiful park it is.” One of which is the Court Square Concert Series, a month-long, family friendly string of free live music spotlighting local musicians.

“It’s simple street animation,” Vinson said. “We don’t really have a lot going on in that area around Court Square on Sunday afternoons. It’s just something that we want to do to enhance the Downtown experience.”

The series comes after similar events that the DMC has hosted in the past such as alley jams and the Downtown Alive summer lunchtime performance series. A top priority for this year’s Court Square concerts was to move the showtimes into a later slot; they now run from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., leading into the dinner hour so that surrounding businesses may benefit from the foot traffic.

“We’re hoping that by making it just a little bit later, people will linger a little bit,” Vinson said. “So they’re coming not just for the concert, but it is a dinner picnic type thing.”

Coolers, picnics, blankets, lawn chairs and friendly pets are welcomed. The series kicks off Sunday, Sept. 23, with Jeremy Shrader and The Quintessentials, a group that Rollin Riggs of booking company Resource Entertainment Group describes as “a swinging, jazzy, Rat-Pack-ey type act” that’s well suited for an outdoor venue like Court Square.

Other acts are Star and Micey (folk rock and jam) Sept. 30, 2 Mule Plow (bluegrass) Oct. 7, and Tennessee Mass Choir (gospel) Oct. 14. More information on the artists can be found at downtownmemphis.com/cscs.asp.

Resource Entertainment Group works closely with the Memphis Grizzlies, and books parties and private functions at The Peabody Memphis, The Columns at One Commerce Square and the Cadre Building. But the Court Square Concert Series goes along with the firm’s general festival booking side of the business that looks for “high-quality, family friendly acts that are reasonably priced and very professional.”

Riggs said it’s an opportunity to showcase Memphis musicians that aren’t Stax- and Sun Records-based.

“Traditional Memphis music is great for a tourist crowd and a convention crowd, but a lot of times Memphians have been there, done that,” Riggs said. “There are hundreds of enormously talented professional musicians around this city who don’t necessarily play straight-ahead, what’s kind of stereotypical Memphis music. It’s really nice to be able to give them a platform to perform also.”

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