Category Archives: Beyond Levitt

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Pop-up Covid vaccination site at Levitt Pavilion Denver (photo by Helen Grover via Levitt Pavilion Denver’s Facebook page).

Amid the ongoing pandemic, free Levitt concerts this past season offered hundreds of thousands of people nationwide a safe outdoor space to experience the unifying power of free, live music; connect with old and new friends; and at some venues, even acquire protection against Covid. More than a thousand concertgoers chose to receive a Covid vaccine at pop-up clinics held at permanent Levitt venues and Levitt AMP concert sites in cities including Denver; Los Angeles; Carson City, Nevada; Soldotna, Alaska; and Woonsocket, Rhode Island, reflecting Levitt’s role as a trusted gathering place that not only enhances cultural life but also promotes the health and well-being of its communities. Learn how several Levitt venues, large and small, made getting a Covid vaccine more accessible. Continue reading

Pictured from left to right: Ruby Ibarra, H.E.R, Dominic Fike, P-Lo, and Jasmine Villegas

Pictured from left to right: Ruby Ibarra, H.E.R, Dominic Fike, P-Lo, and Jasmine Villegas

October is Filipino-American History Month and today we are highlighting talented and inspiring FilAm artists you should know!

Established in 2009 by the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS), this month celebrates and brings awareness to the significant role Filipinos have played in American history, both past and present. The month of October commemorates the first recorded presence of Filipinos in what is now the state of California on October 18, 1587.

Read on to learn about both well-known and up-and-coming Filipino-American musical artists who are bringing their talents into the spotlight.

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Commemorating Juneteenth through music, storytelling, and education

Top left: Ranky Tanky, bottom left: Charlton Singleton, bottom right: Soul Rebels

Top left: Ranky Tanky, bottom left: Charlton Singleton, bottom right: Soul Rebels

On June 19, 1865, Black Americans living in Galveston, Texas rejoiced when they learned that the Civil War had ended and slavery had been abolished throughout the United States, over two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. At first called “Jubilee Day,” the day didn’t become known as Juneteenth until nearly a century later after gaining momentum during the Civil Rights Movement. Juneteenth serves as the oldest and most important Black holiday in American history and has since gained considerable recognition beyond the Black community. It is a day to celebrate Black freedom, the continual efforts towards racial justice, and the integral part that Black people had and continue to have in our country. Particularly during the past year, as the death of George Floyd reinvigorated the Black Lives Matter movement against police brutality and racism, Juneteenth and the people it represents have taken on greater urgency and more widespread significance.

This week, as a part of the 2021 Juneteenth celebrations happening across the country, we’re proud to share that both permanent Levitt venues in Bethlehem, Dayton, Denver, Los Angeles, Memphis, and Sioux Falls, and Levitt AMP concert sites in Springfield, Ill., and Fort Smith, Ark., are partnering with local organizations and businesses to host concerts and festivals filled with live performances featuring Black artists, including Tank and the Bangas, Ranky Tanky and Henry & The Reggae Rockers among many others, as well as educational activities and historical discussions about Juneteenth. Read below for details on these can’t-miss events celebrating the significance of this day. Additionally, as Juneteenth falls in the same month that celebrates Pride and Black music, we’re excited to see that a number of Levitt venues are embracing intersectional themes and activities to illustrate how music is a unifying force, a way for diverse identities and communities to relate to one another.

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Today is International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate the achievements of women across the world while bringing visibility to gender bias and inequality. The theme of this year’s celebration is #ChooseToChallenge, highlighting the power of individuals to call out injustice and spark change. In music, female artists are perhaps more visible than ever, with performers like Rihanna, Arianna Grande, Cardi B, Lizzo, Taylor Swift, and Billie Eilish all reaching the highest echelons of mainstream success. Behind the scenes, however, women are still vastly underrepresented, and are far more likely to experience bias and harassment than their male peers working in the industry. Today on our blog, we bring attention to four sobering statistics that show how gender bias remains a pervasive force in the music industry, and throughout this month, which is Women’s History Month, we’ll be shining the light on some of the fearless females who are challenging the status quo.

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As the global pandemic continues to impact the way we work, play, travel and gather, many of us are having to rethink our holiday plans this season. Fortunately, if you’re looking for some safe and festive family-friendly activities to spark your holiday spirit, we’ve got you covered! Here’s a list of free activities packed with holiday fun and creativity for you to enjoy with family and friends:

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Earlier today, The Recording Academy announced its full list of 2021 GRAMMY Award nominees, giving artists and professionals across the music industry cause for celebration during a challenging year. We’re especially thrilled to congratulate the 27 nominees who’ve performed on Levitt stages across the country! Ranging from Latin, pop, country, jazz and more, these talented performers have captured the attention of critics and audiences around the globe, from blues sensation North Mississippi Allstars who have graced Levitt Shell Memphis to country duo, Brothers Osborne. Check out the nominees below and catch the ceremony on January 31, 2021.  
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Across the country, the pandemic has brought a halt to music venue operations with 90% of them in danger of closing permanently if they don’t receive government assistance. Beloved venues and iconic musical landmarks from the Boulder Theater in Colorado to the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and the Belly Up in San Diego, are at risk of closing their doors for good due to COVID restrictions.

In response, the independent venue community has been hard at work to keep the sector afloat. Earlier this year, Independent Venue Week and the nation’s top independent music venues formed the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) to help #SaveOurStages across the nation by bringing attention to the plight of their sector and call for emergency assistance. And this week, they’re shining the light on their cause even more through Independent Venue Week, happening now through October 30! Enjoy a diverse array of livestream performances and panel discussions with artists and music industry professionals that highlight the breadth of creative, community-building opportunities that independent music venues provide across the country. From Danielle Durack’s poignant indie-pop performance on October 25 to Jinx Jones soothing blues performance on October 28, artists of all backgrounds and genres are showing up to support this valuable cause. If you didn’t have a chance to tune in, make sure to check out previous and upcoming events on independentvenueweek.com.

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The penultimate performance of the 2020 Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series kicks off tonight! Co-presented by CREATE Portage County, the nonprofit behind the Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series, this live broadcast stars Minneapolis-based emcee Nur-D, whose lyrics span playful topics like geek culture and pro wrestling as well as complex social issues like racism and toxic masculinity. “He brings a wide perspective to his art,” says Greg Wright, executive director of CREATE. “Nur-D’s desire to make people re-think aspects of hip-hop music brings a layer to our programming we haven’t had before.” The show starts at 7pm ET / 4pm PT — catch the live stream on Facebook, or watch it over at levittamp.org/virtual at any time!

Re-framing the story of small-town living
Stevens Point is a small town in Central Wisconsin home to about 25,000 people. Located along a three-mile stretch of the Wisconsin River, the land, which belonged to the Menomonie people for over 14,000 years, became a vital stopping point for logging industry workers after European settlers colonized the area in the 1800s. As industrialization emerged in Wisconsin, paper mills and other logging-adjacent businesses flourished along the river, and Stevens Point, officially incorporated in 1868, eventually expanded into one of the region’s most robust communities.

An 1878 map of Stevens Point, WI

An 1878 map of Stevens Point, WI

Today, the town is known for its many local breweries, vibrant green spaces, strong arts scene, and emerging tech sector. The University of Wisconsin — Stevens Point, recognized statewide for its top-tier environmental science and fine arts programs, brings nearly 10,000 students to town each year and further invigorates community life with a wealth of activities.

While many other small communities in the region have experienced steep declines in both population and prosperity in recent decades, Stevens Point remains somewhat of an outlier. With a healthy economy and steadily increasing number of residents, the town has taken on an identity as a trendsetting, mold-breaking model for what life in a small Midwestern community can be. Diversity is also on the rise in Stevens Point, with frequent cross-cultural festivities celebrating the town’s Hmong and Latinx communities. Even so, the success of Stevens Point has mostly flown under the radar, and according to Wright, one of the goals of the Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series has been to raise the town’s profile. “We really wanted to get the word out about our community,” says Wright. “People who are looking for a smaller place that feels more progressive, more vibrant, they can find that here. We can prove that it’s possible to live in a small community without sacrificing quality of life.”

Making community-wide investments to create change
CREATE Portage County, launched in 2015, exists to better the lives of community residents through investments in arts, culture and creativity. Placemaking and public art projects are a major component of the nonprofit’s work, as well as programs designed to foster innovation, entrepreneurship and connections between community members. Back in 2016, after one of CREATE’s board members interned at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, the nonprofit presenter of the Levitt AMP Sheboygan Music Series, the idea to bring a Levitt AMP series to Stevens Point began to take shape. “We saw the Levitt AMP grant as an opportunity to both add some live music into our vibrant arts scene and get our name on the map,” says Wright. “We wanted to reframe the story around small towns and show that they can thrive in the 21st century if they invest in creativity.” With buy-in from the City of Stevens Point, as the parks and recreation department would be pivotal to presenting the outdoor music series, CREATE applied for a Levitt AMP grant in 2016 and presented the first ever Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series the following summer.

The view from above of Pfiffner Pioneer Park

The view from above of Pfiffner Pioneer Park

Providing a stunning view of both the Wisconsin River and downtown Stevens Point, the picturesque Pfiffner Pioneer Park was a clear choice of venue for the series. The park houses a band shell that was constructed in 1977 as a centennial project, though outside of a handful of performances from local acts each year, the facility saw relatively little use. Through a Levitt AMP series, organizers sought to realize the full potential of this space while bringing in a diverse array of artists that the community may not otherwise have the opportunity to experience. The park is also easily accessible to residents across the city, with downtown Stevens Point within walking distance and the university just down the road, and reachable by just about all modes of transportation — a series of trails brings concertgoers to the park on foot or by bike, and a recently installed dock even allows residents to float over on boats. The park itself sits within the “Nortside” neighborhood, historically home to working class Polish immigrants, which has seen a resurgence in recent years spurred in part by the success of the series.

Wright describes a growing audience at Levitt AMP concerts each summer, with some performances drawing audiences of over 1,000. By booking college musicians as opening acts and intermission shows, an increasing number of attendees are students, helping to bridge the town and gown divide within the community. In addition to the music, CREATE has fostered a festival atmosphere on the lawn on concert nights that’s also become a platform for local businesses. “We bring arts activities, kids activities, good food, locally produced beverages…it’s a really relaxed and fun environment,” says Wright.

Overall, Wright believes the concert series has not only engaged the community and elevated the Stevens Point arts scene, but has also opened the door for profound growth within the community. “People are trusting in that culture change as a result of having a positive experience on the Levitt lawn,” says Wright. “We’ve been able to leverage that to make long-term, community-wide investments in inclusivity, in diversity, in creativity.”

Joyous scenes from the lawn at Levitt AMP Stevens Point

Joyous scenes from the lawn at Levitt AMP Stevens Point

Keeping the community safe and connected
In March, as the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic began to sink in, CREATE Portage County quickly sprang into action to help keep the community safe. Utilizing the 3D printing facility at the organization’s IDEA center, CREATE began producing plastic face shields for medical workers, first responders, in-home care workers, and other frontline personnel. Word quickly spread through the town, and residents who owned personal 3D printers joined the effort, while partnerships with local manufacturers Worth Company and Gamber-Johnson helped expedite the assembly process. “At our peak, we had 23 printers running, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” recalls Wright. “We just cranked out as many as we could.” Through this community-wide effort, CREATE produced over 4,000 face shields, providing a critical boost to hospitals and clinics at a time when personal protective equipment was still in short supply. The project had a global impact as well — after sharing the schematics online, Wright learned that people in the UK, Japan and Germany were 3D-printing the same locally-designed face shields to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their communities.

Health workers at Ascension St. Michaels Hospital in Stevens Point wear face shields 3D-printed by CREATE

Health workers at Ascension St. Michaels Hospital in Stevens Point wear face shields 3D-printed by CREATE

In addition to helping the community stay physically protected from the virus, CREATE is also working to combat COVID-related loneliness. “One of our biggest concerns right now is the mental health toll of COVID-19,” says Wright. “Right now, it’s so important for people to still have access to social connectedness.” Following the success of several one-off concert livestreams in the spring, CREATE made the decision to bring the 2020 Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series fully online this summer. The series, which is funded in part through a Levitt AMP Bridge Grant, began in July and includes seven live-streamed concerts, including tonight’s performance from Nur-D. Participants are encouraged to watch the performances outdoors in small, socially-distanced groups, bringing the spirit of Levitt concerts out of Pfiffner Pioneer Park and into the community. “You can take your speakers outside, bring your close friends and family, wear masks, order takeout, and create a mini Levitt lawn right at home!” says Wright.

Another goal of this year’s series is to provide paid performance opportunities for musicians who have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. According to Wright, some of the artists booked for the 2020 Levitt AMP Stevens Point Music Series hadn’t played a single show, virtual or otherwise, since March, with one artist reporting upwards of 100 of their concerts having been canceled. “We really wanted to make sure we honored our contracts and paid musicians,” says Wright. “It was important to us to do our part to support the arts economy.”

Minneapolis-based rapper Nur-D in action

Minneapolis-based rapper Nur-D in action

Wright is especially excited for tonight’s concert with Nur-D, whose unique perspective and left-field lyricism are already making huge waves in the Midwest hip-hop scene. Originally from the Bronx and based out of the Twin Cities, Nur-D first stepped into the rap arena in 2018, and has since earned accolades such as the #1 spot on City Pages’ “Picked to Click” list. Sporting superhero sweatshirts, bowties and thick, square-rimmed glasses, Nur-D is a striking performer with an arsenal of hilarious and insightful rhymes at his disposal. “He’s a really intersectional performer,” describes Wright. “We’ve had hip-hop artists every year of our series, but the specific messaging in his music really fits the goals of Levitt AMP.” Catch Nur-D in action tonight as part of the Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series, and experience the rest of the series over at levittamp.org/virtual!

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Legion Lake Park in Houston, Miss., the future site of the Levitt AMP Houston Music Series

The Levitt AMP Virtual Music Series continues tonight at 8pm ET / 5pm PT with a dynamic performance by husband and wife Americana/folk-indie duo Amy LaVere and Will Sexton, co-presented by the team behind the Levitt AMP Houston Music Series. No strangers to Levitt, LaVere and Sexton have graced the iconic Levitt Shell Memphis stage in their hometown multiple times. Recorded at the artists’ home, about two hours from Houston, Miss., tonight’s virtual concert will treat audiences to an intimate, eclectic and captivating evening of vocals, upright bass and guitar. Tune in at levittamp.org/virtual! Continue reading

Woonsocket's River Island Art Park before and during the 2018 Levitt AMP Woonsocket Music Series

Woonsocket’s River Island Art Park before and during the 2018 Levitt AMP Woonsocket Music Series

Friday night is almost upon us, and so is another virtual Levitt AMP concert! Co-presented by NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley (NWBRV), tonight’s show is set to be a genre-spanning musical spectrum—headlined by Dominican-American salsa star EhShawnee, the concert also features acclaimed indigenous artist Daryl Black Eagle Jamieson, renowned djembe drummer Sidy Maiga, and treasured Rhode Island big band Steve Smith and the Naked Truth. This stacked lineup of local talent is sure to bring the rich array of Rhode Island’s music scene to the digital stage with style—watch from anywhere tonight at 8pm ET / 5pm PT at levittamp.org/virtual!

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