Members of San Jose’s Levitt Pavilion Exploratory Committee recently had the opportunity to visit two sites in Southern California: Pasadena’s Memorial Park and Los Angeles’ Macarthur Park. Sharon Yazowski, Levitt Pavilion’s executive director, arranged the tours and introduced us to the company’s board as well as pavilion staff.
The trip was enlightening, and it gave me a whole new perspective on the music stages. The major take-away was that Levitt Pavilion is a community-building organization that uses its venues and musical programming to create a relationship between the park, the pavilion and the people who enjoy the free concerts.
The two concerts we saw were excellent examples of how thoughtful, family-oriented programming can transform a neglected park from an unseemly eyesore into a safe, comfortable and energetic gathering spot. This was especially poignant in respect to St. James Park, which we are hoping will be a good fit for a future Levitt Pavilion here in San Jose.
Friday afternoon we had lunch with Levitt staff, including Renee Bodie, a music industry veteran who programs both of the Levitt Pavilions we visited. Though the parks are located in vastly different neighborhoods, they are only 15 miles from one another. Renee’s connections are invaluable in securing top talent at nonprofit prices.
Friday evening we took light rail from our hotel to Memorial Park and dined in a nearby restaurant. With so many restaurants and bars in the Old Pasadena area near Memorial Park, it’s an excellent, integrated place within the neighborhood. The concert featured David Lindley performing solo. The crowd was a mix of Lindley fans, as well as groups of friends and families from the neighborhood who simply enjoy the free concerts.
The sound was incredibly clear without being too loud. Pasadena requires that the decibels not exceed a certain level. Behind the bandshell, the noise was dramatically lower. There were about 1,800 attendees who sat on lawn chairs or blankets, later spilling out into the neighborhood eateries and bars.
Saturday night was a contrast, achieving the same result but in a different way. The venue was Macarthur Park, a once dangerous location that has undergone major renovation, including the development of Levitt Pavilion in an upgraded 1957 bandshell.
The performers were Hip Hop artists and the crowd of 1,000 was largely made up of Latino and African-American families from the neighborhood. The stage is purposely lowered for the benefit of kids, who danced and jumped and wiggled while watching the performers.
Levitt has helped transform these places. They have reached out to a variety of audiences through music and helped build a connection between park and people, an example we should try to emulate.