Despite the weather and the date on the calendar, summer for us doesn’t officially begin until the advent of St. John’s Summer Concert Series in Billings in early July. This retirement and nursing home community has as its mission to provide “living opportunities within nurturing environments of hope, dignity, and love.” It’s a stunning and inviting campus – with acres of green grass, ponds, ducks, and flowers that practically rival the floral abundance and beauty of the Conservatory at Bellagio.
One of the many ways they fulfill their mission is through a six-week (this year was a little shorter, with five weeks) free concert series (sponsored by a multitude of local businesses) on the lawn, inviting the whole community in to share the musical love. Why do they do this? Well, from their series brochure, they explain it:
- Concerts bring joy to our seniors, their families, and our staff.
- Concerts allow our residents to welcome you to their home and into the life of this dynamic campus.
- Concerts provide a precious occasion for interaction and sharing across the generations.
- Best of all, they are a lot of fun and help make our community a great place to live.
Awhile back, I wrote a post about breakfast at The Prairie Winds Cafe in Molt, Mt (sadly, the cafe closed earlier this summer) and about how it had all the elements of a gospel church feel – the symbolic breaking of bread together, of course, along with reverence, awe, communion, joyfulness, great uplifting music…… and most importantly, I think, community. Did you know that the word community is derived from the Latin communitas? It’s from “com” which translates to “with or together” and “munus” which means “gift” – the gift of being and having fun together.
So, for several glorious Thursday evenings in the summer, we share the gift and energies of being together with the residents, the employees of St. John’s, the thousands who sit together with us, the sound techs, the vendors and St. John’s chefs preparing great food, and of course, the musicians. You can definitely feel the higher energies of people immersed in the joy of music.
What I truly love at the events are the kids enjoying the music. They just abandon themselves to it, and are always the first ones to start the start the dancing, and I love sitting on the ground, more or less at their eye level, so I can capture their luminous joy.
I love, too, that the attendees range from infants to centenarians, with us beyond middle-aged geezers as well. Check out the baby bird hair on this cutie-pie:
The music selection at the concerts is always a wonderful and eclectic mix with groups from all over the country. Our favorite local group, by far, is The Midlife Chryslers. This group of physicians started up their band many years ago as a way to relax. Then one of their wives booked a gig for them, and that was the start of their second career. We’re really grateful to that wife, as they’re a fun-to-dance-to band with great hits from the 60’s and 70’s, including an off-the-charts version of Proud Mary.
On the last Thursday, St. John’s pairs up with the Magic City Blues Music Festival, and one of the headliners from that great event plays on the campus. This year we got to hear Jacob Jones (be sure and check out his great song, Play It Loud Ray, on his website). In past years, we’ve been introduced to Davina and the Vagabonds (our favorite artist and group so far), Michelle Shocked, and a little Cajun Zydeco with C. J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band. Other highlights over the years have included Johnny Rodgers (he used to play and sing with Liza Minelli), Phoebe Hunt (part of her performance got rained out this year, but we were grateful we were introduced to her), and the incredible Missoula, Montana group, The Drum Brothers. As we left last Thursday night, Michael asked a wonderful – and rhetorical question – “How many other great musicians, singers, and songwriters are out there that we don’t know about?” Hundreds of thousands, most likely, but thanks to St. John’s, we’re grateful to the ones we’ve been introduced to.
In addition to great music, I love documentaries, and one I’ve enjoyed recently was Ten Questions for the Dalai Lama. In it the interviewer asks the Dalai Lama how to achieve world peace. He gets a Mona Lisa smile on his face that then breaks into a great grin, and responds – “Have more picnics. And festivals!”
I’d say that St. John’s has definitely achieved a little corner of world peace Thursday evenings in the summer in Billings, Montana. And even though we’re a little sad that the end of these concerts also signal the beginning of the end of summer, we’re so thankful for the reverence, awe, magic-in-the-air joy, communion, and community that these concerts provide. Thanks so much St. John’s and sponsors!