For 29 years, Arizona Musicfest has hosted anywhere from 25 to 30 performances at various venues throughout Scottsdale as part of its annual indoor concert series.
And although the secular nonprofit arts organization had to cancel its 2020-21 concert season due to COVID-19, it won’t stop Musicfest from celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
Instead, it’s heading outdoors for a special concert series, Musicfest Outdoors, at the newly created Musicfest Performance Pavilion at Highlands Church in northern Scottsdale.
Now underway through May 1, Musicfest Outdoors features a lineup of artists, including The Everly Brothers Experience, jazz quintet The Black Market Trust, folk legends The Kingston Trio, and Musicfest audience favorites Ann Hampton Callaway and Tony DeSare.
The series concludes with a performance by the Festival Orchestra Chamber Players.
Comprising musicians from some of the nation’s best orchestras, the Festival Orchestra Chamber ensemble will be led by Maestro Robert Moody and will feature guest piano soloist Cathal Breslin.
“We had big plans to celebrate our 30th anniversary,” said Allan Naplan, Arizona Musicfest’s executive and producing director. “The silver lining is that we’re able to still go forward and pivot and provide live performances – but it certainly was not the anniversary celebration we had intended for this special year.”
Musicfest Outdoors will sell a limited 320 seats per concert to accommodate the social distancing between each pair of patrons.
“It’s bigger than what Scottsdale Center is doing. It’s bigger than what the Herberger Theater is doing. In fact, it’s going to be the largest outdoor venue in the neighborhood, being the greater Scottsdale area,” Naplan said.
Patrons and staff are required to wear masks at the newly constructed Musicfest Performance Pavilion.
“We’re grateful for the extraordinary and steadfast support of our generous donors which has allowed Musicfest to move forward with this season’s exciting alternative plans,” Naplan said.
Musicfest was able to construct the new venue with funding from the City of Scottsdale as well as from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust.
“In this time of challenge, they have continued to be extraordinarily generous,” Naplan said. “Even though the financial model for these outdoor concerts does not pay for itself through tickets, thankfully, because of philanthropy, we’re able to do these programs.”
Naplan said six concerts are sold out while six others have limited seating availability.
“It’s no surprise that there’s been a tremendous eagerness to get outside and enjoy a concert,” he said. “I was counting and it’s been 378 days since we last produced a live performance. So, this will be a really special experience.”
Hundreds of live entertainment venues in the Valley and beyond were among the first businesses to close after the pandemic hit and are among the last to fully reopen and receive financial aid.
In late December, Congress approved $15 billion in relief to specifically help shuttered venues.
For Naplan, it was important that Arizona Musicfest provide income for musicians who have been out of work throughout the pandemic.
“It is our mission to be producing live performances, and for over a year, we’ve been without it; so, it is great,” he said.
“It also goes beyond the finances to just how important music is to the soul, to the emotions,” he continued. “And during the pandemic, we’ve heard from so many people who’ve said it’s music that has sustained them, to counter loneliness or boredom, or unfortunately because of the very tragic emotions of the pandemic as well, to bring some comfort in solace.”
Naplan said he hopes Musicfest Outdoors will be “more pure enjoyment than anything else.”
“Music and arts are really important, so this is a wonderful thing that we’re able to bring it back to our community,” he said.
Musicfest hopes to return to a full, “normal” season in November.
In the meantime, Naplan said, “Through these concerts, Musicfest will continue its important efforts to ‘Bring the Joy of Music to All.’”