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Outdoor concerts return to the plaza

Enjoying high quality entertainment can be as simple as grabbing a blanket and picnic basket and heading to the Olde Towne Plaza.

Enjoying high quality entertainment can be as simple as grabbing a blanket and picnic basket and heading to the Olde Towne Plaza.

Picnic at the Piano concerts are returning to Okotoks this year where professional pianists provide an hour of free entertainment during the lunch hour the fourth Wednesday in May, June, July and August in the Olde Towne plaza.

“It’s become quite popular,” said Allan Boss, Okotoks culture and heritage manager. “We were getting about 150 people or so passing through and enjoying their lunches. It’s a really nice little community-building event.”

The Town introduced Picnic at the Piano in midsummer 2015. The following year it expanded to include a paint-the-piano contest to brighten the 1936 Kriesler piano donated by Calgary Piano House’s Art Gieck followed by five outdoor concerts, Boss said.

“I was ecstatic with the crowds that we had last year,” he said. “We had lots of people coming early on and setting up half an hour before the event. They put their blankets down on the lawn and brought their picnic. It was a wonderful atmosphere.”

Five concerts are scheduled again this year, beginning with the return of Calgary jazz pianist Sheldon Zandboer on May 24. Zandboer has been performing worldwide since 1975, including performances for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the royal family.

“He was an audience favourite (last year) because he’s such a great improviser on the piano,” said Boss. “He did an audience choice concert. People called out songs they wanted to hear and Sheldon would play them.”

Okotoks-raised jazz singer/songwriter Ellen Doty will sing, accompanied by the piano June 28. Calgary jazz pianist Andrea Petrity performs July 26 and Calgary pianist and Mount Royal University music professor Bruce Petherick will play Aug. 23.

Children’s entertainer Natasha Sayer will return for Picnic at the Piano during Alberta Culture Days on Sept. 30.

“Providing opportunities like this that are free of charge and sponsored by our great community partners and stakeholder groups like the Okotoks Arts Council provides an opportunity for people to connect,” said Boss. “That’s what community is about. It’s about getting out and enjoying the opportunities that we have in our town.”

Boss said Picnic at the Piano reaches a different demographic than other Okotoks concerts.

“It’s midday, it’s outdoor, it brings people down into our plaza and they can wander and do some shopping in downtown while they’re there,” he said. “It provides a great opportunity to promote economic development in the downtown core.”

The noon concerts are less formal than an evening affair and still bring quality entertainment to Okotoks, Boss said.

“We’re reaching out to some of the top performers in Calgary,” he said. “It’s important to expose people to incredibly high-quality performances. That’s not to say locals aren’t high quality, because there are many performers around here that are stunning, but it is to say that sometimes you reach towards your neighbour and say what can you do to help. The way that you keep bringing audiences is to give them stunning performances.”

The cost to have performers for Picnic at the Piano is covered by the Okotoks Arts Council, a volunteer organization that strives to create and maintain Okotoks’ vibrant arts community.

President Cheryl Taylor said the noon concerts fall within the council’s mandate to connect, inspire and educate the public about the arts.

“For those who have limited opportunity to be exposed to high-calibre and concert-level play, these are free events that will hopefully inspire and provide something in the order of a take away from the performance,” she said. “If it is greater music appreciation, something of a music education, an extraordinary personal experience or simple enjoyment, Picnic at the Piano achieves our objective.”

In the event of inclement weather, the concerts will be held at the Rotary Performing arts Centre.

More information about Picnic at the Piano is available at

About the Author: Tammy Rollie

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