Outdoor concerts and summer go hand in hand - especially at Cranston’s Garden City Center.
Paul Borrelli of North Providence-based Borrelli Event Services remembers the early days of the Garden City Summer Concert Series, back in 1987. The shopping center wanted to hold weekly concerts during the summer months, he said, and the first performance was held in the courtyard across from Applebee’s.
Roughly two-dozen people were on hand for the first show, and the crowd “got a little bigger the next week,” Borrelli recalled. Soon, the crowds became so large that the concerts were moved to the Gazebo, where they have remained since.
“It just got to be really, really popular every week … It was just a Wednesday night thing to do in Cranston,” Borrelli said.
Now, as the concert series celebrates three decades of entertainment, Borrelli continues his involvement and books the lineup of performers. On a given night, 1,500 to 2,000 people will show up to enjoy the music and enjoy the seasonal atmosphere.
“It’s taken on its own life now,” Borrelli said.
“The summer concerts bring together so many generations - grandparents, parents and young children dancing to the band’s music,” added Janice Pascone, marketing director for Garden City Center. “This event has become a summer tradition for so many Rhode Islanders.”
Borrelli played during the concert series with his own band - a ’40s-style swing group called the Paul Borrelli Band - for several years, typically as the season opener. Over the years, a number of prominent acts have taken part in the series, including the legendary Chuck Berry and Vito Piccone & The Elegants, who are remembered for their 1958 hit “Little Star.”
Borrelli said the key to the sustained success of the Garden City Summer Concert Series has been featuring diverse, quality performers.
“We have great groups, and a variety of groups,” he said. “What’s made it popular is the fact that I’ve always had great bands doing it … People come and they know it’s going to be good, it’s always going to be exciting.”
He also mentioned improvements over the years to the sound system at the shopping center, saying: “We’ve upped the sound and we’ve made the sound really crystal clear.”
Pascone reflected on the milestone being celebrated with this year’s series.
“We always look forward to our Summer Concert Series, but this year we are exceptionally excited because we get to celebrate 30 years of hosting these concerts … We are so grateful for all the talented musicians and our sponsors that help make this happen,” she said.
Borrelli’s roots in the local music and entertainment scene go back nearly a century. His father started a band and launched the event services company in 1925.
Borrelli has been performing and producing concerts for more than 40 years, and he noted that Borrelli Event Services is “really recognized in the music and entertainment business in southeastern New England.”
As for this year’s milestone concert series in Garden City Center, Borrelli said local music fans should expect a special experience.
In keeping with tradition, the majority of the concerts are on Wednesday nights. This year’s series opened July 10 with DownCity Band, which performs a blend of Top 40, pop and soul music.
The series continues July 17 with Pop Rock, which performs ’80s music and is returning after a successful debut in 2018.
“People really like that a lot,” Borrelli said of the ’80s songs. “We had them last year.”
On July 24, Front & Center will perform Top 40, rock and oldies. XS - a group Borrelli describes as “really sharp - will bring a blend of Top 40, R&B, country and soul sounds to Garden City on July 31.
The Beatles tribute Ticket to Ride performs Aug. 7, followed by country act The Goat Roper Band on Aug. 14.
Two of this year’s shows will be held on Sundays, which Borrelli said is being done because of the anticipated turnout and a desire to alleviate parking issues at the shopping center. Pascone said the Sunday dates will also celebrate the 30th anniversary of the series.
The popular World Premier Band performs on Aug. 18, and Steely Dan tribute Hey Nineteen closes out the season on Sept. 1
All concerts run from 6:30-8 p.m. A full schedule and additional information is available at gardencitycenter.com.
As part of the free concert series, Garden City Center asks concert-goers to bring cans of tuna fish or jars of peanut butter to donate to the Comprehensive Community Action Program, or CCAP.
This year’s series sponsors are Bank Newport, Tasca, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, Oak Street Health and B101.
The Garden City series is just one of the seasonal events on Borrelli’s plate this year.
He is organizing concerts at Mulligan’s Island in Cranston and Francis Farm in Rehoboth. He is also overseeing concerts and festivals on Block Island, including country, reggae and rock shows featuring the likes of Big & Rich and Skid Row frontman Sebastian Bach.
His schedule additionally includes a range of private functions, from weddings and corporate events to Brown University’s alumni parties. More information is available at borrellievents.com.
On Wednesday nights this summer, however, Borrelli will be in a familiar place - running the sound for the Garden City Center Concert Series.
“I always tell people, you can find me at Garden City,” he said with a laugh.
Meri R. Kennedy contributed to this report.