Every year, the Blues City Journal tasks Saturday in the Park co-founder Dave Bernstein to summarize his thoughts about the current lineup of bands, the legacy of the Sioux City music festival and any other topics that come to mind around this time of year. Sometimes we even convince him to write his own column, but this year we thought we'd try something a little different and instead organize his thoughts into small sections. Here is what Bernstein had to say:
During the booking cycle, which I think is super important to kind of set the pace, you’re always thinking what works consistently. All you know is what has worked and what hasn’t worked in the past. Rod Piazza always worked. The Neville Brothers worked in 1992 when they were hot off “Yellow Moon.” So how do I keep going off these examples? So I’m like, “You know what? We brought The Neville Brothers in but no one knew The Neville Brothers.” We brought those guys in and the brought a huge crowd because it was Saturday in the Park and it was free and it was going to be great music. People knew they were going to have fun at Grandview Park. And it worked out. We went from having a few thousand people the first year to 15,000 people. We had lights this time and they put on a real show. We didn’t bother to have lights the year before. We thought we would run on time and be done by 9 p.m. Or Rod Piazza! Not one guy knew Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers played for the first time. All of a sudden it was 5 o’clock and the guy’s on the harp and running through the crowd. His wife is standing on a bench playing piano with her foot and people are going crazy. It wasn’t like they heard Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers on the radio. They didn’t know who the hell they were. And you can extrapolate that to today.
Jason Isbell has four Grammys. Boz Scaggs has a number of hits. Those guys in their groups are legit awesome live performances. Dave Mason & Steve Cropper are awesome. We booked them late because we didn’t know they were both out there doing that tour. Galactic I’ve seen a number of times. Man those guys are fun. That’s New Orleans funk/soul/jazz. Delta Rae I’ve seen a few times and they’re great live. It all kind of fits. We’ve got 28 years of going for legit live music.
Most people assume that I’m excited for it to be over. But really I’m excited for it to be here. That’s what I really get excited for. I love the week of. When you see it start to unfold, all the stuff you’ve talked about is more physical things in Grandview Park. It’s awesome. It’s super rewarding to see all the folks that work on it doing their thing and doing it so confidently. After 28 years, we’ve got a lot of super confident people, including yourself. Seriously! You’re lucky, man. You’re done before that day! It’s a lot of stuff. I look at my role as the guy who troubleshoots problems, challenges and opportunities. I kind of get that responsibility sometime. That’s pretty alright. So I can’t wait for it to be there.
I make it a point to make sure I see some of every band on the Main Stage and I try to see some of most band on The Abe Stage. As The Abe has gotten more and more awesome, you get this conflict of going back and worth. Where do I go? I want to see this guy! Those guys have been great at texting me when something’s going on. Like Con Brio a few years ago. Within five minutes or less of those guys getting on, there were texts pouring in of them saying, “Get you’re a** up here.” And they were right! I try to see a little bit of everyone.
I can’t believe that Tom Petty died. We’ve always wanted to have Tom Petty for a 30th or something like that. Talk about the top of the list for the ones that died and got away. Not to mention it was devastating on many other fronts. Man, I mean, he would have been the epitome of Saturday in the Park performers. I don’t know if anyone would have been better. It’s very sad.
Secondly, not to dwell on the topic too long, unfortunately Charles Neville died. The first Saturday in the Park festival was big, but the second festival really took off and solidified our position in the Sioux City musical hierarchy. Charles Neville was one of the four Neville Brothers. They were ones we always wanted to get and did get in that second year thanks to Gateway. I have this vivid memory of Charles right before they went on – there was so much electricity and such a buzz – he very nicely came over and said, “Hey, my saxophone is in the dressing room and the dressing room is locked.” We couldn’t get in the dressing room because the city wouldn’t give us the keys back then. So I tried to scale a wall and crawl through a small opening with my friend, Pat Grueskin, who was wearing nothing but shorts and size 13 Birkenstocks and a sombrero – and was drunk. He raised his size 13 Birkenstock and pummeled the door into oblivion, kicking it open right in front of Charles, who walked in, grabbed his sax and as he walked past, he turned and said, “Thanks, man.” Then he walked up onstage and played his show. We’re saddened that Charles passed away.
One other guy I wanted to honor was Patrick Day. The second year of Saturday in the Park we had Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers. I called Patrick Day, who lived in Maryland at the time, sparked up a conversation with him – we always had long conversations – and booked Rod. Rod Piazza played that next year. We even booked Earl King together. Pat had this legendary, old school blues/R&B roster. Roomful of Blues was on there. Pat later in life moved on to selling insurance. Pat passed away as well. He was really an important influence on us and helping us learn how to book and figure out how things worked. All his artists were top notch. You knew nothing was going to come cheap with Pat. He also told us his birthday was on St. Patrick's Day. I don't know if that's really true.
As usual, there are two core tenants that go into this thing. One is the sponsors, starting with Hard Rock. The sponsors and the city make it happen. Without us raising $400,000, there’s no way you’re seeing this for free. It starts there. Secondarily is all the volunteers and the committee. You don’t do this without all the volunteers and the committee that work so hard. Everyone, hand-in-hand, is making it happen. There are so many volunteers that want to put it on. It’s not just an advisory committee… it’s a real working committee. It’s hard to explain. It’s hard to find examples in larger cities that are still going on and that work.
We’ve got a couple of personnel changes, including John Stever, who has stepped back and has been so integral for so long in production. Ben Bernstein is stepping into that role.
Saturday in the Park continues to evolve. It’s a really good feeling to look out and see a whole community pulling together and put on a really cool show.