Cranfest In The Courtyard Brings Outdoor Concerts To Harwich Cultural Center

By: Russ Allen

Topics: Local Music , Arts

Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem.

A new light is about to shine on Harwich's cultural stage as a result of a collaboration between the Harwich Cranberry Arts and Music Festival, Inc., and the Harwich Cultural Center, located in the former Harwich Middle School on Sisson Road.

Starting on Thursday, July 12 and continuing through Thursday, Aug. 23, Cranfest In The Courtyard will offer a series of acoustic concerts to be held, weather permitting, outdoors in the Center’s Courtyard (if it rains the concerts will move indoors to the auditorium). The gates will open at 5:45 p.m. each evening, and the concerts will begin at 6:30 p.m. Guests are invited to bring a blanket or lawn chair and a picnic supper. Beverages will be on sale, and admission is $15, though seven-concert season tickets are available for $75.

Scheduled performers include legendary folk artist David Mallet, the popular and eclectic Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem, and former Harwich resident Greg Greenway.

This new concert series is the brainchild of Erica Strzepek, part-time program aide at the Harwich Cultural Center, and Bob Weiser, music director of the Harwich Cranberry Arts and Music Festival Inc. During a tour of the building last summer, in preparation for an upcoming musical program, they found themselves standing at a window overlooking the courtyard, having a shared lightbulb moment. From the point of view of the Center, a summer concert series would increase the public’s knowledge of the building and its ongoing programs. For Weiser, it would also mark a further step in the redevelopment of what had once been considered a “rides, cotton candy, and fireworks” organization.

The Thursday evening summer concerts are the latest development stemming from the decision of the Harwich Board of Selectmen to repurpose the former Harwich Middle School into the Harwich Cultural Center. Administratively part of the Harwich Community Center and overseen by that facility's director, the new Cultural Center has developed its own staff and programs. Deferred maintenance on the building since the decision to end its service as a school meant significant repairs and improvements in order for it to serve its repurpose. At present, there is an activity wing consisting of a large auditorium, multipurpose room and gymnasium, as well as several smaller former classrooms now used by artists and artisans. Some 300 people attended the center’s first Christmas Open House in the main wing, and members of the Guild of Harwich Artists participated in a similar event last summer. Strzepek’s vision is to bring “more presentations and opportunities for entertainment to the Center.” The use of the building’s Courtyard as the venue for this musical series is the latest realization of that goal.

Developing music concerts is not a new experience for Weiser, who for many years promoted large musical events in the Greater Boston area. Since retiring and moving to the Cape, he has continued his involvement with musical arts through his programs on WOMR and his service as the music director of the Cranberry Festival, coordinating musical elements at the main Festival each September as well as concerts held at the new Monomoy Regional High School. This series represents an expansion of the Festival’s commitment to bringing music to Cape Cod and especially Harwich.

The performers in this first series, some of whom Weiser has worked with in the past, are singer-songwriter David Mallet, July 12; Massachusetts writer and song-singer Heather Maloney, July 19; Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem, from “bluegrass barnstormers to sultry swing, old-time gospel to bluesy folk-rock,” July 26; former long-time Harwich resident Greg Greenway, Aug. 2; Trans-Atlantic singer/songwriter Zoe Mulford, Aug. 9; husband and wife guitar/fiddle duo Harvey Reid and Joyce Andersen, Aug. 16; and returning to Harwich, the RUNA Celtics Roots Band, Aug. 23.

Weiser says that the goal of this series is to establish a new summer evening cultural activity for Harwich residents and visitors, expand the scope of offerings by, and knowledge about, both the Festival and the Cultural Center, and, after the program expenses are met, to offer both organizations additional financial resources in support of their overall missions.

Individual and season tickets may be purchased at the door and on the Festival’s website, harwichcranberryartsandmusicfestival.org. Further information is available at 508-432-1885 and cranfestproduction@hotmail.com.