The very first Concert at the Courthouse was attended by about 300 people — if the squirrels and dogs were counted, too, recalls Roger Dresden — and the audience had to move in closer to better hear the string quartet performing.
Dresden, who shepherds the summer concerts through each year, says he’s learned a lot as the series grew in both popularity and sophistication.
“We’ve had clunkers, and we’ve had some great bands,” Dresden said.
Long-gone are the days of padding attendance by including four-legged creatures; these days, a couple thousand attendees are not unusual for some of the more popular acts.
And on Friday, Concerts at the Courthouse celebrates the beginning of its 20th anniversary “greatest hits” season, featuring some of its more popular groups, including one of my favorites — The Accidentals, back after a stellar performance last year that was almost scuttled because of nasty weather. Lucky for us all, the storms passed and the sun shone for the up-and-coming Michiganders who are quickly cultivating a national following. (Note from me: Be sure to catch them on July 13 this year. You will NOT be disappointed. And you can check the group out in the ad below.)
The series is made possible with the support of Andy and Amy Parker and the Robert W. and Maxine C. Parker Foundation.
“As I often say, if it weren’t for their support, we would be listening to the Friday-night fish-fry band from the Dansville Moose Lodge instead of The Accidentals,” Dresden said. “Also, we can’t forget the fundraising efforts of Bob and Beth Duman and the dogs, Charlie and Jeannie. They tirelessly work the crowd each week and collect dollar bills, which helps us turn a small profit for the series.”
How popular are those dogs?
“When I’m booking acts, a lot of them will ask, ‘do you still have the dogs?’” Dresden said. “That’s pretty cool.”
In addition to bringing great music to Howell between the Michigan Challenge Balloonfest and the Howell Melon Festival, the concerts also contribute to the economic vibrancy of the downtown. Dresden estimates that concert goers have brought in over a quarter-million dollars to Howell’s downtown over the years.
A talented, self-taught musician who’s been playing rock ’n’ roll for 50 years, Dresden is a “committee of one” with Concerts at the Courthouse, booking all the acts. The owner of the Scully-Monroe Insurance Agency in Howell, Dresden continues to play rock ’n’ roll. And in addition to the Concerts at the Courthouse, he’s also the driving force behind the popular Acoustic Cafe at the Howell Opera House, which brightens up Friday nights throughout the winter.
Dresden originally joined the Howell Area Arts Council in 1998, in part to work on preserving the Historic Howell Theater as a movie-house. During a community festival, he saw a band perform at the courthouse.
“I thought, why can’t we (the Howell Area Arts Council) do that?” he said.
And so it was that Dresden proposed Concerts at the Courthouse to the Howell Area Arts Council, and the popular summer event was born.
Eight years later, in 2006, the HAAC merged with the Livingston Arts Council to strengthen the mission and goals of each organization by marrying their support, membership and programming. Concerts at the Courthouse became a program of the Livingston Arts Council, with Dresden continuing to conduct the free, family- and pet-friendly series.
For more information on the Concerts at the Courthouse and the Livingston Arts Council, click here.
This year’s 20th Anniversary Concerts at the Courthouse lineup:
June 29 — The Magic Bus
July 6 — Lookin’ Back (Bob Seger tribute)
July 13 — The Accidentals
July 20 — Rusty Wright Blues Band
July 27 — Steve King & The Dittilies
Aug. 3 — The Saline Fiddlers
Aug. 10 — The Motown Eagles
Aug. 17 — Rhythm Society Orchestra
Aug. 24 — Toppermost (Beatles tribute)
The Friday night concerts in Howell have a ways to go to catch up to the legacy of the Kiwanis Millpond Concerts in downtown Brighton. This year is the 42nd for the Sunday night entertainment, which begins at 6:30 p.m. and also features classic cars.
Because of construction at the Millpond, this year’s concerts will take place in downtown Brighton’s municipal parking lot.
For more information, go to www.brightonkiwanis.com.