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Heritage Hillside Series celebrates 10 years of music

A large crowd waits for the show to begin during a Heritage Hillside Series concert earlier this summer. The series is in its 10th season and is still going strong. 1 / 3
Heritage Hillside Series coordinator Sue Langford talks to the crowd before the first event of the series on Wednesday, July 9. Jodi Mealey was the musical guest for the night, while Messes & Masterpieces was making nature mobiles. (Photos by Jarell Kuney) 2 / 3
Sue Langford hands out flyers to the crowd while they wait for a concert to begin during one of the Heritage Hillside Series events this summer. 3 / 3

It’s summertime! Pack a picnic supper; bring your lawn chairs or blankets; round up your kids — all ages — and be prepared to savor a summer evening of live music at the Heritage Center in New Richmond. This annual family music event, free to the public, takes place on seven consecutive Wednesdays beginning in early July.

Although no admission fee is charged, the event is only free because of the generous support of many local sponsors and the hard work of one dedicated woman.

Sue Langford is the woman behind the scenes of the Heritage Hillside Series, working her magic to ensure that the music will be performed each week. For 10 years, Sue has coordinated the Heritage Hillside Series event. She makes it look seamless. But, in fact, a lot of time and energy go into selecting the musicians, arranging for sponsorships and lining up peripheral activities like Messes & Masterpieces to have art projects for kids.

According to Langford, it all started after the Heritage Center had a gazebo built in the center of its grounds in the fall of 2004 and was looking for a use for it. Langford, who worked half-time for the Heritage Center at the time, recalled that Forest Lake, Minn., had a summer music event on Tuesday nights that included a farmer’s market. The Heritage Center Board liked the idea, so it became the launching point for Heritage Hillside Series, which was rolled out during summer 2005. One of the first groups to appear, Langford said, was “Cold Coffee, Hard Cookies,” comprised of a group of New Richmond High School band members.

In the early days of the event, Langford had to seek out musical talent in the area and find groups willing to play in New Richmond on a Wednesday night in July or August. She often found such groups playing at local venues like the Bean Bag Coffee House in New Richmond on a Saturday night.

“We have such incredible talent right in our area,” Langford said. “It is important to support the local musicians.”

Now, after 10 years of Heritage Hillside events, musicians are coming to her. This, in Langford’s opinion, is the hallmark of a successful program.

It may seem like a simple process – select seven bands, arrange for sponsorship and coordinate the schedule of which band is going to play on a particular Wednesday. But, the planning of this music series begins in January when Langford starts the process of listening to various musical groups.

“We have approximately 300 to 400 people who come to listen each week,” Langford said.

Her goal is to offer a variety of music that is family-oriented and has a broad-based appeal. Langford is always delighted when the Deerfield brings some of its residents to hear the music, and especially loves to see so many young children who can run and play freely on the lawn while their parents and grandparents relax to enjoy the program.

In the early years of the Heritage Hillside series, Langford said they tried including a variety of different entertainers such as cloggers, jugglers, magicians, belly dancers and storytellers. But the entertainment that seems to work best for the outdoor gazebo venue is a musical group with a maximum of four or five members.

“We have only had to move inside three times in 10 years,” Langford said.

The selection process for musical groups, and the master schedule set, must be completed by the end of April, according to Langford. This is done in order to allow time for the promotional posters and fliers to be designed, printed and distributed by mid-June.

The bands and sponsors come early to begin getting set up for the event. Langford said she arrives around 5 p.m. on Wednesday evenings to start organizing things and to make sure everything is in place for the musicians, the sponsors and the audience.

“Chairs are already starting to appear at 5 p.m., much like along a parade route,” Langford said. “People stake out a place to sit early so they get the best shade and the best view.”

Sponsors provide funding for the bands, and over the years, have also stepped up to offer free treats to the audience on the night their hosted band is playing.

“There appears to be increased competition among the sponsors to ‘out treat’ each other,” Langford said. “The sponsors and the musicians really make this a very enjoyable community event. It is a wonderful gathering place, and we want people to look forward to it!”