By Gloria Stravelli
METUCHEN – Months of advance planning typically go into the lineup of cultural events that take place in the borough, but COVID-19 restrictions put a hold on the process for the Metuchen Arts Council.
“Jazz Fest traditionally has been in June, but it’s a big-ticket item and we were told that we couldn’t gather a huge audience, so we put it off until September,” said Grace Shackney, secretary of the arts council.
“Usually we have chamber music concerts, Cornerstone Jazz events at the Old Franklin Schoolhouse once a month on Sunday afternoon. We had the Singer/ Songwriters Circle that we did at the schoolhouse in the winter … but we just couldn’t do them. Everything was closed.”
The lifting of restrictions on public gatherings by Gov. Phil Murphy earlier this month, however, set the planning process to fast-forward.
“It was on the cuff,” Shackney said on June 21. “We’re meeting tonight and we’ll discuss what projects we might have for next season.
“Metuchen is coming back strong this summer,” a press release from the Metuchen Arts Council states. “Not the least of which is the community’s cultural life.”
Here’s what the council improvised:
In short order, the arts council announced a full schedule of art and music events beginning with the Piano Project, which opens 7 p.m. June 25.
According to the council, the Metuchen Downtown Alliance (MDA) Public Art Team commissioned artists to decorate three pianos that will be placed on the street “to bring art and music to downtown Metuchen.”
Pianos will be placed at three locations: Station Place behind Hailey’s Harp & Pub; New Street between the restaurants Lotsa Balls and Sushi Suzuki; and on Main Street by Antonio’s Brick Oven Pizza.
According to Shackney, restaurants and businesses in the downtown were struggling due to the pandemic so the borough allowed seating on sidewalks.
“Our summer programs were cancelled, we couldn’t draw audiences but wanted to draw customers to the businesses,” she said. “We asked if we could we do music on the street and put together musicians playing on New Street.”
Over the summer, the pianos will move to locations in the downtown and a schedule of performances will be published in advance, according to the press release.
Jazz Education Series
Presented in collaboration with the NJ Jazz Society the free, monthly livestream series, “dedicated to enlightening the public about jazz,” began June 13 with “Louis Armstrong 101,” and will be available online Sundays at 3 p.m.
The remainder of the schedule is:
July 18 – “Jeru’s Journey: The Life & Music of Gerry Mulligan” with Sanford Josephson
Aug. 15 – To be announced
Sept. 19 – “Nat King Cole @100” with Will Friedwald
Oct. 17 – “An Informal Survey of the Great Baritone Saxophonists” with Frank Basile
Nov. 21 – “Ellington and Strayhorn: Alone and Together, How Two Geniuses Transformed American Music” with David Hajdu
The series is free, with donations accepted, and will livestream at 3 p.m. on the NJ Jazz Society website (www.NJJs.org) as well as on the NJJS Facebook page and YouTube channel. Register at https://bit.ly/3iaEWqt
According to Shackney, many arts groups will continue to have an online presence because of an unanticipated benefit – this format has attracted a new audience.
“We have this whole online presence now,” she said. “Most will hold onto it because we’ve discovered that we are reaching a handicapped audience we never reached before. People really have benefitted from the online shows, it has opened up worlds to them.”
Art and Music Festival
The festival will take place June 26 from 3-8 p.m. on Station Place at Hailey’s Harp & Pub patio and will feature an art sale with 10 artist/vendors; music by the band Jivestock on the outdoor stage and food and libation by Hailey’s and Asbury Park Distilling.
Student Art Exhibit
Scheduled to be held mid-July, the exhibit will feature artwork by 2021 graduates of Metuchen High School who will be pursuing art studies in college. Their artwork will be exhibited in the Rotunda Gallery at Borough Hall, as well as businesses in the downtown. Guided tours and a meet-and-greet with students are also planned.
According to Shackney, the exhibit is a collaboration between the arts council, the Metuchen High School Art Department and local businesses.
“Students have suffered just as the downtown has suffered,” she said. “They haven’t been able to show their work and the head of the high school art department wanted to put together a show of the seniors’ work.”
There will be guided tours and an artwalk and reception in July to meet the student-artists, she added.
Dates and times of activities will be listed at www.metuchenartscouncil.com
Chamber Music Concert
Scheduled for July 31, the concert will feature local musicians. Time and location TBA, and likely will be indoors at the Metuchen Public Library or Old Franklin Schoolhouse, Shackney said.
Metuchen Rocks! Summer Concert Series
This long-running series will mix it up with sets of regional and local musicians performing around the borough. The schedule is:
• Saturday, Aug. 21, 7 p.m. – From Asbury Park, Tara Dante & the Blind Pilots, with special guest Renee Maskin, will perform original music on the Plaza at the corner of New and Pearl streets in the downtown.
• Sunday, Sept. 26, 4 p.m.—The Lonesome Pines, roots-based Rock and Alt-Country band, will perform on the grounds of Bill’s Ineffable Auto Repair Shop, 33 Jersey Ave., owned by the group’s bass player Jason Hopkins. Roots-friendly band Jivestock will open.
Dragonfly Theatre will present “Popcorn Falls” Aug. 27 and 28 at 6:30 p.m. and Aug. 29 at 3 p.m. on the fifth floor of the Pearl Street Parking Deck. Two actors play more than 20 roles in the farce.
Tickets available at the entrance.
Bring a lawn chair.
Parking will be available on the lower levels of the parking deck.
Central Jersey Jazz Festival – Metuchen
Metuchen joins Flemington, Somerville and New Brunswick in hosting a portion of the festival on Sept. 11 at 6 p.m. on the Plaza at New and Pearl streets. The Metuchen festival will feature the Marcus Printup Quintet with Riza Printup on harp, a multimedia family jazz education program prior to the concert and a performance by the Metuchen High School Jazz Band.
The free program is open to the public and made possible by grant funding from Middlesex County.
Mignolo Dance Project
Mignolo Dance Company will premier “Visitor Parking” Oct. 7 and 8, an immersive, interdisciplinary contemporary dance piece that explores mental health issues and their implications. Audiences will traverse multiple levels of the Pearl Street Parking Deck engaging with dancers, visual art installations and original music created around the theme of mental health.
Performance times and ticket information will be available at http://mignolo.art
Check for updates and announcements and sign up for the arts council email newsletter at www.metuchenartscouncil.com
“We are trying to form a community here for artists in different genres,” Shackney said. “We seem to be, the more you put it out there, the more you find out there are so many artists out there you didn’t even know about.”