Seems like people used to dance more. You know, hold hands, get close, accidentally feel each other up. And down. What about barn dances, cotillion dances, raves, dirty dancing? Wonder how many couples got engaged after nights of grooving, sweating and squeezing?
I’m talking about this — outdoor music and love — because I wonder about the spark of open-sky concerts today and how many times they lead to matchmaking. I say, more often than not, tunes = romance, and it’s alive and kicking.
Drive carefully down narrow, tricky River Road. Twenty minutes from downtown, Sayler Park magically appears. A vividly green place lost in the deep southwest corner of Cincinnati, it’s a hidden artistic community with a small-town, old-time feel. And for good reason — this Neverland of art was born in 1911.
Every second Saturday of the month from June through September, Nelson Sayler Memorial Park holds rich concerts backed by local artists. On June 13, Greg Mahan, Ashley Peacock and Ellery performed. I missed Mahan’s set due to a slight detour to catch some pretty scenery. OK, I was lost, spacing out, rocking out, thinking about lovers and monsters.
Finally arriving, I chatted it up with the day’s host, Alison Shephard of the band entheos. She and her brother, Carl Shepard, have a CD coming out in September.
Alison and her husband, Evan Hildebrandt, are also bad-ass visual artists. Their home, in the center of Sayler Park, is like a contemporary museum full of breathtaking paintings.
Not to mention the two whipped out a mural that hangs in the center of town.
The Sayler Park crowd was diverse and chillin’ — kids ripping leaves off of trees, men with gauged ears, bicycles, scooters, drooling dogs, blankets strewn about like puzzle pieces and, beside me, a newlywed couple that forgot about the music, wrapped up, kissing.
The immense, surreal trees provided shadowy land perfect for making out. Although Sayler Park had that Mayberry feel, a secret creative edge busted out between the massive tree trunks and picturesque homes. And the outdoor music led the way, a critical player in the town’s blushing mystique.
Peacock (pictured) hit the stage, passionately playing “Painted Over,” by his band The Times. His voice was crisp, clear and professional, and when he was done I parked next to him on the thick grass, asking him how he met his wife.
Turns out that one night he played at a Borders store and she was working there. Peacock glanced at her once. Then he turned to his buddy and announced, “I’m going to marry her.” And so he did. That’s what I’m talking about.
Then Ellery (Tasha and Justin Golden) took the stage. (They just spent some time recording with Grammy-winning producer Malcolm Burn.) And of course my theory was proven yet again — they’re a husband-and-wife team.
I’m not immune. When I was 15, my friends and I stopped to pick up a strange boy at a weird house. The front door flew open and a yellow-haired, blue-eyed boy appeared, smiling wickedly at the sun, holding an acoustic guitar. Wearing Ray Bans, he started playing “She Talks to Angels” by The Black Crowes.
I didn’t know his last name, but I loved The Black Crowes. I loved him because he loved The Black Crowes. Nothing more than that.
Thoughts of that personal, outdoor show still make me grin. Sensitive and creative, he liked to look at things. I liked to look at things. I mean, really look. Years later, we sang together. Well, sort of. It was at some park. Hot. Late. Anyway.
Watch a couple kick back on a restaurant patio at dusk. Add a little Jazz, and suddenly they’re reaching across the table touching fingers. Maybe it’s just about two people feeling a connection. Maybe it’s circumstance, coincidence or pure timing. Or maybe it has to do with our common taste in music, our celebrated vibe.
Here’s to the mystique of evergreen Sayler Park and the celebration of old-fashioned romance. I’d say there’s something to this magic. I think I’ll return and try my luck.
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