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Levitt Pavilion's L.A., Pasadena free concerts resume Saturday

By Randy Lewis

9:00 AM EDT, June 13, 2013

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The Levitt Pavilion’s annual two-pronged series of more than 100 free outdoor concerts in Los Angeles and Pasadena resumes Saturday with songwriter Jimmy Webb, who will perform at the Levitt Pavilion L.A. in MacArthur Park. Country singer and songwriter Jim Lauderdale launches the Levitt Pavilion Pasadena’s performances on June 21.

Highlights of the season in MacArthur Park include Gangstagrass, a bluegrass-hip-hop group scheduled for July 11, and the Omega String quartet, which will perform Pink Floyd’s 1973 album “Dark Side of the Moon” in its entirety on Aug. 25.

Other acts coming to Pasadena's Memorial Park include a July 12 appearance by Vieux Farka Toure, the Malian musician who mixes traditional African sounds with Delta blues music, and jazz drummer Ngudu Chancler, who will perform July 28.

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“One of our missions is to try to present music that can bring together people of different cultures, age groups and backgrounds,” said Renee Bodie, who recently became executive director over both facilities. “That’s a concerted effort on our part. This year we’re doing a lot of things that combine genres, like Gangstagrass, and we have another show combining metal and mariachi.”

The appearance by Webb, composer of dozens of pop hits, including “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Up, Up and Away,” “Wichita Lineman,” “The Worst Could Happen,” “Galveston” and, not coincidentally, “MacArthur Park,” was designed in part to underscore the revitalization in recent years of MacArthur Park.

“I have three pictures in my mind,” said Webb, who spent considerable time in MacArthur Park as a teenager when he was struggling to establish his music career in the mid-1960s. “One is the way MacArthur Park used to be, when it was kind of a genteel place that was just beginning to slide. You still had the paddle boats on the water. It was a little like ‘A Sunday in the Park with George,’ but the cast of characters was becoming a little rougher.

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“Then there’s the way it was in the years of decline, where it was a place that people really hurried through; not a place you’d want to hang out. And now there’s the new picture of MacArthur Park, which has been influenced to a great degree by the free concerts given there.

“When I go there today,” said Webb, who now lives in New York, “and see there are some nice apartment buildings there now, the band shell has been renovated -- to me it’s a revelation to look around and see everything painted and nice and to see families walking along, babies laying on the grass on a blanket and just signs of safety and security and perhaps even prosperity."

Concerts are presented with a combined budget of about $1.2 million, Bodie said, largely underwritten by the Levitt Foundation, which started presenting the live entertainment in Pasadena in 2003 and in MacArthur Park in 2006. Additional support comes from the city of Los Angeles and other sponsors.

Live music will be staged every Thursday through Sunday through Aug. 25 in MacArthur Park, and Wednesday through Sunday in the Pasadena location until Aug. 24.  Full schedule information is available at http://www.levittla.org and http://www.levittpavilionpasadena.org.

“We have the ability to take a bit of chance on music and do innovative things without pressure to sell tickets,” said Bodie, who has been affiliated with Folk Arts Alliance and previously presented folk music shows regularly at her Bodie House Music concerts. “We can really expose the audience and the culture to some new things.”

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