Public enjoys East Green, a new local treasure

On a lovely summer evening, an hour or so before the sun departed, the lawn of the East Green began to fill. Bringing lawn chairs, blankets, picnics, children and even a puppy or two, groups of people settled on the grass or took seats along the wall that winds gently along the slope of the amphitheater grounds.

There was an air of excited expectation, as the small but growing crowd had come to hear something special, at a place built by and for their community. Concert producer and Tiffin University Executive Director of Arts Programs Brad Rees welcomed the group and introduced Andrew Kalnow, CEO/owner of National Machinery and chair of the East Green Summer Series. Kalnow thanked the show’s sponsor and spoke briefly about plans for the upcoming phase two of East Green, featuring an urban park with green spaces, a secluded garden and a splash pad for active water fun.

Then, it was time for all else to submit to the music. Opening act, duo Alex and Evan, took the stage and captivated the audience with perfectly understated renditions of jazz classics such as “There’s a Small Hotel” and “My Foolish Heart.” After a quick changeover, the headlining band, Stolen Silver, took the stage. The trio, from Chicago and Traverse City, Michigan, played an adventurous set of acoustic indie-rock, featuring two and three-part harmonies and instrumental solos.

There was little talking in the audience, as nearly everyone gathered understood their part was to listen. The East Green Amphitheater is a truly rare gift for a small city like Tiffin. Exquisitely designed and rendered, it serves as a place where world-class performing arts can be shared with an entire community, without charge.

The visionary behind East Green, Kalnow, knows how urban green spaces in cities such as Chicago and New York contribute to the well-being of the entire community. Having grown up in Tiffin and become a civic leader, he saw an opportunity to expand on Tiffin’s burgeoning business successes by blending arts and industry, with public and private funding, to create an urban-inspired destination in Tiffin that is available to every resident.

So far, there have been three concerts in the East Green Concert Series, with four more to come, featuring a variety of musical styles from singer/songwriter, live looping, indie and classic rock, Motown, jazz, hip-hop/R&B and country/folk. Local businesses Reineke Family Dealerships and Laminate Technologies have sponsored the entire series, with National Machinery, Clouse Construction, Tiffin Metal Products, Webster Industries, UIS Insurance and Investments, and Ralph’s Joy of Living sponsoring individual concerts.

It’s important to point out these sponsorships because entirely apart from the planning and construction of a facility like East Green, the costs of producing live concerts is considerable. Without the generosity of community partners, it simply wouldn’t happen.

Additionally, it takes the cooperation of a diverse group of passionate people from the arts, education, business and professional communities to plan and manage the series. That such a group has come together to create the best music programs possible, is a credit to the leadership of East Green and the giving spirit of the city of Tiffin.

Upcoming concerts include: Motown tribute band KGB (Aug. 11), hip-hop/R&B band Sidewalk Chalk (Aug. 25), country folk/rock duo Porter & Sayles (Sept. 15) and Chicago soul band The Right Now (Sept. 29). All concerts start at 8 p.m. For more information, check out www.eastgreenconcerts.com.

Mimi Lange Johnston grew up in Tiffin and recently returned, following three decades in Chicago and Nashville. Her award-winning career spans work with theater companies such as Chicago Shakespeare Company and American Blues Theatre; writing/producing/

singing advertising for McDonald’s, Hallmark and Disney, among others; co-founding Music at Puckett’s Grocery in Nashville and serving as executive director for Kids on Stage, a summer arts academy that has hosted over 12,000 youth over the past 20 years.

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