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Marking the return of the Sunday Night Concert Series

Lance Russwurm is preparing for the relaunch of the Sunday Night Concert Series. [Leah Gerber]

Lance Russwurm is looking forward to spending his Sunday summer evenings with the community. He’s imagining hundreds of people spread out in lawn chairs under the shade of old trees listening to the sound of authentic country music.

The Sunday Night Concert Series will be back up and running this summer after a hiatus during the pandemic. Every Sunday night in June, July and August, there will be an old-time country music concert free to attend or by donation starting June 5.

While traditionally the concert is held at Gore Park off of Arthur Street in Elmira, Russwurm says the concert has outgrown the space, especially in order to maintain distancing.

Before the pandemic he says the series became so popular, every concert attracted 600 to 800 attendees, and sometimes as many as 1,000.

He and the Township of Woolwich worked together to find another place in Elmira suitable to host the event. They landed on Gibson Park, off of First Street.

Gibson Park has, “brand spanking new, actual washrooms,” said Russwurm, which will be an upgrade from the one or two port-a-potties usually in place, he said.  Plenty of parking is available two blocks away at the Woolwich Memorial Centre, and, of course, lots of space for lawn chairs, shaded by large, mature trees.

There is only one hitch – the covered picnic area where the bands will play has an uneven dirt bottom, and Russwurm says the musicians need a solid bottom. Township staff, after some deliberation, eventually decided to install a concrete slab at the site, though it won’t be done in time for the first concert in June.

“So, the first concert or two will be at Gore Park like usual, but then the event will move over to Gibson Park once the concrete slab is in place,” said Russwurm.

When the pandemic hit, it was a shame to have to cancel the entire 2020 lineup, he said – “We had a really nice lineup for that year.”

While he enjoyed having his summer Sundays back to himself, and liked not having to agonize about the weather every weekend, he says the concert serves a need that isn’t met elsewhere.

“The seniors really missed these shows,” he said.

In the ’70s, every bar had country. Today there’s really nowhere for people to go to hear this music – the bars that do still play it are closing down or very small, adding that the modern country music played on the radio “is not really country.”

For people who appreciate old-time country, “There’s nowhere they can go to get what they want,” he said.

Russwurm grew up playing country music with his dad, Lynn Russwurm. “I thought I hated country music at the time,” he said.

The late Lynn Russwurm was a musician, songwriter and enthusiastic advocate for traditional country music well known and beloved in the industry. He wrote hundreds of songs, performed in many bands, recorded many albums and collected and sold tens of thousands of records.

“He’d play anywhere, any time,” Russwurm said. “He would think of that, ‘Hey, it’s a perfectly good gazebo here with a nice park, I can do concerts here, people will come.’ And it slowly grew.”

Lynn Russwurm started the free concert series in 2006. His son said the first concerts might have attracted 20 people or so.

“Now that it’s going, I can’t bear to let it lapse,” Lance Russwurm said. “It’s what he was most proud of.”

The concerts will take place every Sunday night in June, July and August from 7 to 9 p.m. Attendees will be asked to wear a mask when not at their seat and do their best to distance. The concert is free to attend, though musicians are paid directly by the day’s donations. 

“Come on out,” said Russwurm. “If you want country music, you’ve got to come out and support it.”

Sunday Night Concert Series lineup

June 5: Southbound
June 12: Switchback Road
June 19: Randy Satchell
June 26: Naomi Bristow
July 3: T’was Now (Mike & Diana Erb)
July 10: Darin Parise and the Maple Sugar Sweethearts (with special guest – Al Widmeyer)
July 17: Aaron Muir
July 24: Lance Russwurm
July 31: Gerald Davidson
August 7: Wendy Lynn Snider
August 14: The Chaparrals
Aug 21: Fred Lewis and Riding High
Aug 28: Dianne and The Cavaliers

Lance Russwurm is preparing for the relaunch of the Sunday Night Concert Series. [Leah Gerber]

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