Thousands of people gathered Monday evening at Spokane’s Comstock Park to unofficially say goodbye to summer.
For almost 30 years, the Spokane Symphony has performed a free Labor Day concert to bring the community together in a celebration of the arts.
“This is the highlight of the end of summer,” said Becky Ammerman, who was at the park with her husband, John, and children Zach, 5, and Levi, 3.
The family sets up a blanket and brings along a picnic for the event every year. Zach said he likes the drums the best.
People showed up early, setting up chairs, blankets, tables – and umbrellas, just in case of rain. Before long they were passing plates of potato salad, sandwiches and fruit. Some shared bottles of wine.
Off to the side of the crowd, vendors had set up booths. There were people selling pottery, folk singers, balloon animals and an “instrument petting zoo.” Lelia Smith volunteered to run the booth for the symphony this year. Laid out on tables were a clarinet, trombone and violin. Not far away, people were trying out the cello.
Smith said when she’s in town she always makes it to the concert.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” she said. “We’re happy the weather cleared.”
The instruments weren’t just for kids to try. Mica Pointer, 19, picked up the clarinet. His fingers shook as he tried to blow through the mouthpiece and play notes.
“Start me on ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’ ” he quipped. “I was just experimenting. I tried out the cello. That was new to me.”
A group of kids set up a game of kickball, using cups to mark the bases.
By the time Concertmaster Mateusz Wolski walked across the stage, the party was in full swing. Everyone stood for the national anthem, even the cellists.
Every year the concert kicks off the symphony’s season and features music they will play.
Conductor Eckart Preu told the crowd a bit about each piece – Johann Strauss Jr. influenced many American musicals. He recommended the annual performance of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” before introducing the “Waltz of the Flowers” from that ballet.
“We have a mosh pit and you can just dance along,” he told the crowd.
Pointer and Brenna Weisbrod took him up on that, dancing a waltz along with the music. By the end of it, the two were really showing off their moves, with twirls and dips. They even bowed with a flourish at the end.
They weren’t the only ones. Little girls spun pirouettes for their parents. Other children gathered on the pitcher’s mound, clasped hands and ran in circles.
Steve Nitchman was there with his family. His mother-in-law, Nobuko Anderson, makes the trip every year from Seattle. His son Andrew didn’t mind tagging along; his violin teacher encourages her students to come.
Mike and Tammy Roozekrans brought their sons, Nicholas, 11, and Ryan, 8.
“We usually come every year,” Tammy said. Plus, Nicholas can see his trumpet teacher perform.
“It’s cool,” Nicholas said.