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Spokane Symphony fills Comstock Park with music and memories of summer

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 4, 2018, 11:12 a.m.

Staking out a spot before the Spokane Symphony’s annual Labor Day Concert in Comstock Park can be serious business.

Each year, early in the day, dozens of people rush to the concert’s grounds on the south side of the popular South Hill park. About 5,000 people will eventually fill the park for the free concert, now in its 33rd year.

Fast-forward until three hours before the symphony is set to play, and the atmosphere is akin to a leisurely picnic punctuated with the soft melody of a band doing sound check and the laughter of children rolling in the grass.

Joe Gasperi, who sat next to a large bush reading a copy of Rowing magazine surrounded by empty chairs and blankets, was keeping the space clear for a group of 15 to 20 friends who would later join him.

As a Comstock neighborhood resident whose home is just down the street from the northeastern edge of the park, he estimated this year would be his 10th time attending the concert. He couldn’t have asked for a better day, with temperatures hovering in the mid 70s and plenty of occasional cloud cover to provide shade.

“It’s just the perfect end-of-summer-season celebration,” he said. “One last informal get-together before you head indoors for the winter.”

The 73rd season of the Spokane Symphony begins this coming weekend. It will be the final season for conductor Eckart Preu.

While the Labor Day concert attracts many of the same faces each year, some newcomers joined.

David and Charlene Olsen, who moved to Spokane from Portland in February to be closer to their children, sat way in the back between two towering pine trees.

“We came an hour ago and scoped it out,” admitted Charlene, who said she’d heard about the concert through the neighborhood social media app Nextdoor.

“Came for a walk, saw it was filling up and grabbed seats,” added David. He said they were excited to see the local Motown-inspired soul band Super Sparkle, which was set to play an hour and a half before the symphony.

Ina Figowy and Dianne Doughty sat near the center. Figowy drank from her water bottle and Doughty knitted a shrug – “or basically, a sweater,” as she put it.

As they sat and enjoyed the scene, a group of children calling themselves the Knit Wits asked if they’d be interested in buying some rhubarb at $1.25 a pop. The name, of course, because the group “knits a lot stuff,” according to 7-year-old Charley, a founding member.

Ava, a blonde-haired 9-year-old who just started fourth grade, was running the stand near the baseball diamond in the park’s southwestern corner. As she talked to customers, her neighbors Henrey and Charley would venture out and pitch their wares to prospective buyers. In addition to rhubarb, there were pillows for $1; coasters for 50 cents; handmade bracelets and necklaces for 22 cents; and lemonade for 25 cents a cup.

“We just started,” she said at about 4 p.m. “But we made a little bit.”

Figowy has been coming to the concert series for many years but missed last year’s smoke-filled performance. Once the children had run off, she smiled and said she always looks forward to Labor Day weekend – to the park, the performance, and yes, the children selling rhubarb.

“It’s the whole atmosphere,” she said. “It’s a beautiful way to close out summer.”


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