Lovin' the Levitt
The Levitt Pavilion Summer Concert Series taps into community needs
By Rebecca Kuzins 05/08/2014
Although Renee Bodie is pleased when people say they enjoy the concerts at Levitt Pavilion in Memorial Park, she often tells them the music is “just the tip of the iceberg.”
“Our basic pursuit is community through music,” says Bodie, executive director of Levitt Pavilion — Greater Los Angeles & Pasadena. “We also want to celebrate diversity and bring cultures together on our lawn, and engage and activate youth through our intern and volunteer programs. We really want to reach into the community.”
The nonprofit group schedules 100 free concerts each summer — 50 in Pasadena’s Memorial Park and 50 at the Levitt Pavilion at MacArthur Park in Los Angeles. The organization’s parent company, the Mortimer Levitt Foundation, provides funding to build concert venues in underused urban areas throughout the country with the goal of revitalizing these places and making them centers of community activity.
Memorial Park, says Bodie, was “very underused” before 2002, when the foundation provided funding to restore its historic gold band shell. The venue had not been used since the 1970s and “families were staying away from there.”
The first concerts at the renovated facility were staged in 2003. The annual summer concert series has since expanded its attendance, attracting patrons from the San Gabriel Valley, Los Angeles and surrounding areas. Bodie says the events also spurred economic development, because many concertgoers eat dinner or shop in Pasadena before the shows. Last year, a record number of 70,000 people attended the series.
The 2014 series kicks off on Father’s Day, June 15, with a return performance by blues singer Barbara Morrison and her big band. Between then and the final performance on Saturday, Aug. 23, Levitt Pavilion will feature Children’s Nights every Wednesday, jazz on Sundays and a variety of musical styles — from Americana to Latin, along with rock, popular ’50’s oldies, klezmer and world music — on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.
Some of this season’s highlights include a performance by The Bob Baker Marionettes, a perennial favorite at the venue; singer-songwriter Karla Bonoff; Richard Thompson, a highly regarded British guitarist and songwriter; musicians Playing for Change; and 1950s recording stars Johnny Tillotson, whose hits include “Poetry in Motion” and “Heartaches by the Number,” and the Four Preps.
From its office in South Pasadena, Bodie’s organization also puts together summer concerts at MacArthur Park, which opened its own Levitt Pavilion in 2007. Shows at both pavilions, she explains, are pretty much the same, except the MacArthur Park venue presents fewer jazz shows and more Latino and world music than the Pasadena stage. MacArthur Park is also the site of a series of summer concerts sponsored by the Grammy Museum in downtown Los Angeles.
The pavilions in both Memorial and MacArthur parks initially were operated by their own nonprofit companies, but the two merged in 2013. That year, Bodie was hired as executive director. Before taking the job she was president of Bodie House Music Inc. for almost 15 years, producing concerts, festivals and music conferences throughout the United States. She also served on the board of Folk Alliance International for 10 years and was board president for two of those years. The alliance seeks to increase public awareness and appreciation of international folk music.
The Memorial Park concert series has introduced some new policies since Bodie took over. The side stage of the Levitt Pavilion is now open before each show and is used for performances by community-based musicians, dancers and other artists.
Bodie also added Tillotson and the Four Preps to this year’s series after a local resident told her the concerts did not include programming for seniors. She cites this decision as an example of her organization’s ability to “tap into” community needs. “The biggest thing is listening to the community and what the community wants,” she says.
To that end, her organization offers two summer internships — one for the Pasadena area and another for McArthur Park. “The interns come for the entire summer and they set up our sites, help with stage management … collect lawn donations — all the parts of music and event production. By the time they come out, they know how to put on an event,” she says.
Many of these tasks are also performed by a group of community-based volunteers. In addition, the Friends of Levitt Pavilion, the organization’s board of directors, has established community partnerships with local agencies, including the city of Pasadena, the Pasadena Department of Water and Power, the Pasadena Arts Council, the Pasadena Association Memorial Hospital, the Pasadena Public Library and the Pasadena Humane Society.
“Music is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Bodie. “We are an arts organization, not just someone who comes in and just presents 50 concerts. We are a promoter of the arts and a promoter of the community through the arts.
“It’s not just presenting concerts. It’s so much more than that,” Bodie says.