By Carina Livoti
Northport Village’s Happenings on Main Street are happening for the 17th year beginning this Friday.
The coordinator for the series of summer events, Fred Ritchberg, said that when he and his wife, Susan, came up with Happenings, they set out to design a program that had something for everyone.
“[We wanted] to make the music acceptable to people from 3 or younger than 3 to 93; it had to cross the barriers for all people,” he said.
The pair got the idea for the events series after summers spent sailing around Long Island on a 30-foot catalina.
“We’d wind up all places and we would dock in Newport [in Rhode Island]… the town has all sorts of restaurants and bars and hotels along the way and they would have music in the bars and restaurants along the way and we’d come back here and it was quiet little town,” he said.
Ritchberg, who was president of the Northport Chamber of Commerce in 1998, decided to try to shake the quiet town up a bit in the summer.
“I said, I want to do something on the street, something to show kids what’s going on, something with music,” he said.
And so was born Happenings, a series of weekly local music performances in Northport Village every Friday from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
According to Ritchberg, he, his wife, and programming directors Sandy and Steve Edwards try to book local talent and are primarily interested in singer-songwriters who he says have a different view of life.
He said one of the most interesting things about performing in Happenings was the streetside performance aspect.
“Our musicians play in the audience, and that’s the advantage of having this particular format,” he said.
The music in the program, which is primarily jazz, bluegrass, slow rock, jazz rock, singles, doubles, and groups, has featured some of the same artists over the years, but Ritchberg said that they liked to bring in new groups and styles each year.
He added that the audiences changed, too: over the past few years, local senior citizen communities like the Atria and Bristol have started sending buses down to the performances.
Perhaps the crown jewel of the Happenings is the annual open mic, where anyone can sign up to perform, bringing out community members of all ages.
“[At the open mic] we have 4- or 5-year-old children get up with a parent or a teacher to do a song… We had a 94-year old man who did a poem!” he said.
This year’s Happenings on Main Street are Fridays from May 22 through Sept. 4, starting at 7 p.m. at the Northport Village Park. Up first is repeat artist Miles to Dayton, a romantic rock band who writes their own music. The band features jazz cello and jazz violin. Ritchberg said that last year the band’s jazz cellist, Jon Preddice, invited students of his to perform improv jazz with the band.