Get ready to rock some memories this fall when the Garde Arts Center kicks off a spectacular line-up of legendary performing artists. Wrap your awe around names like Gordon Lightfoot, Michael McDonald, Marc Cohn, Garrison Keillor, and the Celtic group, Cherish the Ladies.
Steve Sigel, executive director for the Garde, couldn’t be more excited. “Our theater is being discovered by musical artists and other performers of a level we haven’t had before,” he says. “Like having comedian Kevin Hart choose our venue to do a one-man comedy show in June. This is a smaller hall compared to the arenas and stadiums he’s used to.”
The Garde Arts Center has a great feeling of intimacy, just by its very structure and design. Sigel thinks many of the artists who perform there love the space, and being able to look out from the stage and see the auditorium and the original Moroccan motif. Sigel is quick to point out that the restoration of the wall murals was supported and nurtured by the community.
“And, of course, we have great acoustics. The ambience resonates with the audience just as it did 91 years ago,” says Sigel. The Garde team is launching a fundraiser to upgrade the sound equipment as was successfully done in 2014 for a new digital cinema and surround system system.
This season’s lineup is representative of the sort of national interest being generated for the Garde’s unique venue. With the casinos so close, Sigel and his team were a little hesitant to approach the agents of artists of such caliber, but with the help of some professionals, they took the plunge. Testing the idea earlier this year, the Garde brought in Lyle Lovett, who played to a sold-out house. That’s 1,400 seats!
So what can we expect this fall?
“The Legend Lives On...” with Gordon Lightfoot on Sept. 23. A native Canadian, he is regarded as perhaps the most prolific and greatest Canadian singer-songwriter of all time, winning many honors and awards. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame for his role in defining the folk-pop sound of the 1960s and ’70s. Fellow musician and legend in his own right, Bob Dylan once said, “Lightfoot has been a mentor for a long time. Every time I hear a song of his, I wish it would last forever.”
Garrison Keillor takes over the Garde stage on Oct. 7. Keillor was the anchor for “A Prairie Home Companion,” which played to some 3.5 million listeners on 700 public radio stations from 1974 through mid-2016. His performance at the Garde will be accompanied by Robin and Linda Williams, the musicians from his radio show. This duo performs “a robust blend of bluegrass, folk, old-time, and acoustic country that combines wryly observant lyrics with a wide-ranging melodicism.”
Michael McDonald and Marc Cohn provide a double whammy on Oct. 15. McDonald is described as “an artist who has been a singular musical presence for four decades. With five Grammy® Awards, he is an artist whose work is both timeless and ever-evolving.” Marc Cohn is one of this generation’s most compelling singer/songwriters, a natural storyteller, and “able to distill universal truth out of his often romantic, drawn-from-life tales.”
The winter holidays play host to Cherish the Ladies with “Celtic Christmas” on Dec. 1. One of the top Celtic groups in the world, Cherish the Ladies was founded in 1985 to celebrate the rise of extraordinary women in what had been a male-dominated Irish music scene. Vocals, flute and whistle, and step dancing promise a fantastic evening of entertainment by artists who’ve performed with The Boston Pops, The Clancy Brothers, Vince Gill, Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, and Maura O’Connell, to name a few.
Steve Sigel loves the excitement of all this talent being right there at the Garde. “I get the biggest kick out of seeing the audience response, and we work very hard with our staff to give the highest quality experience with sound, lighting, and our large usher group.”
At the moment, Sigel admits to a little case of nerves due to a large project that must be funded and finished before Boz Scaggs opens in October. Currently, the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems have been disconnected in preparation for their replacement this summer. They are 20 to 27 years old, and the cost is about a million dollars. With community support, the project will be finished on time. “We’re pleased that the region and the State of Connecticut—a big supporter, by the way—are so supportive of the arts,” says Sigel.
The hope is that the concerts will pay for themselves, but sponsorships and individual gifts are always needed for the non-profit organization. Sigel says, “We’re appealing to the public for tax-deductible gifts towards our new season and our HVAC system and other improvements. All gifts are welcome, and there are many giving opportunities. People might want to consider naming a part of the theater after a family or business. Some people have sponsored seats—always a great option.”
With such talent and a passion for the best of the best, the Garde Arts Center is a jewel in the region. Sigel agrees. “From music to movies, and ballet to Broadway musicals, folks really appreciate the kinds of memories we’re creating with so many kinds of events for so many different audiences."
The Garde Arts Center is located at 325 State Street, New London. For more information, call 860-444-7373 or visit gardearts.org.
Editor's note: This story appeared in the fall issue of Aspire. For more great stories, you can page through the publication here.