A popular shopping center will be transformed into a swanky outdoor music venue with the debut of this season’s Bradley Fair Summer Concerts. Entering its 14th consecutive year, the series brings the open-air terrace and fountain area of the square to life by showcasing nationally and regionally renowned jazz musicians. It’s an evening of music under the stars that has become a seminal community event. Julian Vaughn, acclaimed Kansas City-based lead bass player, will kick off this year’s festivities on Thursday.
“It’s a wonderful gathering of a cross-section of people from all over town,” said Cathy Erickson, vice president at Laham Development, the Bradley Fair developer. “It’s a beautiful venue. It’s a very upbeat, very positive, very festive atmosphere. It’s also very family-friendly. A lot of people bring their young children to the event. It’s just fun. The weather is normally really nice, and it’s just a great place to come on a Thursday evening and enjoy listening to music and enjoy being outdoors with other people.”
The event on Thursday is the first of five weekly concerts, which culminate in a 4th of July fireworks celebration. Attendees often arrive as early as 6 a.m. to stake out their favorite spot with a lawn chair. Many also enjoy dinner outside at one of the many restaurants.
Erickson noted that most of the eateries at Bradley Fair have outdoor seating, and many of their patios have been recently expanded or renovated. Newport Grill, which overlooks the center of the stage, offers reserved seating on its patio during the event. The restaurant also has a bar where adults can purchase beer or wine to enjoy outside within the parameters of the entertainment zone.
Erickson estimates that 2,000 to 4,000 people will attend each of the regular shows during June. All of the concerts are free and open to the public. Erickson said this is one way that Bradley Fair can give back to the community and thank people for their support.
“The Bradley Fair Concert Series was one of the first outdoor concerts to really become popular in Wichita,” she said. “Certainly, in the 14 years that we have been doing it, a lot of others have started. We were kind of a pioneer here in bringing outdoor music events to the public.”
Julian Vaughn’s concert will be a return for him to the series, having played alongside Marcus Anderson in his ensemble last June. This is the first time he will be the featured solo act, and his appearance comes at a time when his fame is rising to rival his 6-foot-7-inch height. His latest album, “Breakthrough,” has been enthusiastically received, enjoying a two-week debut on the national Billboard chart at No. 24. It’s an album that showcases his songwriting capability as much as his talent as a musician.
His music is lively, animated and layered. It’s the sort of sound that easily gets crowds moving. Many in the jazz world see him as a leader in the next generation of smooth jazz, offering a twist on a classic genre of music.
“I know what flavor works in the music industry, but I don’t write my material based on that. I write from my heart,” Vaughn said in a statement on his website. “Whatever is moving me at the moment is what dictates the end. I want to make music for the people, not format. Music is my everything; that’s why I love doing what I do.”
Vaughn was introduced to music growing up in his grandpa’s church, where he learned to play the drums. By 15, he was ready to move on to a new instrument, and says it was love at first sight when he picked up a bass guitar. His first CD was released in 2009, and since then he has been in high demand on the festival circuit. He has performed at the Big Bear Lake Festival, the Seabreeze Jazz Festival, the Catalina Island Jazz Festival and the Dubai International Jazz Festival.
“We always like to bring in local and regional talent to the concert series,” Erickson said. “Julian is gaining international recognition. He’s very young, and he is really skyrocketing in the smooth jazz world. He’s really doing well, and I feel like he’s one of those people who will probably be really big soon.”