Summer concerts at Bradley Fair have become a premier music event for Wichita. In the 13 years since their debut, the jazz performances on the waterfront of the shopping center have attracted a large, loyal fan base. On Thursday, this year’s season will close with a Celebrate America concert featuring Colorado-based band Dotsero followed by a fireworks show.
The first Celebrate America event was organized in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Since then, it’s been the finale to the weekly Thursday performances that begin each year in June.
“Everyone was feeling the need to do something in response to the tragic events of 9/11,” said Cathy Erickson, vice president at Laham Development, the Bradley Fair developer. “We wanted to bring Wichitans together to Celebrate America, as many other cities across the country were doing. This event symbolizes everyone’s desire to unite together. We have continued the tradition each year by making it the finale to our summer concert series.”
Many of the concertgoers arrive as early as 6 a.m. to secure a prime spot along the scenic outdoor terrace. Rows of folding chairs surround the square and its grand fountain as audiences pack tightly to experience nationally known jazz artists, watch the sun set and enjoy an evening under the stars. People often carry out dinner from nearby restaurants or cool off with some ice cream. The stage is set to the backdrop of an island overlooking a placid lake. An area just below is cleared to allow for dancing. Erickson said that the bands they book rouse audiences off their feet and get them moving. It’s a prime location for an event that she says has a distinct “wow” factor.
Erickson takes pride in being able to offer up the retail space as an arts avenue.
All of the concerts, including Celebrate America, are free and open to the public. The costs associated with the series are underwritten by sponsors and done in conjunction with event co-hosts B-98 FM, Clear Channel Radio and Fidelity Bank in an effort to make art more accessible to the masses.
“We have a very loyal group of guests that have been coming since the first Celebrate America.” Erickson said. “Many have even made friends here. The best part for me is seeing the people have such a great time. They enjoy themselves and enjoy the atmosphere. It’s wonderful to see.”
This performance will mark the first return to Wichita in five year for Dotsero. They previously played one of the regular shows at Bradley Fair. On Thursday, they’ll celebrate American independence while ushering in a fireworks display. It’s a fitting gig for a band whose name means “something unique.”
Lead vocalist and sax player Steve Watts describes Dotsero’s sound as a fusion of contemporary jazz and rock. Their foundation in jazz dates back to their time as public school students, where their district had a strong program that encouraged their talent. Musically, they also were shaped by rock ’n’ roll, with influences such as Led Zeppelin, Chicago and Aerosmith.
Their goal for each performance, Watts said, is to offer an experience full of liveliness and spontaneity. Audiences connect with their energy and edge, he said. The five-piece ensemble has released several recordings that have spent time at the top of national charts. They’ve also performed with a number of leading jazz acts — including Earl Klugh, Spyro Gyra and Herbie Hancock — and have played numerous major festivals, including JVC Winter Park Jazz Fest.
“I look forward to playing this show on a number of levels,” Watts said. “Each time we’ve had a chance to play, people in Wichita are so warm. It’s the heart of America. It’s reflected in the people that live there. They’re down-to-earth, real and family oriented.”
Watts said the band will be mixing in several patriotic songs, such as “God Bless America,” with their standard set list.
“We’ve been integrating songs into our show throughout the year and even before 9/11,” he said. “We’ve been doing it for love of country, and it creates a connection between us and the audience.”
Dotsero’s performance will be followed by a 12-minute fireworks show launched from across the lake. More than 10,000 people are expected to crowd the area.
“The night is always very emotional,” Erickson said. “People get goose bumps watching. It’s one of the most unique places to see fireworks because of their close proximity. You can actually feel them. That lends to the emotion. You get a sense of awe.”