We celebrate CHIRP’s incredible history as the organization embarks on their 19th season.

By Mark Baxter | June, 2020

For 18 summers now, Ballard Park has been filled with concerts organized by CHIRP (Concert Happenings in Ridgefield’s Parks). The 19th season commences July 7th and – if we’re lucky – will continue into early September with free performances and the sounds of folk, bluegrass, jazz, and R&B.

“CHIRP started in the summer of 2002 after the tragedy of September 11th,” said CHIRP organizer Barbara Manners. “We wanted to find a way to bring townspeople together and to enhance the small-town feel here that all of us treasure. The high- school bands had occasionally offered concerts at the gazebo, and the venue struck me as a place where all of us could gather more frequently with a sense of belonging and help foster a stronger sense of community among residents.”

This year, CHIRP is sure to look different, but the important thing is that the show will go on!  CHIRP will kick off July 7 with Essential Bumper Jacksons.  Among the artists scheduled to perform over the summer are The Klezmatics, Susan Werner, Crystal Shawanda, The Johnny Nicholas band, the Mammals and more still to be announced.

“The rest of the season will be posted as we go,” said Manners. Rain dates for these three events will be the Thursday of their scheduled week.

As with most activities these days, new policies and procedures will be in place. Attendees will have to pre-register to attend, and attendance at the first two concerts may not exceed 500 people. No groups larger than 10 people will be allowed, and all groups – regardless of size – will be required to be seated a socially distant 15 feet from every other group. In addition, there will be monitors at the two open gates checking registrations and masks before entry. “Burdensome? Yes, but hopefully you will determine it is worth it to come sit under the stars and hear live music,” said Manners.

Manners, a long-time member of the board of selectman, is a strong proponent of the arts in town. She helped found the Ridgefield Playhouse and then went on to establish CHIRP, managing and running each season’s roster. “CHIRP provides all of us a place to gather together, enjoy friendships, meet new people—and share a common love of music,” she continued. “It’s a venue where all of us are comfortable—regardless of income level, age, or ethnicity. And what better way to do that than with the opportunity to hear and enjoy a wide variety of artists and musicians that you won’t hear in the area anywhere else.”

That first season in 2002 brought nine concerts to Ballard Park, running each Tuesday evening from Memorial Day to Labor Day. As the popularity increased each year, and larger crowds gathered, Thursday evening concerts were added.  “The series began initially with mostly folk artists. That’s what I was most familiar with, and at the time we couldn’t afford much larger bands,” Manners explains.

“We’ve added a wider variety as we entered each new season. I start planning the coming season in October, and I’m scouting artists all year long, adding new music and new bands while bringing back those that are most popular. Everyone we present, though, has to be original—original music and original songs, with an occasional cover or interpretation of traditional music. We want to present artists that people are not going to see elsewhere. That’s why you won’t see us booking local bands.”

The success of the concept, the quality of the performances, and the sense of community is palpable. “The concerts in the park have really helped make Ridgefield a destination during the summer,” she said. Since the concerts are free to the public, the concert series is supported by donations and volunteers. Said Manners: “We’ve relied on so many to help get this off the ground and continue it.”

Initially, support came from The Ridgefield Press as well as Ridgefield Parks & Recreation and its then director, Paul Roche. Parks & Recreation she pointed out, built the first stage for the park that CHIRP still uses today, and continues its support each year. Support also comes from the Ridgefield Thrift Shop, the rotary Club, and family foundations. “Some 400 families support us regularly, as well,” she added, “with donations from ten dollars and up. We also pass the bucket for donations. That money is important, too.”

“It’s been amazing to organize, manage and watch CHIRP grow,” said Manners. “All of these people coming together in one place, in one park, and the only commonality is their desire to gather together and listen to good music. The only difference is how they listen— the serious fans are sitting up front, and the families with children are gathered on blankets near the back, free to run around and socialize.”