The evening had just gotten started. The sun was still up, only the first course of dinner had been served and the orchestra had played just a few numbers.
But Kris and Alex Lambert had already made up their minds.
“We’ll be back next year,” Kris Lambert said.
He and his wife Alex moved to Bradenton from Philadephia about a year ago. They were looking for something to do this weekend and a Google search turned up something called Symphony on the Sand that they had never heard of. They decided to check it out.
“This is great,” Alex Lambert said. “It’s even better than we thought it would be.”
The fourth annual Symphony on the Sand at Coquina Gulfside Park was the biggest one ever. Jeanie Pickwick, the chair of the event, guessed that about 700 people paid to see Saturday’s concert from the Anna Maria Island Concert Chorus and Orchestra (AMICCO). Outside the white picket fences, more people sat on the beach and listened to the music for free.
The fenced-in area was much larger this year, so people who chose not to pay were much farther away than previous years.
“This is still great,” said Sally Lavigne. a Bradenton seasonal resident who was seated just past the fence with her husband, her brother and his wife. “We came last year and we loved it. This year, my brother and his wife came from across Florida.”
One reason the event was larger this year was that the AMICCO concert was just one event in a full weekend of music under the umbrella title of Symphony on the Sand. Country star John Michael Montgomery performed Friday, and a Billy Joel tribute called “The Stranger: The Ultimate Billy Joel Experience” is slated for Sunday evening. (Tickets are $20-$45 and they’re available at symphonyonthesand.com.) In previous years, the AMICCO concert, the actual Symphony on the Sand, had been the only concert of the weekend.
AMICCO performed mostly non-classical music, including pop hits (“I Will Survive”), movie themes (“Skyfall”) and show tunes (“Cabaret,” “The Impossible Dream”).
The concerts are part of artsHOP, the 10-day celebration of the visual and performing arts on Anna Maria Island.
Joyce Karp and Joan Voyles founded Cultural Connections, which functions sort of like an arts council for Anna Maria Island, and started artsHOP 10 years ago. Before that, they said, there was little communication among the various artists on the island. They say the organization has enhanced the artistic life of the island.
“It’s about fostering a sense of community,” Voyles said. “When people know each other, collaborations happen.”
The Lamberts, like a lot of of other concerts-goers opted for $125 table seats that included food and wine. (They also won an auction —a $2,000 gift basket, including free meals in local restaurants and a two-night stay at Anna Maria Island resort — for $900.) Other concert-goers paid $50 for reserved seats and others paid $20 and brought their own chairs and blankets and sat farther away from the stage. But they all had good views of both the orchestra and the sunset, and they could hear every note. Pickwick said the sound, by Bradenton’s Mojoe Productions, was better this year than ever before.
The sound was so good, in fact, that Judy Allen of Bradenton was enjoying the concert from a lawn chair on the edge of the parking lot. She couldn’t see the stage, but she could hear the orchestra and enjoy the nearly full moonlight and the gentle beach breeze in the cool November air.
“This,” she said, “is beautiful.”