One of the many couples who danced to the sounds of Ken Dahleen and his Big Band, Bryan Reynolds and Jolene Balik, from Idyllwild, doing the Swing.  Photo by Cid Castillo
One of the many couples who danced to the sounds of Ken Dahleen and his Big Band, Bryan Reynolds and Jolene Balik, from Idyllwild, doing the Swing. Photo by Cid Castillo

Fourteen years ago, big band leader, clarinetist and Idyllwild resident Ken Dahleen saw a need for a summer concert series and persevered until he launched the first in 2000.

Idyllwild is unincorporated, and in 2000 there were no civic budgets to provide summer concerts in the park. But Dahleen thought there should be free outdoor summer music — not as a tourist draw but specifically to provide a broad mix of music and dancing for Idyllwild residents in a relaxed summer-in-the-pines, evening setting. He found the site, got the permits and talked up county officials and local business people until he obtained sufficient initial funding to proceed.

As he did that first year, and as he does each year, Dahleen sought sponsors and solicited donations to fund the full series budget. Concerts were scheduled for Thursday evenings, not on tourist-heavy weekends. And even though Dahleen and his Idyllwild Summer Concert Series board are launching season 15, they begin, as they do each year, with insufficient money to fully fund the series. Dahleen and his board book the bands, erect and equip the stage with sound and lights, and do it on a wing and a prayer, hoping sponsors and donors will fully fund the more than $20,000 budget.

Again this year, the musical menu offers something for everyone — big band and Sinatra stylings, jazz from one of the best contemporary female vocalists, a Santana cover band, a top ’40s and ’80s cover band, a Motown/soul/funk and blues band, a straight-ahead rock band with a blazing horn section and, as a series finale, some foot-stomping zydeco.

Opening the series, which runs from July 4 to August 21 at the Idyllwild Community Center site, are Dahleen and his Big Band Staff, featuring Rick Michel and his vocal tribute to the Rat Pack lions Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Michel has been a fixture in Las Vegas with his Rat Pack reincarnations. Variety says of his performance, “He is the closest thing to Frank Sinatra we have ever heard.” Dahleen points out that this is the 100th anniversary of Sinatra’s birth and Michel will be presenting his “Sinatra Forever” for ISCS. Said Michel, “I think Frank Sinatra was the most articulate of all the pop and standard singers. He made songs his own by uniquely phrasing the words to wrap around the melody line like no one else before him or since.” The Friday, July 4, concert is the only one on a weekend and begins at 6:30 p.m. with no opening act. All other series concerts are on the regular Thursday nights.

The line-up for the rest of the season features a mix of new and familiar acts: on July 10, trumpeter Doc Jack Poster and Rock Rave; on July 17, a Buddy Holly tribute band; on July 24, jazz chanteuse Yve Evans; on July 31, Grupo Bohemio, a Santana tribute band; on August 7, a treat for dancers of all ages, New Sensations a high energy dance band that moves through modern rock, classic rock, top 40, pop, disco, swing and salsa; on Aug.14, guitarist Harold Wherry and the Blue Breeze Band, mixing R&B, blues and jazz, and featuring a popping horn section; and last, but by no means least, wildly popular Liasa Haley and her Zydecats playing foot-stomping music of the Louisiana bayou. Warning, this series is heavily loaded for dancers. So it might be time to get in shape for a summer of swinging, stomping, discoing and an occasional sedate ballad for that close up old fashioned kind of thing.

Said Dahleen of this season’s lineup, “We try to change it up each year and keep it fresh and new. Everybody’s going to have a great time.”

Anyone interested in sponsoring the series, and being featured on banners that back the series stage throughout the summer, may call Dahleen at 951-659-2229.

Check the website when it is updated for more information on the featured performers at Donations may be sent to Idyllwild Summer Concerts Inc., P.O. Box 1542, Idyllwild, CA 92549.