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Style · April 4, 2018

Bluemont’s demise presents challenge to “vibrancy”

The late William Covel Lewis, an artist who lived in Fauquier and Rappahannock counties, produced this 1989 painting of the Pan Masters Steel Orchestra performing for the Bluemont Concert Series on Culpeper Street in Warrenton.
Photo/Bluemont Concert Series
Bluemont Concert Series founder Peter Dunning steps away from the Leesburg courthouse after introducing performers in 1988.
It’s a sad moment to see something that has been part of the community for 40 years to know that it’s no longer going to be there. It is going to be missed, and maybe a lot of people have taken it for granted over the years.
— Warrenton resident Doug Larson, former Bluemont Concert Series chairman
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
He remembers the summer concert series in its heyday, when hundreds — even thousands, came to Old Town Warrenton to enjoy eclectic musical performances.

Doug Larson first volunteered with the Bluemont Concert Series when it came to town more than 35 years ago.

A staple of Warrenton’s summer entertainment, Bluemont announced Tuesday it would dissolve completely. The Berryville-based nonprofit over four decades hosted programs throughout the northern half of Virginia.

“It’s a sad moment to see something that has been part of the community for 40 years to know that it’s no longer going to be there,” said Mr. Larson, a former chairman of Bluemont’s board. “It is going to be missed, and maybe a lot of people have taken it for granted over the years.”

The nonprofit performing arts organization in the last decade struggled to make ends meet as state and local government funding dwindled. The Great Recession that started a decade ago also reduced private contributions.

“It is a Bluemont board of directors’ action,” founder Peter Dunning said Tuesday of the decision to fold. “We are very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish over the last 40 years.”

Mr. Dunning started the group, which sprang from community dances in the western Loudoun County village of Bluemont. For much of the organization’s history, Mr. Dunning served as its executive director. Stressing “partnerships,” he relentlessly hustled to secure contributions from local governments, businesses and residents to fund a growing range of programs that included community concerts, artists-in-education presentations and performances at elder care homes.

Mr. Dunning also led setup and tear-down of stages, lights and sound systems in three or four towns a weekend, as he booked classical, jazz, country, folk, rock and global musical acts to perform back-to-back-to-back in Leesburg, Warrenton, Winchester, Luray, Ashland and other communities.

Bluemont additionally organized First Night Warrenton, a family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebration, the last 23 years. It stopped hosting Leesburg’s First Night in 2011.

When Mr. Dunning retired in 2013, his daughter Lily Dunning Widman succeeded him, managing Bluemont and its tiny staff from an office on Berryville’s Main Street. The organization moved there from Leesburg.

“There was never any fat in the Bluemont budget,” Mr. Larson said. “They had been cutting muscle for the past several years and finally decided they couldn’t offer the level of programming.”

He remembers when The Seldom Scene, a popular bluegrass band, would draw more than 1,000 to the lawn of the Warren Green Building in Warrenton. Hundreds of concert-goers would undulate down Culpeper Street in conga lines each August, when the Pan Masters Steel Orchestra briefly transformed Old Town into a Caribbean village. The popular group credits Mr. Dunning and Bluemont with helping it get established.

“It was always going to be a very high-quality program,” Mr. Larson said. Citizens got “exposed to this pretty eclectic group of performances to choose from — all of them high quality, family oriented, affordable.

“Over the course of the years . . . you’ve had the opportunity in your own backyard (to hear) pretty good performers.”

He added: “I think it’s so critical that we do things to keep Old Town Warrenton at the center of Warrenton and keep the vibrancy and life in the community. Certainly Bluemont was one of many things that contributed to that.”

Long before joining Bluemont’s board, local banker Amelia Stansell attended concerts with her husband and young daughters.

“We would take a box of chalk and draw on the sidewalk,” Ms. Stansell said. “I’m really sad we won’t have that for them this summer under Bluemont.”

Ms. Stansell said the board had discussed the nonprofit’s vitality for about a year and a half before deciding in early March to cease operations.

The organization last year reduced the number of concerts and its staff to stay alive.

“It got to be less and less people coming out,” Ms. Stansell said. “When Bluemont was founded 42 years ago, there weren’t things for them to do on a Saturday night. More opportunities for families have come out.”

The board decided to close the nonprofit rather than reorganize.

“As a board member, this is one of the hardest decisions I have had to make,” Ms. Stansell said.

Allegro Community School of the Arts in Warrenton will stage summer concerts in place of Bluemont this year. His organization plans to focus on scheduling Fauquier musicians, according to Allegro owner Sam Yoder.

“First and foremost we want to honor Bluemont and those who created and sustained it for 42 years,” Mr. Yoder said.

“Music is still happening in Old Town Warrenton,” Ms. Stansell said. “It just won’t be Bluemont.”

Allegro issued this press release Wednesday morning:

Allegro Community School for the Arts will continue the Bluemont concert series and First Night for the Town of Warrenton.

“We were approached by the Town about coordinating these events for Warrenton when Bluemont announced the organization’s termination,” says Allegro Executive Director, Sam Yoder. “The events fit well within the mission of Allegro. Allegro is pleased to assume responsibility for the concert series and intends to conduct them in a way that honors those who created and sustained Bluemont for forty-one years. It is important that the concert series continue in the spirit of Bluemont and what they created.”

Allegro will schedule concerts on the Warren Green as residents have become accustomed to and hope to bring back favorite bands while also attracting new talent to the stage. “This is a wonderful opportunity for Allegro to showcase local talent by having students perform during band intermissions,” says Jennifer Puffenbarger, Chairman for Allegro Board of Directors.

Town Manager Brannon Godfrey says, “Because of its history of involvement in performing arts and the capacity to pick up the project, I was confident that Allegro could resume the programming with the support of the Town and the VCA [Virginia Commission for Arts] grant.” He continued, “The summer concert series is a long-standing cultural event for the Town, and I believe this is a good option to preserve it for 2018.”

“Details still need to be ironed out. Current Board member and Communications Officer, Aimée O’Grady, will serve as the event chair for the Warrenton concert series. Once we have the concerts underway, we will turn our attention to First Night,” says Lachelle Yoder, Allegro Program Director. “We welcome support from the community in the way of volunteers and sponsors to help run the concerts this summer and First Night in the winter.” Anyone wishing to help support the concert series should contact Lachelle at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-349-5088.

Located at 20 Main Street, Allegro is a non-profit art school squarely focused on giving back to our community and bringing the arts to life within the community. Allegro aims to increase art appreciation and participation within the community, and within families! Through education, performance, and community partnerships, we develop the “whole artist.”

> Bluemont a family affair

> Good times in small packages
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