Concerts in the Park at Cesar Chavez Plaza in downtown Sacramento are scheduled every Friday from 5-9 p.m., starting May 3. They continue every weekend this summer though July 26, with the exception of July 5. (Photo courtesy of CIP, photographed by Mickey Morrow)

Concerts in the Park Are Bigger than Ever This Year

Organizers have expanded the venue and brought back some local favorites

Back Web Only May 3, 2024 By Casey Rafter

Friends and strangers have descended on Cesar Chavez Plaza each summer Friday for 30 years, creating a sea of concert shirts, spectacular hairstyles, cups of Bud Light and sun-kissed foreheads for one of Sacramento’s most popular concert series. 

For the festival’s 31st year, live performances are scheduled every Friday from 5-9 p.m., starting May 3. They continue every weekend this summer though July 26, with the exception of July 5 due to the Fourth of July holiday.

This year’s lineup boasts bands with wide renown like Royel Otis and hometown favorites Destroy Boys, along with incredible local acts like Rainbow City Park, Lillian Frances, returning CIP performance Philharmonik, Jakhari Smith, Amber DeLaRosa and Nate Curry.

After featuring Baegod and Sbvce in 2023, June 14 will be Sacramento-based hip hop artist Yumz Awkword’s second Concerts in the Park as a performer and his first bout as a solo act. The organization approached him to perform solo after three unsuccessful years of applying, he says. This summer, Awkword plans on enjoying the festivities even when he’s not on stage.

“We expanded it on half of 9th Street, and we also expanded on half of G Street. We have a main stage and then we have a DJ booth, but we do also have a vintage market, hosted by World’s Worst. We also have a silent disco stage hosted by Hall of Fame.” Madelyn Smith, Communications Manager, Downtown Sacramento Partnership

“A lot of my homies are on there this year” the rapper and songwriter says. “I’m gonna be there every weekend; I live right down the street.”

The Downtown Sacramento Partnership’s Communication Manager Madelyn Smith has been a part of the last three Concerts in the Park. When COVID-19 hit, the series paused for two years. For the third year since that break, Smith says an exciting expansion to the festivities is planned.

“We expanded it on half of 9th Street, and we also expanded on half of G Street,” Smith says. “We have a main stage and then we have a DJ booth, but we do also have a vintage market, hosted by World’s Worst. We also have a silent disco stage hosted by Hall of Fame.”

After making the cut for the last two years, Nat Lefkoff is playing June 28, his third CIP in a row. For him, it’s a great show because of the people attending, no matter what age they are. 

“It’s just fun seeing Sacramento come out,” Lefkoff says. “It’s just kind of a big deal, being among the list of those names. I’m also proud to see other people on there like Amber DeLaRosa and Nick Curry, people I consider friends in music.”

Smith says CIP’s 31-year history has seen it go from simply being a venue for live music to a destination of choice. She says during the last two years, turnout for the event brought in approximately 70,000 people each year.

Lillian Frances is making her Concerts in the Park debut on May 31. That night, local phenom Amber DeLaRosa and NorCal darling Claire Wright will also be wowing the crowds. Frances has been in front of a few large audiences but says it’s exciting to perform for so many faces in a setting like Cesar Chavez Plaza.

“Being able to play with so many other people that I like is exciting,” Frances says. “It’s just like a party. I’m just stoked, sharing the celebration with Sacramento’s artists.”

Dancing, drinks and good times are expected at the annual event. (Photo courtesy of CIP, photographed by Miguel Barajas)

Frances listed Rainbow City Park as one of the acts she will not be missing when they perform on May 17. The band’s vocalist, Danielle Judith, laid background vocals on a track with Frances in April. This will be RCP’s second time taking part in the concert series.

Judith says last year’s show was especially a blast when the band decided to have a little fun with the crowd.

“We had a tambourine with us and … invited somebody on stage to play,” Judith says. “I got really nervous. What if nobody wants to do that? …This guy was wearing a Rainbow City Park shirt and the coolest pants ever. He just totally rocked it.”

The band collectively agreed that another highlight they look forward to is seeing Kenny Buchanan, widely known as Kenny the Dancing Man, arrive on the scene. Anyone who’s seen live music outdoors in Sacramento has likely seen this gyrating shirtless man interacting with the crowd and improving the vibe.

“When I met Kenny, he had a piece of paper in his pocket,” Judith says “a screenshot of a TikTok of Kenny the Dancing Man, and it had like 2.3 million views.”

Some of the performances are planned on days bound to be accompanied by high heat and bright sun. Smith says in any case, it’s always a good idea to arrive early to get a good vantage point for the night’s festivities and, of course, to stay hydrated. She says keeping an eye on the event’s social media feeds will give concert goers some great tips on staying safe and happy while there.

“We will always have water for people — that’s really important to us,” Smith says. “It does tend to fill up the later that it gets, and it’s also really nice to be able to find a cool spot.”

Before the pandemic, downtown was primarily a center for business, Smith says, adding that Concerts in the Park was established with a specific goal in mind: to keep the demographic of government and office workers from leaving the downtown grid for entertainment and create a space for them enjoy a beer in the park among local and traveling musicians.

“When we run the numbers, we do actually find that a lot of people are coming and then staying for several hours,” Smith says. “We have a couple surprise activations and guests throughout the season that we will be announcing throughout the season. The amount of community involvement that we’ve incorporated this year overall is something that I’m really excited for.”

Casey Rafter is a music and feature writer whose work has appeared in Sacramento News & Review and Comstock’s. He is also a student at Sac State and hosts a weekly radio music show on its college station KSSU.

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