GTP 365

STEELY DAN. PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND. ALABAMA SHAKES. CAROLYN WONDERLAND. With artists like these on the lineup, it’s easy to understand how—and why—the Greenwich Town Party has become the must-attend event to kick off the summer season. Don’t believe us? This year, when the 5,500 general admission tickets went on sale March 7, they were gone in twenty-one minutes.

Held at Roger Sherman Baldwin Park for the past six years on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, the festival combines live music (in addition to the main-stage bands, five local bands perform), family-friendly activities (face-painting, bouncy castles, stilt walkers and interactive toys) and lots of good food (everything from barbecue and seafood to homemade cupcakes and ice cream). “It is truly a community event,” says Ray Rivers, GTP copresident. “For many people the music is secondary. It’s really about everyone coming together to celebrate Greenwich.”

The party has come a long way since its inception in 2011. “The first year there were a small handful of people who supported the event, and even in that group most of the people didn’t understand the mission,” recalls Rivers. “We thought it sounded like fun and said, ‘Let’s do it.’ We didn’t know it would be so successful.” It took a while to solidify the mission, and there were a few bumps along the way. But over time, the town has come to fully embrace the GTP. Case in point: Last year the GTP sold out every ticket level—sponsor, neighbor and general admission. This year, half the 1,000 Neighbor tickets (priced at $300 a pop) were scooped up months before the lineup was even announced.

“To see where it is now from where it started is very gratifying,” says Rivers. “We have built something that is going to last and be part of the community for a very long time. We can’t make it bigger, we can only make it better.”

To achieve that goal, the GTP has systematically set its sights on becoming less of a one-day wonder and more of an integral part of the town throughout the year. It helps support nonprofits in a variety of ways, promotes student work and has become a champion of local talent—both on-stage and off. “The way to highlight the community of Greenwich is to be active in it,” says Rivers. “We should all think about celebrating the fact that we are part of this community, and be thankful every day.”

COMMUNITY IN ACTION
From day one, the GTP’s mission has been to partner with many of the town’s nonprofit groups and community events. There are few groups that have not benefited in some way from the generosity. GTP donates general admission tickets to local charities to auction off at fundraisers. In October, GTP volunteers were at Tod’s Point to offer donuts and hot cocoa to participants in Threads and Treads’ annual Beachfront Buswhack Race. Two months later the cocoa and donuts were flowing again at the First Light celebration in Old Greenwich as well as the Reindeer Festival, which benefits Kids in Crisis. GTP also donated a decorated tree to the Junior League’s biggest fundraiser, the Enchanted Forest. And for the past four years, it has cosponsored free parking on Greenwich Avenue during the Holiday Stroll, a seasonal festival that showcases local shops and restaurants.

“It’s a special thing to offer the folks who enjoy downtown Greenwich for those two days. It’s a wonderful gift they give to the community,” says Tammi Kettler, the president of TMK Marketing, which organizes the annual event.

GTP also gives away about 300 tickets to Greenwich-based non-profits to pass along to clients. “We have a group of clients who love music,” says Pathways executive director, Florence Griffith. The agency was founded in 1981 and provides services for adults who suffer from severe and prolonged mental illnesses; its programs include safe, affordable housing with various levels of support and case management. “For many of them, it’s what they remember from high school and college,” she adds. The GTP also provides an opportunity for Pathways to give back in kind. Last year, a small group worked for two days, attaching 3,000 lanyards to the laminated cards worn by many event attendees, including musicians, production, sponsor ticket holders and volunteers. “It’s a way for them to feel like they are part of the community,” says Florence.

During the party, the GTP offers local nonprofits an area to set up information tables. Here, attendees can learn more about the work being done by groups such as Abilis, Audubon, the Arch Street Teen Center and the Greenwich Arts Council, among others. “It gives us a chance to get our message out to the community,” says Shari Shapiro, the executive director of Kids in Crisis. “So they know we are here when they need us in a trauma situation.” Thanks to the generosity of the GTP, Shari and her staff have been able to take a group of kids to the event every year. “They’re young so we go mostly during the day,” she says. “They’re mesmerized. They say, ‘They don’t even know us, why would they do this?’ It’s a real pay-it-forward moment for them.” »

A HERO’S WELCOME
On a day filled with music, food and fun, it can be easy to lose sight of the real significance of the holiday weekend. Not for Byram resident Nancy Chelwick, who last year nominated her husband, George, for recognition as a GTP Community Hero.

Now in its third year, the Heroes campaign is as a way for Greenwich residents to give a shout out to those individuals who touch their lives and enrich their community. As part of the initiative, fifty heroes are chosen at random to receive a pair of tickets to the party. In addition, photos of all the heroes will be displayed on screen during the day of the event.

To Nancy, her husband personified the spirit of the hero campaign. Born and raised in Byram, George served with distinction in the Air Force during World War II, and today, at ninety, is still an active member of the Greenwich community. “He has always been very civic-minded and loves the town of Greenwich,” Nancy says. “He was proud and honored to be chosen. He is a humble man but I felt he deserved the recognition.” The Chelwicks are longtime supporters of the GTP: “We attended the first year and have the caps they handed out. As senior citizens we got in free, but since then we have chosen to pay for our admission every year.”

It’s that kind of spirit—the spirit of community, of mutual generosity and sacrifice—that the GTP set out to highlight when it launched the campaign in 2015. Last year, nearly fifty people were singled out by their peers, including a schoolteacher from Julian Curtiss, two Greenwich High School security guards, a Greenwich Police Department detective and an oncologist at Greenwich Hospital.

One such individual was Jennifer Flatow, the director of development for Family Centers. In addition to her full-time job, she is the co-vice president of the PTA at her son’s school and the vice chairman of the Selectman’s Advisory Diversity Committee. In her “spare” time, Flatow teaches religious education at her church and shuttles her son to hockey games. When she learned her friend and neighbor, Fred Camillo had nominated her as a 2016 Community Hero she was surprised. “To me a hero is someone who puts their life on the line, not a person who goes around doing their daily business,” she says. “It was very humbling.” As part of the honor, Flatow received two general admission tickets. “I had already bought my tickets,” she says, “so I invited my parents to come down. It was a really nice celebration.”

Kristen Rice, the executive director of Adopt-a-Dog, was similarly thrilled—and surprised—to be included in last year’s Heroes lineup. “I was deeply grateful to have that recognition coming to me,” she says. But as much as she wanted to attend the party, duty called. “We had an adoption event that day. It was a tough decision, but I knew I had to be at the shelter.”

SPOTLIGHT: LOCAL
Buying local takes on new meaning when it comes to the Greenwich Town Party. As part of its mission, the party showcases local bands, like musician JD Pinto, who kicked off last year’s festivities. A Greenwich native, Pinto had been accepted to play in 2012—the year the party was divided into two venues—but got rained out. Last year, however, was a different story. “The day was a ten out of ten,” he recalls. » “It was a great chance to reconnect with my community.” It was Pinto’s first time playing on a festival stage in his hometown—an experience he won’t forget. “As an artist, you dream about playing this kind of event,” he says. “The sound system and stage are amazing. And you’re playing among some of the best musicians in the world. It’s a pretty good formula for success.” Pinto and his band did one cover in their set of otherwise original songs—a blend of rootsy, blues rock sounds—and managed to draw a crowd despite the 11 a.m. start. “It’s great to show your home fans that you’re making strides toward your goals,” he says. (jdpintomusic.com)

On the flip side of the equation, for saxophonist Shane Kirsch and his band, Rang-A-Boom, opening for headliners Hall & Oates was a familiar place to be. A music teacher at Brunswick for the past twelve years, Kirsch spent a decade as a touring musician; early on in his career, he and his various groups have opened for the likes of Joan Osborne and Third Eye Blind. “It was nice for me because it brought back that great feeling of being on a big stage in front of a lot of people,” he says. “As a teacher, it is an amazing honor to share what I love with my students and witness them grow artistically during their time with me.” Kirsch and Rang-A-Boom will be back this year, kicking off the action on the main stage. (shanekirsch.com)

LEARNING EXPERIENCES
Brunswick students Diego Jasson and Caleb Osemobor were aspiring freshman filmmakers when their advisor told them about an intriguing challenge from the folks at Case Study Brand, the Greenwich-based marketing and public relations firm that promotes the GTP: Create a short video showing why Greenwich is important to you. Jasson and Osemobor took up the challenge, and with the help of several of their friends, they put together a two-minute film exploring several of the town’s organizations and events—the Arch Street Teen Center, Relay for Life and Threads and Treads’ race series. Case Study Brand was so impressed by their work, the firm hired the duo to create a promotional video of the Greenwich Town Party.

“We were excited by what they did,” recalls Sara Allard, president of Case Study Brands. “They were a natural to shoot the party. They could tell the story better than anyone; they gave it a much more authentic flavor.”

That was in 2015. Armed with press passes and certain parameters (“I told them this isn’t a movie about the headliners. This is about the community and the people’s experiences of the day,” Sara says), the duo spent twelve hours shooting footage of the local bands and the crowds. They set the film to the song “Let’s Get It Started,” an upbeat, snappy tune that exemplified the spirit of the day. “The event is like that,” Jasson says. “It’s all about positive energy. People are super engaged and having a good time. That made our job easier.” (Watch the video on greenwichtownparty.org)

This year, with two GTP videos under their belts, the student filmmakers plan to build on their experience. “This year’s film will be more narrative-driven,” says Jasson. “We’re going to push the boundary for how we capture the community interaction. There are many people with so many ties to Greenwich. They are more than happy to share with us, and give back.”

“It’s been a huge learning curve for us,” adds Osemobor. “And it’s cool watching everyone—even the younger kids—enjoy the same music.”

It’s a sentiment that comes up again and again in connection with the Greenwich Town Party—that somehow the organizers have hit just the right notes, creating an inclusive community-wide event that spans all ages. “The GTP has really accomplished its goal,” says TMK Marketing’s Tammi Kettler. “It’s about celebrating the camaraderie and the kindness of the Greenwich community. In many ways it’s the town at its best.”

For Ray Rivers and the rest of the GTP crew, the 2017 event marks the culmination of a year’s worth of planning. “At the town party, there is no one happier than me,” he says. “We put a lot of work into this; it’s nice to see it all come together. And then we have two weeks before we start all over again for the next year.”

 

 

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