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Summer band concerts in the park are as American as apple pie. It's a tradition dating back 76 years in La Crosse. Young and old bring their lawn chairs and blankets to Riverside Park on Wednesday nights to hear some of their favorite music and spend time with family and friends.

Even though summer officially is two weeks away, the La Crosse Concert Band jump-started summer Wednesday night with a spectacular concert under crystal blue and sunny skies.

For many, the summer band concert is a step back in time when life was simple and technology was a foreign word.

"All you have to do is sit back, relax and enjoy the music, the park and the river," said Alex Vaver, conductor and president of the band. "For many, summer concerts have been part of their memories since childhood, and for the young, well, they're making memories."

Generations can share a good time together at the concerts, Vaver said.

More than 1,000 people attended Wednesday's concert, one of the largest crowds for a season opener.

"The concerts are just nice and relaxing," said Donna Sherin of La Crosse. "I like the music down by the river."

Her sister, Ruth Miller, said the concert gives her another reason to enjoy the outdoors. "I like all the music, and we have a good time," Miller said.

The concert featured great arrangements and variety from "American Fanfare" and "Commando March" to "My Fair Lady" and Hoagy Carmichael medleys. The band is bigger, bolder and better this summer, with a large horn section, including 15 trumpets, which was featured in "Malaguena."

The band has continued the tradition of the children's march, when kids are invited to parade in the aisles waving American flags; they receive coupons for ice cream and root beer floats afterward.

The La Crosse Concert Band concluded the one-hour concert with a special encore, John Philip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever," featuring several piccolos and a big brass sound as the moon appeared overhead. The crowd responded with a standing ovation and left with smiles on their faces and humming a tune or two.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: La Crosse Concert Band concerts

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, June 14, 21 and July 12, 19 and 26.

WHERE: Riverside Park, La Crosse

ADMISSION: Free

IN CASE OF RAIN: Concerts begin at 8 p.m. at La Crosse Logan High School

Terry Rindfleisch can be reached at trindfleisch@lacrossetribune.com or (608) 791-8227.

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