These world-class gardens are more than just a pretty sight. Now, they’re host to a fun weekly concert series.
David Anderson has a message about the world-class gardens his father, John, established in Rockford more than 30 years ago: Come on in and enjoy!
“A lot of people drive by the gardens all the time, knowing they’re here, but never coming in,” says Anderson. “We want them to see what’s behind the curtain, so to speak, to stop in and not be intimidated. Anderson Japanese Gardens [AJG] are meant to be enjoyed by people. That’s the reason they exist.”
Attracting more locals to the gardens is one reason AJG introduced a weekly “Tuesday Evening in the Gardens” concert series this summer. And folks have responded with gusto. The first performance, featuring musician Miles Nielsen, drew more than 500 people, far exceeding Anderson’s expectations.
“It was phenomenal,” he says. “In fact, the turnout was so good, there were some operational hiccups. The vendors had to run back to their restaurants and get more food, for one thing. We learned from those hiccups and corrected them.”
One of the best things about the concert series, so far, is the way it brings different kinds of people together, says Anderson.
“It was kind of magical, that first concert night, to look around and see people of different ages and backgrounds enjoying the gardens, the music, the food, each other,” he says. “We book a variety of music styles, and none are very hard to listen to. It’s good quality music that all ages can enjoy.”
The concerts are staged Ravinia style: concert-goers bring their own lawn chairs or blankets, and can bring a picnic from home, or buy food from vendors like DiTullio’s Italian Market & Cafe, Woodfire Brick Oven Pizza, Zammuto’s or the Popcorn Parlor. Carry-in beverages aren’t allowed, but beer, wine, soda and bottled water are available for purchase. AJG allows its vendors to set up at no charge, in support of Rockford’s City Market initiative, an event in which local vendors set up in downtown Rockford each Friday night during summer.
“Our Tuesday night events are very informal,” says Anderson. “You don’t have to sit in one spot all night. You can walk around the gardens, grab a pizza, catch up with friends. It’s mostly about being together on a summer night in a fun and beautiful place, sipping a cool drink, listening to music, relaxing.”
It’s also meant to be a kid-friendly and affordable evening. As the father of four children under age seven, Anderson knows how difficult it can be to find a good babysitter, especially on a weeknight.
“Bring the kids, let them run around, let them feed the fish in the pond,” he says. “Our fish gain a lot of weight on Tuesdays, but that’s OK. Admission is free for kids 12 and under, because we want children to come and enjoy the gardens, too. It’s a terrific value for families.”
Concert admission is $5 for adults, and free to garden members. Guests can set up picnic areas on the lawn starting at 5:15 p.m.; musicians begin performing at 6:30 p.m. Overflow parking is at the University of Illinois College of Medicine on Parkview Avenue. Guests can walk to the gardens or catch a shuttle.
Along with the concert series, AJG offers a monthly lecture series on topics of interest to gardeners. It also partners with individuals and organizations around the community to offer a long list of classes and special events for adults and children, such as adult watercolor painting, taught by Stella Dobbins; children’s programs conducted by Discovery Center Museum; and exercise classes led by Peak Fitness. Worship services are offered, too.
“People can check our website or Facebook page to see everything that’s going on here,” says Anderson.
And if activities aren’t your thing, it’s still fine to visit the gardens just to soak up the beauty and serenity that they offer.
“It’s a healing place for people to come and detach for awhile,” says Anderson. “Spending time here is good for the soul. The special events are meant to give people another reason to come out here and to keep coming back. This isn’t like a zoo that you only visit once a year. It’s a place that’s meant to be enjoyed often and much.”
The gardens and gift shop are open seven days a week.
Tuesday Evenings in the Gardens Concert Schedule
July 24 Stephanie Yeager
July 31 Sarah Abromowitz
Aug. 7 Rive
Aug. 14 Mostly Water
Aug. 21 Parker
Aug. 28 Jodi Beach