Plena Libre performs to packed Green

by Hallie Huffaker | 6/25/15 6:49pm

06-26-2015-arts-plenta-libre-katelyn-jones
Plena Libre performs to a full Green in a free concert.
by Katelyn Jones / The Dartmouth

The few hundred students and community members who crowded the Green Thursday evening cheered as Plena Libre, the four-time Grammy nominated Latin and jazz band, yelled “Are we ready?” several times at the kick off of their concert.

The Hopkins Center for the Arts organized the free concert as part of its “Summer Free for All” series that includes three outdoor musical performances and two films.

“The idea is to create a real celebration for the arts with fun, easily accessible events,” Hop programming director Margaret Lawrence said. “These events are for everybody, especially people who do not often spend time on campus.”

Plena Libre, a group with a 21 year history that includes worldwide tours, aims to revitalize the “Puerto Rican plena style of music” and bring it to a new generation of listeners, according to the band’s website.

Founder and bassist Gary Nunez said that he considers the group’s style as a “new version of Puerto Rican music” influenced by its African roots, contemporary sound and inclusion of elements from musical genres like salsa.

Dartmouth soloists will open for each of the summer concerts, a decision made to help integrate Dartmouth students into the events, Lawrence said. Tyne Freeman ’17 opened for Plena Libre on Thursday night.

Freeman performed two songs — John Mayer’s “Gravity” (2006) and an original song, both in what she called a “jazzy, soulful” style. Lawrence reached out to her a month ago, after hearing her in a winter master class, Freeman said.

Freeman said she was particularly excited about the outdoor venue, as she usually performs indoors with groups like Xado and the Barbara Coast Jazz Ensemble.

“It’s going to be a chill vibe and people will be able to hear it as they are walking by,” Freeman said before the performance. “So I’m very excited about the setting.”

A dance class, taught and musically accompanied by Plena Libre, preceded the concert on the Green and attracted more than 60 participants. The two other “Summer Free for All” concerts will also be preceded by dance classes. This dance class will help get people up on their feet and moving during the concerts, Lawrence said.

Nunez added that the dance class goes along well with the goal of Plena Libre — to help people have fun and get up and dance. The band seemed to succeed in that aim, as many concert attendees danced throughout the duration of the concert.

In addition to Thursday’s concert, C.J. Chenier and the Red Hot Louisiana Band will perform on the Green on July 9 and swing band The Gordon Webster Septet will perform on Aug. 6. “Toy Story” (1995) will be shown on July 23 and “Mary Poppins” (1964) will be shown on Aug. 13 in Spaulding Auditorium.

Lawrence said that the “Summer Free for All” series is part of the Hop’s Community Venture initiative that started two years ago to “lower barriers” for those in the Upper Valley through creative programming.

She said that College programming coordinates with focus groups who specialize in working with low-income Upper Valley residents and teenagers to generate engaging programs. The initiative builds off ideas from the Hop’s class divide project, a three-year project designed to increase awareness and explore the socioeconomic divide in the Upper Valley through a series of events, she said.

For Nunez, his hope is that people will learn more about what “Puerto Rican music is all about” through their concert, he said.

“People need to open their hearts to different cultures and different types of music,” Nunez said. “It is a beautiful thing.”

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