NBMAA Hosts Al Fenton Big Band at First Friday

By Olivia Jablonski

Managing Editor

Al Fenton Big Band at Marco Polo Restaurant. Photo taken by Kathy Sheehan Neri.

The Al Fenton Big Band at one of their rehearsal spots. Photo taken by Doreen Klussendorf.

The New Britain Museum of American Art held its first, First Friday of the summer season on July 1st, bringing in live musicians, local artisans, and local vendors for food and drink tastings for guests of the extravagant event.

The Museum featured central Connecticut-based, Al Fenton Big Band, who performed jazz, blues, and swing in the Stanley Works Center. The performance by the 18-piece big band, directed by band leader and alto saxophonist Kathy Neri, took the audience from the birth of blues to modern favorites throughout the evening.

A jazz duo performed by Mike Casey and Jen Allen was also included on the second floor in the McKernan Gallery. The pair provided a smoother sound, mixing up jazz standards with original music for a timeless style.

Terrence Regan, manager of the visitor and volunteer services for the Museum, hosted the event along with Sarah Rohlfing, who is also a supervisor for the visitor and volunteer services. Regan would call First Fridays a “Social Music Event.”

“The main focus of this event is music and is almost always the knockout of the night,” said Regan. Most of the musicians that visit the museum are from across the state and abroad from the country, Regan explained.

“A musician from Italy once performed at the museum,” he said. “She just happened to be in the area and showed up here and flew back on the last day of her tour in the States,” said Regan.

Regan also says that a lot of the times musicians come from the tri-state area because it’s easier for them to get to the museum. What the museum would normally have is one band playing with another band.

“Since we opened our new wing last October,” said Regan, “We’ve been getting two bands as often as we can so that way people have a variety of music that they can listen to.”

Usually the Museum will have a more popular and louder band downstairs and then upstairs they will have some bluegrass, jazz type of music According to Regan. “People can sort of sit and relax with the music,” he said.

As far as artists, sometimes the museum has a particular one that the Maker’s Market, which is held every year in December and is a part of First Fridays, that make anything from cutting boards to soap and t-shirts.

“We usually have somewhere to 30-40 vendors in the galleries,” Regan said. “These artists sell their materials to the museum. It’s kind of our market for the holiday season, and as well as for First Fridays.”

The Maker’s Market features a variety of one-of-a-kind merchandise by local artisans. For Friday’s event, two artisans Robert Deroberts offered handmade jewelry, and Sally Tomiko, former member of Wesleyan Potters, offered her handmade pottery and plate-were for guests.

As far as artists in the gallery during First Fridays, a lot of the times the museum provides local food and liquor vendors. Savor Cookies, based from the city of Watertown, provided a variety of different flavored cookies. Cookies such as coconut, candied ginger, and rosemary lemon were the following flavors provided during the tasting.

A Hartford-based liquor vendor called “Wild Moon Liqueurs” was provided upstairs for a tasting also. The cocktail drink provided five flavors for guests to try such as cucumber, rose, chai spice, cranberry, and lavender birch.

Plenty of volunteers such as long time couple Don and Watts Lawrence, of Farmington, enjoy helping out and contributing their time into First Friday.

“I’ve gotten to know so many people that have attended over the years,” Don said. Her husband Watts mentioned that they have many good friends for volunteering for the event.

“I have met some interesting people, and it makes it easy to work, fun and the amount of the nice people you meet is worth volunteering over again,” said Ruth Swisher. Swisher a food and wine volunteer has worked with the museum for approximately five to ten years.

“This museum is run by many volunteers,” said Regan. “First Friday was almost started as a volunteer event. It was sort of like a social event for those volunteers, and they would get together, check everyone in, and then you would have someone bring in a tray of food—it’s more of a potluck than a volunteer event,” he said.

“The volunteers are the lifelong blood of this event, and a lot of them have been the same volunteers that have been doing it for forever. It’s a great event that has a very comfortable feel. It’s very lively,” said Regan.

The next First Friday will be in August. More details are to be announced soon. If anyone is interested in volunteering for the next First Friday or the Museum in general, visit the Museum’s website http://www.nbmaa.org/ and click the ‘Support Us’ tab and then click onto ‘Volunteer.’


Correction: We originally reported that the image associated with this story was taken by Kathy Sheehan Neri when it was taken by Doreen Klussendorf, the image was also not taken at the Marco Polo Restaurant as originally reported but is at a Universalist Church in West Hartford. We also reported that the Al-Fenton Big Band was a 15-piece band when it is an 18-piece band. Also, the Museum’s name was corrected.