‘An artistic buffet’: NJPAC’s outdoor concert series, Sounds of the City, returns

The crowd may be a little thinner, because of COVID-19 protocols, but NJPAC’s free outdoor summer concert series, Sounds of the City, returns with in-person performances Thursday evenings starting July 15.

DJ Felix Hernandez’s “Rhythm Revue Dance Party” kicks off the seven-week series, which will include performances by hip hop legends Eric B. & Rakim, salsa star Tony Vega, reggae headliner Third World and gospel singer Le’Andria Johnson.

The concerts are from 6-8:30 p.m. Thursdays through Aug. 26 in Chambers Plaza, just outside the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (1 Center St., Newark).

This summer, they will be held in a gated outdoor enclosure, with a maximum capacity of 1,000 people, one of several new protocols because of the coronavirus pandemic. To promote vaccinations, half of the 1,000 people must have received the vaccine.

 “Sounds of the City is a legacy series in Newark; for more than 20 years, this is how the city has celebrated summer,” says NJPAC executive vice president and executive producer David Rodriguez.

The free outdoor summer concerts “create a festive mood, with people dancing, people lounging and socializing,” he says. 

The variety of performers at Sounds of the City—Latin, hip hop and gospel, among others—reflects the variety of shows throughout the year at NJPAC, Rodriguez notes. “It really is a buffet artistically.”

DJ Wallah.

Before the pandemic, Sounds of the City attracted 1,000 to 5,000 people depending on the performers, he says. Last summer, the series was turned into a weekly live DJ dance party streamed on Facebook.

DJ Wallah of Hot 97 has been the emcee at past Sounds of the City. This year, he also will entertain the crowd before the main act in place of the local bands and students in NJPAC educational programs, who performed as opening acts in previous years.

DJ Wallah is a neighborhood kid, having grown up in Newark. His family comes to Sounds of the City and he sees friends and former high school classmates there. “My mom is there every Thursday,” he says.

Many in the audience come from work and those who come once often starting coming to all of the concerts. “Some of the faces and characters become recognizable,” he says.

Stephen “Cat” Coore of Third World says the reggae band has performed inside and outside at NJPAC.

He is looking forward to being on stage again after the pandemic, which hit Jamaica especially hard because of its reliance on tourists. Pandemic restrictions highlighted how much people need to get together, he noted.

Third World.

NJPAC has been holding some comedy performances inside and shows with the New Jersey Symphony highlighting new composers are planned. The center has been allowing six feet between pods of ticket-buyers inside the theaters.

The inside shows have been going well, with some shows selling out, Rodriguez says. NJPAC has a committee that meets biweekly to review its health protocols. If the number of COVID-19 cases continues to decline, the number of people allowed in the gated area for Sounds of the City may increase, he says.

Access to the concert area will be on a first-come basis; wrist bands to enter may be picked up two hours before the concerts begin.

All concert-goers must wear face masks throughout the event. Their temperatures will be checked with contactless thermometers at the entry gate and they will be asked if they are vaccinated and if they have any symptoms of COVID-19. Food and drinks will be sold in designated areas, where patrons will be allowed to remove their masks. Bags and backpacks will not be allowed in the concert area.

Syleena Johnson

The following concerts are scheduled:

July 15: DJ Felix Hernandez’s “Rhythm Revue Dance Party,” a live version of the metro area’s first and longest-running radio show dedicated to classic soul and R&B. 

July 22: Golden age hip hop duo Eric B. & Rakim. who first exploded onto the scene with the release of “Eric B. is President” in 1986. Their classic album “Paid in Full” was named the greatest hip hop album of all time by MTV. After a decades-long split, the two reunited and returned to touring in 2017.

July 29: Grammy-nominated R&B singer-songwriter Syleena Johnson, daughter of legendary blues and soul singer Syl Johnson. Her 11th studio album, “Woman,” was released last year.

Aug. 5: Salsa master Tony Vega, who performed with Gilberto Santa Rosa, Eddie Palmieri and Tito Puente before striking out on his own. He has recorded several hit albums, including “Yo me Quedo” and “Lo Mio es Amor.”

Aug. 12: Gospel singer-songwriter Le’Andria Johnson, who was the Season 3 winner of the BET gospel singing competition show “Sunday Best.” She won a Grammy for Best Gospel/Contemporary Christian Music Performance for her first album, “The Awakening of Le’Andria Johnson.”

Aug. 19: Brass Against, a New York-based collective of dozens of artists, led by Brad Hammonds. It is devoted to creating brass-forward political songs that inspire fans to action. 

Aug. 26: Third World, one of the longest-lived reggae bands. It combines reggae with elements of R&B, funk, pop, rock, dancehall and rap and has been nominated for nine Grammys.