Al and Christine Anzalone arrived at 10:30 a.m. for the concert in Heckscher Park. But The Persuasions weren't scheduled to go on for another 10 hours at the Huntington Summer Arts Festival.
The Anzalones left their lawn chairs at the "goal line" -- a white stripe in the grass 10 yards from the Chapin Rainbow Stage. The space in front of that line is reserved for people with blankets or beach towels who won't block the view.
"We weren't even the first ones here," says Al Anzalone. He and his wife of 49 years drive hours early from their East Northport home five or six mornings a week to get front-row seats for the alfresco entertainment.
From late June to mid-August, you can see a show for a suggested donation of $1 every night of the week except Monday.
"We see at least 20 or 25 shows a summer. One night we didn't come was the night Billy Joel showed up," Al Anzalone recalled from 2006 when Joel attended a performance of his classical compositions.
"I enjoy the musicals," added Christine Anzalone. "We drop off our chairs, go home, cross our fingers they don't get stolen" -- none have been so far -- "and we come back at 6 and walk around the park."
The Summer Arts Festival, now in its 46th year, has become a habit for many in the crowd at last Sunday night's concert by the a cappella group from Brooklyn. The Persuasions opened with their clever signature song, "Still Ain't Got No Band," before mingling with the crowd, inviting them to sing and dance.
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"We stumbled onto a concert here last summer, late in the season," said Garry Lansky of Seaford, seated in a lawn chair next to Vivian Scheiner of Wantagh as they munched on sandwiches and chips. "We were impressed. We couldn't wait for this summer," Lansky said. "It's a beautiful way to spend a beautiful evening."
Tsipi Shaish of Israel was impressed, too. The artist flew to New York for her exhibit in Chelsea and was visiting friends in Huntington. They dined on assorted cheeses drawn from a cooler along with chicken salad and pesto pasta. "It's a great place," she said of downtown Huntington, where the park is located. "It's just the right blend of nature and commerce."
Many in the crowd had attended the hopping opening night concert with singer Martha Wash, which drew an estimated crowd of 2,500, says Diana Cherryholmes, director of the sponsoring Huntington Arts Council. She pegged The Persuasions audience at about 1,800.
A volunteer at the concession stand selling T-shirts, Glow-sticks and bottled water has been coming to the arts festival since before the stage was built -- more than 30 years ago. Sondra Somin recalls seeing Rosemary Clooney at the festival. That was before most of us had heard of Clooney's nephew, George. "You meet people over the years. And when you don't see them the next summer, you worry," she said. "Maybe they just moved away. Or maybe you hear sad news."
Chuck Weinstein of Deer Park has been coming to the festival for eight years. Tom Paxton's was one of his favorites concerts. This time, he brought his new girlfriend, Karen Feit of Bellport. They packed a picnic supper of rotisserie chicken, cheese, bread, watermelon and homemade almond cookies.
Feit couldn't help but notice that two of Weinstein's ex-girlfriends were at the concert, too. "It's Chuck's trifecta," she said cheerfully.
After luring several couples to the empty orchestra pit in front of the stage, The Persuasions harmonized on a selection from their new "Knockin' on Bob's Door" CD. Most of the crowd sang along to "Like a Rollin' Stone." Including the assorted girlfriends.
WHEN | WHERE Tuesdays (family night) at 7:30 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays at 8:30 p.m., Heckscher Park, Prime Avenue and Main Street, Huntington
INFO 631-271-8423, huntingtonarts.org
HIGHLIGHTS R&B-hip-hop artist Theophilus London, Friday; "Bye Bye Birdie," Saturday; Chapin family concert, July 16; Cyril Neville of Neville Brothers fame, July 22; Molly Lewis (Shari's daughter) and Lamb Chop, July 29; Aztec Two Step, Aug. 6; "A Chorus Line," Aug. 7; Heather Henson puppets, Aug. 11; Long Island Philharmonic, Aug. 13; Brother Joscephus and the Love Revival Revolution (New Orleans-style party), Aug. 14.
ADMISSION $1 suggested donation