Summer shows to highlight Murphysboro band shell

A series of concerts this summer could raise the profile of Murphysboro’s Riverside Park band shell.

Jeff Carver, of Murphysboro, said he’s getting back in the entertainment business after a decade-long hiatus so he and his wife, Frances, can put on a series of shows to bring attention to the band shell.

“We’d like to get that park buzzing,” he said.

The first concert is set for May 19, with more during the summer to be determined.

The band shell is a white, hemispherical concrete stage that sits near the banks of the Big Muddy River in Riverside Park.

It was built by the Works Progress Administration in 1938, said Lance Russell, director of parks and recreation for the Murphysboro Park District.

Russell said he recently went to Springfield to begin the process of adding the structure to the National Register of Historic Places. It’s the only stage of its kind in the area, he said, except a similar but smaller one in Centralia.

He said the Park District was very willing to work with Carver to bring the shows to the park.

The goal is to bring more entertainment back to the park, which he said has been lagging in recent years. He said the biggest issue is a matter of funding, as it is unjustifiably costly to bring acts to the shell.

Carver said his shows will be free, and the musicians aren’t doing it for money.

He has several performers from area towns lined up, he said, and he is looking mostly for people who want to get into the entertainment business.

Musicians aren’t the only people he’s looking for.

“We do magic, comedy. Nobody’s safe,” he said.

Carver frequently performed at the shell in the ‘90s, he said, and he would not only sing but bring in other acts such as the St. Louis Rams cheerleader squad.

He said he quit the entertainment business about 10 years ago to take a job in Tulsa, Okla.

Frances Carver said Jeff turned down a recording opportunity to do so, and it was the worst decision they made.

He since retired and moved back. When they got back, he said they heard that not much happened at Riverside Park anymore aside from annual bluegrass and blues festivals.

The more they thought about it, he said, the more it seemed they needed to do something, and now he’s ready to get back into business.

Carver said he’s at a point in his life where he can step back and help new people get started.

He’s set up an entertainment business, Music Magic, and is soliciting performers from the region, including singers, dancers, comedians and actors.

This summer’s concerts aren’t necessarily the end of it, either, and the Carvers said they plan to publicize the park as a major entertainment venue.

“We’ve got to start small,” Frances Carver said.

She said with the hillside sloping upward from the stage, it’s like an amphitheater.

“It’s just like going into a theater,” she said.

Russell agreed that it’s a good venue and lends itself to musical performances.

“When you get a band up there playing, it’s just natural,” he said.

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