Cape May County is about to go a little bit country - again. On the heels of a successful Kenny Chesney concert on the Wildwood beach, the Jersey Shore Pops will be turning to Dixieland and presenting a country performance of their own.
Their upcoming concert, "Hooked on Country," takes place Saturday, July 7, at the Paul W. Schmidtchen Theater, located at Lower Cape Regional High School in Lower Township.
"Hooked on Country" stars clarinetist Paul Butler, and features a celebration of country and Dixie music.
The show is part of the Jersey Shore Pop's effort to expand their concert series this year - both with more variety and a second location. Five of the eight concerts in the series will be at the Pops' home theater, The Middle Township Performing Arts Center, located in Cape May Court House. Their first show of the season, "The Music and Life of Frank Sinatra," took place there on Saturday, June 30.
The three other concerts - including "Hooked on Country" - will be held at the Paul W. Schmidtchen Theater.
"We're trying to extend our base and bring it into the lower part of the county," says Linda Gentile, artistic director for the Jersey Shore Pops. "The last two years, we've only been in Middle Township."
The Schmidtchen theater also allows the Pops to include expanded horn and guitar sections. It is something Gentile says she has wanted to do since forming the Pops three years ago.
"At the new venue, we decided to expand the big band section," Gentile says. "So there are three shows there that have a big band section to include extra horn players and guitar players. It's going to be a different feel. The shows in the Middle Township PAC will be more string-based."
"We have a lot of country fans here - as evidenced by the recent Kenny Chesney concert (in Wildwood)," Gentile says.
The Paul Schmidtchen Theater, Gentile says, has been underutilized, and the new location offers a great experience for an orchestra audience.
"It's actually a perfect theater for an orchestra, because it's wider and not as deep, so more seats have a better view," Gentile says.
While the area has its share of orchestras - including the Ocean City Pops, the Bay-Atlantic Symphony and the Philly Pops - Gentile has worked to create a unique experience. Prior to becoming the Jersey Shore Pops, then-Peacemaker Productions produced concerts and music education assemblies in performing arts centers and schools throughout the United States.
But Gentile wanted to create a sort of home base for Jersey-bred musicians and talent.
"We wanted to give professional musicians from New Jersey an opportunity to perform in their community," Gentile says. "Our goal is to keep this New Jersey."
"We started in 2009 with a short season, to test the waters to see if there is room for another orchestra," Gentile says. "And there was, because a lot of people from the beach towns - Wildwood, Cape May - prefer not driving as far to a venue."
The proof, Gentile says, is in the season ticket holders, which have steadily increased year after year.
"Our goal is to have 500 season ticket holders by next year," Gentile says. "The core of an orchestra - you have to have a supportive season ticket base to sustain it."
To help the Jersey Shore Pops stand out, Gentile focuses on enhanced light and sound production, creating what she hopes is a spectacle for the audience as they listen to live music.
"Our orchestra is different, because we focus on more production," Gentile says. "We're taking elements of rock and country and using them in our orchestra. So it's not a classical orchestra. We want the pop experience of the show - it's quite an expensive thing to do, video projection. But the people that are in the balcony get to have a much better experience. It makes a huge difference for them."
Gentile, who performs as a headliner on cruise ships most of the year, typically hires guest artists who she performs with or gets to see perform live. When not performing herself, Gentile, a Petersburg resident, writes many of the Jersey Shore Pops arrangements.
"We really try and create original arrangements that haven't been done before," she says. "It's really rewarding. It's really fun. It's creating something, and then you get to see the final product on stage."