Is there a better scene for live music than a summertime evening under the stars?
Swing Street guitarist Chuck Oettel doesn’t think so, especially in a time when convening in close quarters in a four-walled room is a potentially harrowing proposition.
For that reason, Oettel is launching what he hopes to be a new, lasting concert series: Swingin’ Under the Stars, which his band Swing Street will kick off Saturday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The show will take place in front of Kinderhook Evangelical Congregational Church, 560 Kinderhook Road, Columbia. A second show, featuring another band Oettel is a member of, The Anna Alexander Trio, is slated to perform at the second installment on Saturday, Aug. 1. Rain dates for both performances are the Sundays the following day.
Along with music, Harrisburg-based food truck Dollar Bills Dollar Dogs will be on hand for hungry appetites. Guests are invited to either remain in their cars and tune into the music via a radio receiver, or bring camping chairs to sit at a respectable distance.
Tickets for the show are $20 for a car with two people or more, or $10 for individual access.
“We know people are hurting financially right now, so we tried to think of a way to charge to cover the overhead and also give some to the church for hosting, as well,” Oettel explains over the phone. “The musicians are hurting, too.”
For musicians like Oettel, these past four months have led to not just a lack of income, but a lack of opportunities in general to perform music. Including Swing Street and other gigs, Oettel estimates that he’s missed or had to cancel nearly 60 performances since March.
“Continuity with a band is very important, it’s like playing with a football team,” Oettel says. “You can lose that flow if you don’t play for a while.”
Though Oettel is modest in conversation, Swing Street is a well-respected Lancaster jazz outfit, as evidenced by its nomination earlier this year at the first Central Pennsylvania Music Hall of Fame awards for “Best Jazz Band.”
The quartet features Oettel on guitar, Pete Bainbridge on bass, Mike Truitt on keys and Olivia Daugherty on vocals. Though the group has been playing together in one form or another for nearly a decade, Swing Street kicked into high gear six years ago when Daugherty joined on vocals.
Just this past October, the group released its first album, “I’ll Remember April.” The 12-song collection covers a wide swath of popular music, dating back to the 1930s with traditional cuts such as “I’ll Be Seeing You” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” to an imaginative take on the 2014 pop hit “All About That Bass.” The album’s title is a reference both to the popular standard, also featured on the album, as well as a tribute to Oettel’s wife, Debbie, who died in 2017.
The band has remained active through the quarantine, releasing pieced-together versions of songs featuring different combinations of group members. In May, Oettel and Daugherty teamed up for a take on the eternal “My Funny Valentine,” and then Daugherty paired with Bainbridge for an Andrews Sisters-esque version of “The Way I Am” by Ingrid Michaelson.
“We tried to do little things like that to keep people entertained, because people are getting very depressed at home,” Oettel says. “So we try to bring a little joy.”
A little joy is what’s in store for Saturday’s first installment of Swingin’ Under the Stars. Oettel has a laundry list of bands and players that he’d like to have play, but knows from a lifetime of experience to take one day at a time.
“You know, I play every gig like it’s my last, because one day, it will be. And I want to give the people the best show that I can,” Oettel says. “So when they come out, they’re going to get a dynamite show, by God’s grace.”