above: Photograph by Julien Jarry
It’s been more than a decade since Ray Dalio first floated the idea of the Greenwich Town Party (GTP) past several friends and town officials. At the time, the founder, co-chairman and co-chief investment officer of Bridgewater Associates was looking for a way to lift the spirits of the community in the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown. He envisioned something similar to the village fiestas he and his wife had attended over the years while visiting her family in Spain. “I love music festivals and saw that every town in Spain has a town party, which brings the whole community together. It occurred to me Greenwich could use a music festival/town party, especially at a time when people were still depressed about the financial crisis,” he recalls.
When we spoke with Dalio in early March, the COVID-19 pandemic was in its infancy and organizers were hopeful the party would still happen. However, as of press time, the situation had changed dramatically. The annual gathering has been postponed until sometime in August.
“We encourage everyone to support each other and stay safe and healthy,” says copresident Ray Rivers. “Come August, we will have an even more important reason to throw a party—not only to share great music, food and fun, but to come together and celebrate our strong and generous community.” (Also, as of press time, in addition to his major philanthropic ventures for the state of Connecticut, Dalio and his wife, Barbara, have donated $4 million to support childcare services for hospital workers and purchased 60,000 laptops for students in need.)
Since its inception, community has been the watchword of the Greenwich Town Party, and its mission reflects its primary goal: “To create an annual celebration for the people of Greenwich to come together and participate in a day of music, food, fun, family and friendship to experience the strength of the community.”
In keeping with that spirit, we didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to reflect on the event that has brought so much joy to our town every Memorial Day weekend since 2011. That was the year New Orleans jazz great Buddy Guy first commanded the main stage at Roger Sherman Baldwin Park. Guy set a high bar that night—a bar that continues to get raised with each passing year. “That’s a compulsion of mine,” says Dalio. “I love to make everything better fast. It’s not just the music. It’s the food and the ambiance and the philanthropic stuff. It’s the kids playing. It’s all of it.”
Traditionally, the GTP kicks off the annual celebration with a slew of kids’ activities from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., including face painting, carnival booths, games and crafts. It fulfills its mission in other ways, too. Every year it gives away 300 general admission tickets to many of the town’s nonprofit organizations, as well as giving them space to set up information booths on the grounds. It also gives tickets to local charitable groups for fundraising efforts. “I’m especially proud of the GTP’s nonprofit involvement and generosity,” says Scot Weicker, whose company SBWEventsGroup has managed the event since the beginning. “I don’t know of any other nonprofit that supports other local nonprofits by giving away tickets and/or an on-site presence in order to raise money for their organization; that is truly unprecedented.”
And, of course, in keeping with the local focus, the GTP has provided a wonderful opportunity for many of the town’s food vendors to showcase their wares and local bands to showcase their talents.
Still, it’s the music that’s in the spotlight. It’s hard to imagine a more venerated group of musicians than those who have graced the GTP’s main stage over the years—everyone from Paul Simon and Dave Matthews to James Taylor, Santana and even Eric Clapton. The two bands originally scheduled to co-headline for 2020—Mumford & Sons and Zac Brown Band—were just another step forward in the party’s evolution. “I didn’t want to let the opportunity to have the greats like Clapton and Santana slip away,” says Dalio, who continues to have the final say when it comes to choosing the bands. “But I also recognize there are younger greats. And that the party has to represent a broader demographic.” Also slated to have appeared this month on the main stage were town party favorites Preservation Hall Jazz Band and pop-country singer/songwriter Caroline Jones, and local talents Charlie King & the Next Big Thing.
And while talent for the August party is still up in the air, “We are confident that we will provide an outstanding lineup filled with amazing musicians,” says Rivers.
ESPN sports anchor and host Hannah Storm remembers her first time serving as an emcee. That was in 2014, the year Santana was playing. “I was on stage and he pulled my kids out to dance and sing,” she recalls. “It was awesome to share that with them!” Last year she got to introduce Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, back for a second time. For Hannah as for so many residents, GTP represents the best of Greenwich. “I have been so proud to be part of it and that pride is reflected in the members of our community—of all ages. We have Ray Dalio to thank for that. He is the driving force behind the event.”
Zac Brown Band: Southern Comfort
Known as one of the most dynamic acts around, Zac Brown Band is a multi-platinum, Grammy Award–winning group with a creative range that defies genre boundaries. Most recently, the band released the highly anticipated and dynamic sixth studio album, The Owl, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Top Albums, Country Albums, Independent Albums and Digital Albums charts, and No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart. Among other accomplishments throughout its decade-long career, Zac Brown Band is only the second act in history to have topped both Country Airplay and Mainstream Rock Songs charts.
We had a chance to catch up with Zac during his recent tour; and though his band won’t be performing this Memorial Day weekend, we thought our readers would still enjoy hearing what he had to say.
Your new album is called The Owl. What does that animal symbolize to you?
The Owl derives from the mythological significance surrounding these great creatures. Owls symbolize wisdom and serve as a guide when we need sight even through the darkest times.
Your live performances have become legendary. Why do you think that is?
Our live performances, like our albums, reflect our exploration of different sensibilities across a variety of genres, without being defined by specific labels or boundaries. Our performances reflect our country roots and bring in danceable, pop-driven melodies, especially from our latest album, The Owl. Each performance invariably includes some of our biggest hits, recent releases and covers from artists that inspire us.
The Greenwich Town Party stage has seen the likes of musical icons James Taylor, Dave Mathews, Eric Clapton and Paul Simon. Have you been inspired by any of these artists?
Each of those artists have influenced us as a band in some way. We were lucky enough to perform our song “Colder Weather” at the 2011 Academy of Country Music Awards alongside James, which was such an incredible experience for us.
Greenwich native Caroline Jones has joined you on tour for the past three years—and she has been on the GTP main stage four times. How would you describe her talent and what it was like to collaborate with her?
Caroline is such a talented musician. She has toured with us three times and we look forward to touring with her again in the future.
Mumford & Sons
Music with an impact
The Grammy Award–winning British folk-rock band Mumford & Sons first came onto the music scene with its debut single, “Little Lion Man,” from their 2009 debut album, Sigh No More, which hit No. 2 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 2 on the Billboard 200 in the U.S. The band’s 2012 single “I Will Wait” helped their second album, Babel, reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Babel also won a Grammy Award for the 2012 Album of the Year and held the record as the fastest-selling album for three years. But it is in their efforts to make a difference in the world that the band truly shines. Its Gentlemen of the Road Foundation donates money to charities fighting for social justice and common good throughout the world, as well as nonprofits working both globally and locally on an urgent scale. And in addition to playing larger venues, the band plays what they call Stopover Festivals, which brings music to small towns less frequented by touring bands.
In September of last year, Mumford & Sons received the John Steinbeck award presented by San Jose University to writers, artists, thinkers and activists who embody the “empathetic spirit and values” of John Steinbeck. Past recipients include Joan Baez, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Moore and Ken Burns.
While accepting the award on behalf of his bandmates, Mumford talked about the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire in August of 2017, in which seventy-two people died. The high-rise complex was in the neighborhood where the band first started and where he still lived. Like everyone in his community, he went down to volunteer and lend a hand. “What became remarkably clear, when the flames were out, was the importance of listening. Everyone was running around trying to act, but not enough of us were just listening, first.”
As a result he and his band were among a group of individuals who set up an organization to help support the community affected by the tragedy in the long term. The Grenfell Foundation is supported, in part, by the Gentlemen of the Road.
Hitting a High Note
With ten years to draw from, we asked some of the GTP’s key players to name their favorite artists, songs and party highlights
GTP Founder and Board Member
“I remember a moment several years ago, when there was a young girl in a wheelchair near the stage listening to one of the artists and being very emotionally touched by the performance. That was something to see.”
Founder SBWEvents Group
“I absolutely love the town stage where the local Greenwich talent performs. Each and every year the GTP receives more than fifty local band submissions, so competition is fierce. Each and every year the music committee, led by Ken Hays, does a remarkable job choosing extraordinary local talent to perform. To me, that’s a highlight.”
Last year MORE THAN 300 BOATS pulled up to the park, and PARTY-GOING BOATERS WATCHED AND LISTENED TO THE GTP CONCERTS VIA A WATER-FACING SCREEN AND SPEAKERS. Grass Island was at capacity with residents listening from afar.
THE DECISION TO POSTPONE
As the coronavirus situation escalated, it became very clear there was no choice but to postpone this year’s town party. “The town and the GTP Board worked hand in hand,” says copresident Ray Rivers. “Even though it’s a private event and costs the town nothing, they bent over backwards to work with us. To reschedule this was heartbreaking, but it wasn’t a hard decision. The health, safety and best interests of the Greenwich community, musicians and event partners are our top priority.”
Town Party organizers are busy working on a date—tentatively scheduled for a Saturday in August—and once the details have been ironed out, the GTP will email each ticket holder and announce via its social media channels the next steps. If current ticket holders can no longer attend, they will be issued a full refund. Please visit greenwichtownparty.org for up-to-date information.