The term "back by popular demand" would certainly apply to musician Paul McDermand's fourth-time return engagement to the Parks and Recreation Department's Concert Under the Stars series, which he'll launch Saturday at 7 p.m. in Green Valley Park.
But it's not just the artist who's popular with Payson's audiences. Payson's audiences are popular with McDermand, too.
"The people who attend the Concert Under the Stars events are salt-of-the-earth, well-grounded, mostly regular folks who will accept an evening's entertainment on a number of levels as long as you give them something that is polished, professional and enjoyable," said McDermand, whose performances combine classical guitar, grand piano, exuberant steel drums and marimba.
"I have found that, despite the mixed ages and the rather wide range of tastes that's presented at the Concert Under the Stars from week to week, if you give them a good show, they respond," he said.
McDermand is equally fond of the outdoor, blankets-and-lawn-chairs performance space.
"Venues like Green Valley Park are particularly enjoyable to me," he said. "There's a comfort level and a relaxed atmosphere that's really conducive to a night of good, wholesome, summer-evening fun. Plus, the kids are out of school, activities are at a premium for families, and I think (an event) like Concert Under the Stars is a wonderful answer to that.
McDermand has long been in demand by a wide variety of artists including Natalie Cole, Tony Bennett, Sheena Easton and the Moody Blues for his musical mastery of a vast array of standard, classical and popular works.
He went professional in Chicago, at the age of 19, when he was selected to take over the percussion duties on a popular theatrical production called "The Magic Man," starring another 19-year-old greenhorn: magician David Copperfield.
In 1981, McDermand moved to the Phoenix area, and his work began to encompass film and television scores, commercial jingles, symphonic productions and stage shows of all kinds. In 1993, he joined a revival tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Jesus Christ, Superstar," with the stars of Norman Jewison's 1973 film reprising their roles, and performed in some of the finest theatrical venues in the United States, Canada and Europe.
At the conclusion of that tour, McDermand began to develop arrangements featuring his steel drum and marimba artistry. His first recording of that work, "Romanza," was released in 1995, and was followed by "Sailing" in 1997. Upon hearing them, famed pianist Roger Williams sent McDermand the following fan mail: "If you don't stop making these beautiful recordings, you're going to put me out of business!"
Despite that plea, two more recordings, "Steel Away" and "Still," were released in 1999. A fifth CD will be released in the fall.
Performing live, however, is McDermand's first love as a performer whether in the company of the ensemble he'll be bringing to the Concert Under the Stars (which includes guitarist Bob Reberger and keyboardist Beth Lederman), as a soloist with symphony orchestras, or alongside such noted colleagues as the guitarist Esteban, with whom McDermand shared the stage for 10 of the 15 fifteen years he has performed at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale.
For the moment, however, McDermand's focus is entirely on his Concert Under the Stars and that gracious Payson audience.
"I remember one concert that was rained out before I had finished half the show," he remembered. "I felt badly, because I felt I'd left an obligation undone, and yet the people who came by the stage as they were dashing to their cars in the middle of a lightning storm were saying how badly they felt for me and actually thanking me for the rain.
"I thought, 'Man, if I could get an audience that's this forgiving every time out ...'"
The Payson Parks and Recreation summer concert series will feature six performances beginning in June at Green Valley Park. The two-hour concerts start at 7 p.m. Those attending should bring a lawn chair or blanket. Alcoholic beverages are not permitted in the park.
June 22: Paul McDermand
June 29: Haywire with 14-year-old Cody Lynn Macy
July 4: Western Bred
July 13: The Nostalgics
July 20: Monte Procopio
July 27: The Rave
GVP fire restrictions
Because of record fire-hazard conditions throughout the Rim country, Concert Under the Stars attendees will not be allowed to bring their charcoal-burning barbeques into Green Valley Park this year at least until draught conditions ease up.
"We're just allowing propane or gas barbecues, or any barbecue that you can turn on and off," said Payson Fire Chief John Ross. "No charcoal fires, no open fires, no campfires, not anything of that nature."