In 1939, Devou Park's band shell was a respite from the world's woes. In 2020, it may be that again

The year was 1939 and the world was on edge.

Nazi Germany was marshaling troops to invade Poland and the rest of Europe.

The Russian army invaded northern Europe.

On the other side of the world, Japan was marching on its neighboring countries.

America was 10 years into the Great Depression.

Despite all the bad news, big plans were in the making for one of the region’s jewels, Devou Park.

The federal Works Progress Administration had awarded a $97,251 grant for three major park projects, including a large band shell, according to a Kenton County Library historical document.

The band shell was completed in the summer of 1939, and in August of that year, 40,000 flocked to a concert there, the largest crowd ever to view a performance in the then-29-year-old park.

This summer, 81 years later, with the world on edge once more, the Devou Park Band Shell could again be a place for respite from the world’s woes.

It is the home of the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra, and the ensemble is still planning to move ahead with its Summer Series, scheduled to begin with a July 11 concert at the band shell.

“I think what this represents is what it represented back in 1939,” says KSO director and founder James R. Cassidy. “Bringing people together. That’s what the Summer Series is.”

Cassidy formed the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra in 1992 (as the Northern Kentucky Symphony) with a mission to make classical music attractive, accessible, and affordable to people in the Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati area.

The orchestra relies on freelance musicians for its performances and operates on a relatively small budget, a budget that took a big hit when its main fundraiser, the April 25 Bourbon Barrel Ball, was canceled due to COVID-19.

Cassidy is optimistic that the free Summer Series in the park will go on.

As of now, the bill will feature swing music, big band tunes, and a potpourri of music spanning generations from decades ago to today.

“We’re continuing to do what we do,” Cassidy says. “A lot of the music will have a lot of energy to it. We want people to have hope.”

He says the musicians can maintain social distancing on stage and those in attendance can do that in the park too, if needed.

“What’s really necessary is the idea that we’re not going to be in this bunker mentality forever,” he says.

Continued COVID-19 coverage has been supported by a grant from the Facebook Journalism Project, a program run in partnership with the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and Local Media Association.

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