Free music returns to Northrop Mall

Twenty-four free concerts are scheduled for the summer music series.

Smooth jazz reverberates across the Northrop Mall on a sunny afternoon as staff members and students eat lunch while listening to Signe Hensel croon at the foot of the auditorium’s steps.

The show is not a typical scene for a Monday lunch hour, but it has been a summer tradition for more than 50 years.

“Summer at Northrop” was launched in 1954, when the Minnesota Orchestra performed for University students, faculty and staff members during their lunch hour on Northrop plaza.

The original event was in appreciation of the University’s offering of Northrop as the orchestra’s temporary home.

In the 52 years that have followed, more than 20 concerts from local and international artists have taken place annually through June and July. This year 24 free concerts are scheduled, including salsa, country and jazz.

Hensel, along with her three-piece band, performed Monday afternoon. The Iowa native is performing for her third consecutive year in the summer concert series.

“I just think it is a great venue in a college arena,” Hensel said. “I love performing outdoors and it’s great to see so many people enjoying it. It really brings people together to talk and helps form community.”

Hensel said “Summer at Northrop” presents a great variety of acts to the University community and gives everyone a chance to take a break from their day to catch some great entertainment.

Brady Wasem, a graphic designer involved in marketing the concert series, said the longevity of the program is based on its variety.

“The variety of acts is definitely a positive, along with the fact that all shows are free and held in an outdoor setting,” Wasem said. “I think the excitement of not knowing what each show will bring gets people to come out, whether it’s bluegrass or salsa.”

Wasem, who tries to take in nearly every show, said the highlight of summer will be July 11 when the Minneapolis Pops Orchestra performs on the mall.

Rob Carter, a professor in the School of Pharmacy, said he tries to attend the concerts whenever he can.

“I’ve attended in previous years and I believe this is my fourth of the season,” he said. “It’s nice to bring the lunch outside on a day like today. It provides a break from the office and presents a chance to catch live music of all types.”

The concerts run through July 26 and are funded by Student Services Fees that are collected during the May and summer sessions. It is presented by the University’s Summer Session program and the department of concerts and lectures.