The Aug. 9 concert at Burr Performing Arts Park marked the official conclusion of this year’s "Off the Rails" Summer Music Series — 10 consecutive Friday nights, 10 wonderful concerts and a wonderful experience for everyone who took the time to attend.

Friday’s show was symbolic for many reasons, but the estimated crowd of 1,200-plus had little interest in symbolism. They were there to enjoy the atmosphere, fellowship and music. Those of us who have been close to the Burr Park project over the last few years know that it represented so much more.

Burr Park and the programs presented on its stage or lawn offer consistent affirmation of our community’s entrepreneurial and philanthropic capabilities. In many ways, it has come to symbolize Dalton’s desire to evolve from a quiet manufacturing community to something more. The summer concert offerings became celebrations, not just of music, but of ourselves and our desire to create a new understanding of what we are capable of doing if we work together.

As I watched the crowds build over the last several weeks, I was gratified to see how much ownership people were taking in the park, offering to get involved in a variety ways. It wasn’t the city’s park, but our park.

Each evening, we thanked our patron and benefactor Jeanne Burr for her vision and financial investment, but in reality, we were thanking her for believing in her adopted hometown and its potential. She knew that given the right incentives and opportunities, a simple park could change the way we looked at the arts and the role they play in bringing people together.

Dalton resident Zack Adamson was one of the evening’s masters of ceremony. Among his many comments and observations, one really stuck with me. He observed that in years past, everyone in attendance would have been somewhere else. As I looked out at the audience, I was pleased to know that this year, they were all here, enjoying a wonderful evening in our hometown, making memories that previous generations had to leave our community to make.

My colleague Amber Nagle asked me a simple question: “When does a park stop being just a park and become something more?” While her question defies an easy answer, the simple response is that a park becomes more than a park when people show up. Until then, a park is just a greenspace with a few tents or buildings. Those who joined us for one or more concerts this summer enjoyed some great music, but also enjoyed being part of something bigger. Many understood that something very different was happening, and we were all part of it.

We deeply appreciate the support of our presenting sponsors, the Dalton Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Burr Park Arts Trust of the Community Foundation and Dalton Utilities/Optilink. We also extend our gratitude to our wonderful event hosts and the staff teams from the Creative Arts Guild, the Downtown Dalton Development Authority and Cyra’s restaurant for their many contributions.

For the many who are saddened that this summer’s music series has come to a close, there will be one “encore” summer concert event on Friday, Sept. 20. As we enjoy the fellowship and fun, please know that we are already at work on next year’s series, as it promises to be even bigger and better than this year.

Anything less would be un-Dalton like.

David Aft is the president of the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia. He has worked in the nonprofit field for more than 25 years.

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